SRI LANKA: Dum spiro, spero, dum vivimus vivamus 

By Nilantha Ilangamuwa

Speech after long silence; it is right,
All other lovers being estranged or dead,
Unfriendly lamplight hid under its shade,
The curtains drawn upon unfriendly night,
That we descant and yet again descant
Upon the supreme theme of Art and Song:
Bodily decrepitude is wisdom; young
We loved each other and were ignorant.
* After Long Silence – W.B Yeats

Will the Sri Lanka’s ‘Cavalier Father’ be a father to all the children who lost their fathers to the white van murderous carnival happening in the country for the past three years though the current regime has officially declared that the country has attained ‘real independence’ after it crushed the LTTE? Or, will this self-proclaimed ‘father’ be son to all mothers who lost their sons to the nightmare of the white van killings? When is the government going to guarantee basic rights to live? When will the ‘father’ and his regime consider protection of life of every citizen in the country as a duty that it has to undertake with no failure? What is wrong with our society that we are making comic dramas of everything and celebrate social tragedies?

In the past week, former high court judge W.T.M.P.B. Warawewa, in a function organised in his honor by the young lawyers association enumerated the real social problems that we face in Sri Lanka. The judge said: “… certain judges [have] failed to maintain the dignity of the profession and [have] no self-strength. Some judges did not know their independence, unaware of justice and would fall to any lowly depth for personal gains. Honesty and courage are essential for a judge, and that is why the people respected the judiciary …”

Expressing anguish about the breakdown of the rule of law and the harvest reaped by the absolute power, the judge said “… very soon, it would not be surprising if the army’s major generals are appointed to the supreme court, as the judiciary has recognised court martial as a court of law…”. In essence what the judge said is that the executive, legislature and the judiciary should function independent of each other and therefore without confrontations among them – an issue of serious concern for legal experts to focus on.

Unfortunately the present regime has reduced the three limbs of the government to mere ‘yes sir’ institutions to any decision taken by the executive power. Listening carefully to Mr. Warawewa, it was not hard to understand the sensitiveness and the feelings that underpinned his speech.

What we see today in Sri Lanka is that even though there is heavy manipulation of freedom at all a level, there are still a small but important number of people who are rationally opposed to authoritarianism and they are genuinely working to preserve the concept of freedom. Former Supreme Court judge K.M.M.B. Kulatunga had highlighted various aspects concerning the breakdown of the rule of law in Sri Lanka. Today Warawewa identifies the situations identified by Kulatunga has worsened and their adverse impacts felt more in the social and cultural fabric of Sri Lanka.

Since independence ‘the process of politicisation has accelerated in the country, with each community going its way. Religion, language and economy (including agriculture) were all abused for political gains. National integration was not achieved by teaching Sinhala and Tamil in schools.’ (Disorder in Sri Lanka – p. 163)

‘For 51 years the country was governed in turn by one political party viz. the UNP or SLFP. This resulted in disenfranchisement of half [of] the majority community and [all] [sic] the minorities [who] [sic] had to depend on the rivalry between the majority parties for a stake in government. Half [of] the majority and the minorities have no Constitutional rights to participate in the executive government. Local government has disintegrated. Public service was disorganised by the conferment of political rights to public officers. The resulting conflicts and acrimony led to rebellion and insurgency. Consequently, the country was governed since 1958 under Emergency Regulations. In the result there are generations of citizens who do not know what freedom means.”(ibid)

‘The poverty, communal conflict and hatred unleashed by the conduct of our leaders have led to a major insurrection in 1971, arson against minorities in 1983 and a permanent war with the LITE which has been raging for over 17 years’. (ibid)

‘As a result of the parochial system of government [which] [sic] [that] existed in the country for 51 years the public service including the armed services, police and local government were politicised and debased. There is now every sign of the judiciary also becoming politicised. Thus at the end of the 20th century we have ended up with no values at every level of human life.” (ibid) Mr. Kutunage observed the above decades ago, which unfortunately today is true more than ever before.

The present regime is intolerant of everything that questions its behavior. The real opposition to the government is not an alliance of the political parties but those who are against the regime. President Rajapaksa quite accurately visualised his future political agenda in his ‘Victory Day’ speech in the parliament that he made in May 2009. Rajapaksa said ‘… there are only two people in this country, those who love this country and those who do not. The later is comprised of small groups that have no love for the land of their birth. Those who do not love the country are now a smaller group.’ It is obvious as to what Rajapaksa meant by love. To him it is blind obedience to him as the supreme power and eliminating the freedom of those who oppose him or his clan, thereby to establish absolute power of his family. Hence he dragged the people into fit his agenda, for which reduced the very notion of justice in the country. This ideology has widened the gap between justice and culture, thus facilitating the government to eliminate its opponents without accountability.

