Caught between grinning devils and incompetent imbeciles -  Kishali Pinto Jayawardena

Caught between the grinning devil of Rajapaksa racism and the incompetent (if not corrupt) deep blue sea of the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe unity alliance, Sri Lankans are increasingly being left helpless.

Is this not obscene conduct?
With the passing of each day, examples abound of this odious dilemma. It is the height of callousness for example, that the Government could have justified asking for millions for luxury vehicles for ministers at the very same time that the country is facing a financial crisis.

Now to compound that idiocy, we are being told that a supplementary estimate had been presented in Parliament this week to purchase vehicles for members and officers of the steering committee of the Constituent Assembly. Jokes are being cracked as to what or who exactly will this Assembly steer, except its members and that too, into a corner by all accounts. But this news, coming on top of hundred deaths, another hundred reported missing and scores left homeless following major floods during the past few days begs an important question. Is this not obscene behaviour, in the very basic meaning of that term, taken in the context of conduct deeply offending morality?

There is little point in directives being given by the President or the Prime Minister to give relief to the affected. Victims of the Salawa disaster, the Meethotamulla garbage dump and countless other victims are still languishing without succor, months after they lost their homes and saw the lives of family members being snatched away. So, what possible faith can be posed in these directives?

A matter of palpable hypocrisy
Today it is a sad irony that much of the woes afflicting Sri Lanka’s ‘yahapalanaya’ Government could have been predicted early on. Indeed, chaos could have been prevented if the feet of this Presidency and this Government had been held firmly to the fire by civil society leaders who turned unblushing defenders of unconscionable government policies almost overnight, even though they had loudly railed against those very same policies when perpetuated under the Rajapaksa rule.

It was this palpable hypocrisy that exposed the very shame of the façade of good governance, paraded to all and sundry in January 2015. To add to that shame, justifiable questions raised at the outset regarding government policy worryingly departing from the standard of good governance that had been promised, were looked at askance.

It was as if the ‘yahapalanaya’ government could do no wrong. It is this pitiable naivete, taken at its best interpretation or callous self-interest taken at the worst, which is to blame. It is this attitude which led to many preferring to stay quiet while a monstrous Counter-Terror policy framework was being drafted secretively.

Engaging in one stupidity after another
And it was no wonder that the late Ven Madulwawe Sobitha had become deeply disillusioned by the very ‘change’ that he (more than any other) had brought about. Unlike unfortunate beings like the rest of us however, he has the luxury of not witnessing the plight that the country has been reduced to. For one stupidity succeeds another. Indeed, if this was April 1st, one might be tempted to laugh off the very idea of subjects that have no relevance to the particular ministry in issue being grouped under that ministerial portfolio purely because of the demands of a particular minister.

This is the situation which has arisen according to reports not yet denied by the Government, that former Finance Minister Ravi Karunanayake, (now the new Foreign Affairs Minister), may continue to claim agencies that he controlled earlier. These include the National Lotteries Board, Mahapola Trust Fund, Colombo Stock Exchange, Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), Sri Lankan Airlines, EPF, ETF and National Insurance Trust Fund.

This continuance may be enabled by a state ministry portfolio according to reports. On all accounts, lists of ministers, deputy ministers’ portfolios that have been sent for gazetting, omits the respective subjects coming under each. One hopes that sanity will prevail but given what has been occurring so far, expectations cannot be too high.

The continued discarding of the law
In the midst of all this, religious and communal violence is on the rise. Some months ago, I likened the Witness Protection Authority, showcased internationally but non-functional domestically, to the elusive Scarlet Pimpernel. Victims seeking protection looked for the Authority here, they sought it there but could not find it.

Now we have other elusive individuals being added to this list. Head of the Bodu Bala Sena (BBS) Galaboda Gnanasara who has returned to his old ways of fomenting religious hatred has managed to elude team upon team of law enforcement officers. It is nothing short of a nasty miracle, one might add. When the Aluthgama incident occurred under the Rajapaksa Presidency, it was pertinently warned in these column spaces that extreme radicalism and religious hierarchies aside, what distinguishes post-war Sri Lanka is the discarding of the law and the impunity afforded to saffron clothed terror groups.

State complicity irrefutably marked the Aluthgama and Beruwala violence at the time. Then as now, government inaction only aggravates the problem.

Enough law exists for the purpose, apart from the Penal Code and including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) Act No 56 of 2007. In that context, a Prime Ministerial directive to hold area police responsible for failing to stop religious violence in their respective areas is farcical. Not so long ago, the Inspector General of Police (IGP) was captured on television assuring the Minister of Law and Order that a favored individual protected by the government will not be arrested. This showed the extent to which the command structure of the police has been subverted. No action was taken either against the IGP or against the relevant Minister.

Acts of omission are equally culpable
So to announce that it will hold lower level police officers responsible without this Government implementing the law at the highest levels sounds hollow. Commitment must be evidenced through action and not through words. It is the same relentless and unsparing logic as in regard to flood relief.

Unlike in the case of the Rajapaksa regime, one cannot accuse this Government of actively fomenting racism or communal violence. But let it be clearly said that acts of omission are equally culpable in the eyes of the law.

It is by this standard that the unity alliance will be judged and assessed by all right thinking Sri Lankans, apart from those who are selectively deaf, blind and mute as it were.

- The Sunday Times

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