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The collateral damage of the war - Asantha de Mel taken to the cleaners!

Ajit Randeniya, California

People often count only the human cost of Sri Lanka's 30 year old war. Almost all news reports refer to the 70 000 casualties of the war, without mentioning the method of counting used. But most Sri Lankans will be aware of the other costs of the war that are enormously significant in terms of damage done to the Sri Lankan civilisation and society in general.

The education system, from the pirivena based Buddhist system to the colonial university system has deteriorated so badly and the generations of graduates produced overs the war years have not received the benefits of the great traditions of either system. Most of the academics with international profiles have migrated to other countries since the early 1980s, leaving who ever was left in the country to fill the vacant professorships.

The school system has deteriorated even more than the higher education system, giving rise to the mushrooming 'international' schools. The mere 'tutories' of the 60s and 70s (like the Stafford and Alexandra Colleges) have become leading educational institutes!Most middle class Sri Lankans enrol their children in these schools run sometimes by shonky overseas operators. The children are exposed to the 'thuppahi' culture of these places which pass on a smattering of English and the poisonous culture of night clubbing, drugs and other vices. Rebuilding the education system to its glory of the 1950s and 60s and reclaiming the affected generations will take a long time.Probably as a side effect of this decline, ignorance, incompetence and corruption of unprecedented proportions has taken root among the middle classes in general and politicians in particular.

An example of this is the current on-going issue about the rental allowances and house renovation expenses claimed by some of the politicians. Politicians as old as M.H. Mohamed, who has been a Colombo resident since most Sri Lankans could remember, have been claiming these allowances running to millions of rupees! There are others.

But the most revealing affair that show the extent of the problem was the sacking of Asantha de Mel, the head honcho of the State Petroleum Corporation by the Supreme Court, on account of a 'hedging' arrangement he has entered in to with three overseas merchant banks for petroleum purchases that is going to cost the poor Sri Lankan people millions of dollars.

Readers might vaguely remember Asantha de Mel as a medium pace bowler who represented Sri Lanka before it received the Test playing status (and briefly afterwards). Somehow, he has been later appointed to run the Petroleum Corporation (nepotism?). He certainly was not qualified enough or have adequate international business experience to hold a position such as this.

Now, the moneybags (the Deutche Bank and the like) who set up offices in countries like ours are like foxes and they smell a fool miles away, and knows how to part him/her with money fairly quickly. They care little about the poor Sri Lankans whose money novices like De Mel are playing with.

They have clearly taken him to the cleaners in this hedging deal, under which, Sri Lanka is still playing the record high prices for oil (when the price has dropped below US$50 a barrell). According the Sunday Leader newspaper, when the scandel broke out, one of the foreign bankers involved has issued a media statement on de Mel's behalf, typed in the Petroleum Corporation stationeray!

Thankfully the courts have intervened to prevent further damage. But the Sri Lankan government, in the name of poor suffering Sri Lankans' should refuse to pay these blood suckers. Asantha de Mel should be sent for corrective education, like they do in China.

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