Mr. Kulatunge summarises this as follows, while refereeing to freedom of expression: “if a government is intolerant, overbearing, obsessed with power and suppresses criticism, two consequences would follow; (i) sooner or later it will collapse; (ii) in a situation where socio economic and political conditions have deteriorated, suppression of the freedom could lead to an insurrection,” (Disorder in Sri Lanka – p. 201). Analysing the present situation in Sri Lanka, the profound value of this observation could be more understood than through other examples external to us. The country is facing destruction of its basic values at all layers of the society.

Mr. Basil Rajapakse who is the adviser to his brother – the president, and is the minister of economic development affairs, told the media on 15 March 2012 that Sri Lanka is going to grant loans to Europe. This is a farcical attempt to show that the country has not suffered from the revoking of the GSP plus status to Sri Lanka. Basil said “… some people think that economics always depend on western nations. We did not depend on western economy. Sri Lanka is preparing to grant loans to European countries soon”. The announcement came when reputed research organizations were warning Sri Lanka about an immanent economic meltdown. There is no need to dig the data prepared by the Central Bank to understand this. Every kitchen in Sri Lanka is a proof to the fact that life in Sri Lanka is perhaps at its worst, also due to acute economic duress.

The Fitch Ratings in a recently published report claims that Sri Lanka’s external finances are under pressure. According to the report, ‘risks to the balance of payments remain in three areas: oil prices, global economic and financial conditions, and potential capital flight, none of which are in Fitch’s base case scenario.’ It is no secret that the main development projects started by the government are not likely to achieve the intended goals. These projects are struggling to complete work. Amongst them are the Magampura Mahinda Rajapaksa Port (US $ 360 million), Mahinda Rajapaksa International Cricket Stadium (Rs. 700 million,), Mahinda Rajapaksa International Airport Mattala (Rs. 39,600 million), Hambantota Sports Zone (Rs. 700 million) and the Mahinda Rajapaksa National Tele Cinema Park (Rs. 2 billion). Apart from these, billions of rupees are already wasted on Mihin Airlines. Basil’s talk about granting loans to Europe without having a proper plan for economic development for his own country is not just egotist rants of a nationalist, but is sheer incapacity to assess how such slipshod statements would reflect upon the country and its people before the entire world. Unfortunately Basil is Sri Lanka’s minister for economic development affairs!

At the beginning of the past week another ‘white van’ abduction occurred in the suburbs of Colombo. The wife of the victim and her child ran to the office of a daily in Colombo and pleaded with the journalists to make corrections in the news that was published the previous day concerning her husband. She complained that her husband did not have any connections with drug traffickers unlike what the daily had claimed, and said that he was a businessman, who was abducted by unknown armed groups who are now operating in Colombo. In the news the daily had alleged that the associate of a heroin supplier in Colombo, Dematagoda Kamal, had been abducted in a white van. But M.A.M. Fathima Nazli, the wife of the person who was abducted, claims that her husband is innocent. The following day the newspaper published only her lamentation without apologizing for the mistake they had made the previous day. No one seems to know as to what has happened to the victim. This man one among hundreds of victims of the white van abduction mystery that haunting Sri Lanka for the past three years. Their pattern is evident; abduction, then a story in the media to justify the abduction.

In the meanwhile, the president of Kolonnawa Urban Council alleged that he was at the risk of being abducted by the special four-member team from the army. The government-sponsored media published a story the following day and reported that the people in Kolonnawa attacked the army team that had been to Kolonnawa to arrest army deserters. But in an interview with this writer, the president of Kolonnawa Urban Council categorically denied this. He said: ‘first they abducted my disabled brother and killed him. Then they came for me. Fortunately I escaped with people’s help. We have identified who are behind this white van. But no one is going to take action against them. If the army claims that they came to arrest army deserters why cannot they file case against me?’ This man is a supporter of the present regime. However, according to him, someone who has better connections with the regime is trying to eliminate him for political gains.

It is only when a government is able to tolerate rational criticism against unlawful acts, a country can achieve a common national goal based on tolerance, equity and fraternity. Until that is possible in Sri Lanka the present regime should at least accept this, ‘while we breath we hope, let us live while we live’. In another words, dum spiro, spero, dum vivimus vivamus.