The Crackup Commences

(Courtesy of Daily Mirror)

The weekly evidence of the unprecedentedly dependent, servile character of the Yahapalana administration came in the form of a report in the prestigious Hindu by its smart, Colombo based correspondent Meera Srinivasan. Captioned ‘India keen to run Sri Lanka airport’, it says:

“India has expressed interest to operate Sri Lanka’s second international airport situated in Mattala, about 40 km from the southern town of Hambantota, where China has a majority stake in a strategic port it built. The Sri Lankan govt earlier this week cleared Civil Aviation Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva’s request for a committee to study the Indian government’s proposal. India proposes to “operate, manage, maintain and develop” the airport through a joint venture, holding 70% of the equity for 40 years…” (The Hindu, August 12th 2017)

Not even during the period of the IPKF did our huge neighbour, which has Tamil Nadu as a significant shareholder, get to “run” a Sri Lankan airport deep in the interior of the country, in the Sinhala heartland. Nor did any Ceylonese/Sri Lankan govt ever think of giving India a 70% share for 40 years in any venture as strategic as an airport.

This is in addition to the two stories in the sister paper of the Daily Mirror, which says that the Survey Department which is over a century old, is to be virtually handed over to a US firm named Trimble so as to work on an island-wide Land Registry, while the country’s labour laws are to be revised under the guidance and with the financial assistance of the USAID.

If this doesn’t add up to a project of re-colonization or neo-colonization, then what does?

Surely the problem of financial viability of a state enterprise should be solved by giving first preference and a larger role to Sri Lankan capitalists than to foreign ones, in seeking investment? Algeria for instance has a constitutional red-line that rules out anything above a 49% share for foreign capital in any enterprise or property whatsoever in that country, leave alone something as strategic as a port or airport!

So why does the government de-nationalize and foreignize national assets, including strategic ones?
One reason is obviously money. I don’t mean money as in the money needed to run the country, because Mahinda Rajapaksa ran it with a higher rate of growth in wartime, and a much higher one in peacetime, without auctioning the family silver and the store! I mean money as in massive pay offs.

The other reason is chronic, perhaps congenital inability. This government has no vision of real economic growth and development. That is not the fault of the UNP proper, it is the fault of those who occupy the UNP’s penthouse. The man who best knows the philosophy of development of the UNP has been exiled as Ambassador, Prof. Karunasena Kodituwakku, groomed by former PM, late Dudley Senanayaka, as a future leader of the party.

There is a third reason which makes the UNP dominated government behave the way it does. The current leaders of the UNP belong ideologically to that stratum which has a long history on this island—that of collaborators who see no future for themselves apart from service to and as beneficiaries of their Western patrons.

They are the island’s equivalent of the type that Malcolm X so indelibly caricatured as “House Niggers”. They do not see any role for this island except as strategic real estate for the declining Western empire, its allies and its competitors to own or rent.

The PM and his ideological followers in the corporate community and the upper bureaucracy are striving to recreate what they see as the golden age of Ceylon – not its true Golden Age of the first decade after Independence, but precisely the pre-Independence period of colonial servitude and limited autonomy; the Donoughmore period. The paradigm is of a throwback to conformist cosmopolitan colonial modernity.
During the UNP-led 7 party coalition govt of 1965-70 officially titled the “National Government” but colloquially dubbed the “Hath Havula”, Esmond Wickremesinghe was the key advisor and supporter of Minister of State JR Jayewardene’s attempt to dominate the economic policy agenda, outflanking and overshadowing from the Right, the more moderate, liberal, pro-agriculture PM Dudley Senanayaka. Today, with the drive to abolish the Executive Presidency and project the PM as the country’s de facto leader or future leader while celebrating his 40 years in politics (a celebration in Parliament from which the President absented himself), the UNP is perceived as attempting the same ‘Esmondian’ putsch in relation to President Sirisena. There is a gaping ‘trust deficit’.

This is the most dysfunctional Lankan govt I have seen in all the decades I have been acquainted with politics, which I first saw as a school-kid in 1964.

This is currently a country without a Foreign Minister though there are at least three instant options: Dr. Sarath Amunugama, the obvious successor to Lakshman Kadirgamar; Wasantha Senanayaka, the smart and personable young State Minister for External Affairs (and acting FM); and Mahinda Samarasinghe, the experienced former Minister of Human Rights. The govt is cracking up in both senses of the term: it is fissuring as well as going gaga in a politically suicidal way.
The UNP in government is attacking the state. Within the state it is attacking precisely the most credible and admired platform, process and personnel, namely the Presidential Commission into the bond-scam and the independent minded officials of the Attorney-General’s Department.

The UNP is also attacking one of its own, Justice Minister Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe, who is far less conspicuous a dissident than Opposition parliamentarian R. Premadasa was with his Puravesi Peramuna (‘Citizens’ Front’) faction in the early 1970s and Prime Minister Premadasa was in the 1980s with regard to the Indo-Lanka Accord and the IPKF. The patriotic populist dissident Premadasa turned out to be the UNP’s saviour in 1988-89. By attacking Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe, the UNP is busily perforating the only populist lifeboat it has when the ship hits the rocks.

The UNP is also attacking its SLFP partner in the coalition govt at a time when it needs the latter’s support for the Constitution-making process, and the SLFP is itself reconsidering its continued presence in the coalition. The UNP has failed to obtain the support of its formal ally the SLFP, and its closest comrade-in-arms the TNA, in the venture to introduce a 20th Amendment and postpone Provincial Council elections.

Furthermore, the UNP’s political behaviour has antagonized the JVP which has (partially) pivoted against the Govt in and out of parliament.

If this isn’t a crack up of the Jan 8, 2015 Yahapalana coalition, the beginning of the disintegration of the ‘unity govt’, and a display of ‘soft anarchy’, what is? And if this isn’t a collective psychological crack-up of the UNP, manifesting a pronounced propensity for political suicide, what is?

Comparing the Yahapalana administration with the Rajapaksa one, and concluding that the present administration is not yet as bad as the former but is on the wrong road or moving too slowly on the right one, is either moronic or knavish, not only because there was nothing of the magnitude of the bond scam and gigantic divestitures of strategic national assets under the previous regime,
but also because MR did something positive of huge historic and human import which no one else did and from which all the positives of today were made possible – he won the 30-Year War and then gave the economy the highest growth rate in Asia outside of China.

It can be said of MR that his achievements dwarfed his errors; his positives surpassed his negatives.

Can the same be said of the present administration? Not even the UNP believes that. If it did, would the PM seek to postpone elections?

By Dayan Jayathilake

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