May Day mess, selling the nation and arrogance of a fallen woman

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This theatre of the absurd that is called politics in Sri Lanka is becoming even more absurd and indeed highly controversial as the elections draw near.

As though this Wickremesinghe-Pohottuwa government has not already soiled its escutcheon with the kind of antics that seemed to throw the country’s constitution into the garbage while professing democracy and the rule of law, its last-ditch efforts to freely distribute the nation’s wealth and make appointments by the thousands smell to high heaven of political manipulation and the unquenchable greed for power.

All this spending of state funds, which somehow never seemed enough to stage the much-delayed local elections and pass on power and authority at the local level to those who have no right to such authority, is for one purpose and one purpose alone.

That is, to clutch to power that is slipping away and stay on long enough to sell the rest of the nation’s resources that are not already in hock and fatten themselves and their cronies till the day they are kicked out on their well-cushioned posteriors.

In the midst of all this disgraceful behaviour by a government that had exhausted whatever mandate it had when both the elected president and his government resigned, comes this new spectacle.

And what a spectacle! If the local ranks of Tuscany did not all rise in concerted applause in praise of the Supreme Court, it is perhaps because some await to read the full judgment which was not publicly available at the time of writing.

It is not only that the Supreme Court verdict saw the denouement of an unnecessarily long-drawn-out legal battle which saw a loquacious and obstreperous temporary occupant of the Diyawanna household being unceremoniously kicked out, however belated.

It is also because an alert public, who would have followed this long-postponed case for reasons that are surely questionable, would want to read what the apex court has said about some branches of the executive, such as the CID and the Emigration and Immigration Department, which appear to have collaborated in holding back evidence or refusing to act under the law when the law was available to them to arrest the person concerned, as the Colombo Magistrate had rightly pointed out.

Diana Gamage, until a few days ago the State Minister of Tourism, had not only fraudulently claimed a seat in the country’s legislature, but she, as a British citizen, which she did not disclose, continued to stay in this country for nearly 10 years without a valid visa.

While she had no valid visa to stay in Sri Lanka, a much bigger visa issue was bursting at the seams as tourists flocking to Sri Lanka in recent days had to pay highly inflated rates for their entry visas.

As it is now widely known, the recent fiasco at Bandaranaike International Airport followed the introduction of a new e-visa system operated by a private company after Security Minister Tiran Alles pushed it through the cabinet as the cat’s whiskers of technological advancement in international visa issuance.

The minister might think that this issue is all clean, done and dusted. Alas Alles! Here is a person who was never elected to parliament by the people but entered through the national list, just like President Ranil Wickremesinghe, who says he took up the challenge of rescuing the country when everybody else shied away from it. But that’s a different story that needs telling on another occasion.

This hardly seems like a deal done for the good of the nation, as President Wickremesinghe never tired of saying when some bilateral MoU is signed with another nation or a deal is struck with some private investor—all in the hush-hush, as often happens.

But there seems to be more to this VFS Global deal than meets the eye, as they say.

Last Thursday, Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka, in his regular column for the Daily FT, raised an interesting question.

He said that Alles “discloses that the major shareholder of VFS is Blackstone. Huh? Isn’t Blackstone one of our major ISB creditors? If so, that would be some coincidence. Ranil’s administration 2015-2019 racks up the colossal ISB debt while Ranil’s administration 2024 parcels out roles and functions of the Sri Lankan state to foreign companies owned by the biggest private bondholders? How many more such moves are in the pipeline?”

That is not all. Dr. Harsha de Silva of the SJB and chairman of the Committee on Public Finance dropped a clanger calling for a parliamentary inquiry. Referring to the promise of the private company retained to invest $200 million, an astonished Dr. de Silva asked, “Can this be real? Where did this investment go. The Sri Lankan government MUST answer…unless this is a fake.”

Meanwhile, adding to Harsha de Silva’s astonishment, Sanjiva Weerawarna, Founder and CEO of WSO2 (obviously some high-flying electronic operation) said on X “This is a joke….who in the world needs $200m to build a system for this? You don’t even need $2m.”

Well, well, there seems to be many a slip between the cup and the lip, as the old proverb goes. But then, that would be extremely generous, wouldn’t it?

After all, fighting elections is an expensive exercise, as politicians who have fattened themselves in the meantime to fight another fight know only too well. Otherwise, they would not be accumulating moola from the day they entered that now disgraced house by the Diyawanna Oya.

But when you are a government and fighting a rear-guard action against an advancing battalion, then all state resources and the generosity of your cronies, the economic, social, and political class it is defending, and all assistance from wherever it comes, are welcome.

And if that is not enough, you promise every segment of society that has the vote a “something” as they say in the Colombo bajja.

So now it is time to promise retired public servants and judicial officers imported vehicles, as though Sri Lanka does not have enough vehicles on the roads involved in daily accidents claiming lives.

The plantation workers, who were for decades and more treated virtually as slaves without an iota of remorse or abandoned to struggle for a tinge of respectability, are promised higher wages. And if struggling private companies are unable to pay the enhanced wages, why has this concerned, considerate government tried, but it is the employers who have turned it down—one point for the government?

Now all of a sudden, those dormant pradeshiya sabhas and their outdated members are being resurrected like Lazarus so that they could canvass for Pohottuwa, undertake some ‘development’ which is more for the party’s benefit and spend the allocations coming their way as they wish.

By the way, did you know that
Sri Lanka now has Senior Instructing Attorneys-at-Law. It might not be long before some bright spark proposes an Inner Cabinet for the “Pathala Panthiya”.

To add all this political misery that a half-starving people are forced to undergo as the government throws all its energies and resources into electioneering, that obstreperous, voluble state minister of tourism who can now join the night economy she so vociferously advocated, says she will be back in politics.

What is more, she pledges to continue to support President Wickremesinghe.

Surely Ranil Wickremesinghe has enough problems of his own, after all he took over the country when it was at the point of collapse, as he said even on May Day, that he could well do without a vote killer who claims to speak on behalf of
Sri Lanka’s women. There must be a limit to self-glorification, surely

If this is the kind of politician this country has and might continue to have as they open the doors of the dirty tricks department to survive, then it will take more than one Golden Jubilee before Sri Lanka can raise its voice to the world.


(Neville de Silva is a veteran
Sri Lankan journalist who was Assistant Editor of the Hong Kong Standard and worked
for Gemini News
Service in London. Later,
he was Deputy Chief-of-Mission
in Bangkok and Deputy High Commissioner in London.)