By Rajiva Wijesinha –
Enemies of the President’s Guarantee: Dopey 3
Namal in fact had no inhibitions about discussing with buddies the profitable enterprise bargains he was involved in. But it is attainable that he did not think there was anything incorrect with all these. More than the years a culture of close involvement of politicians with the enterprise sector had created, and the favours received from them had been observed merely as tokens of friendship – as were the concessions and contracts the complaisant businessmen received. So Chandrika Kumaratunga benefited as President from the largesse of a businessman known as Ronnie Pieris, who did extremely well beneath the regime, although one more close pal who had worked for Emirates ended up, when he was appointed head of Air Lanka, as it employed to be identified, by subordinating it to that airline. Emirates emerged strengthened immeasurably by the partnership while Air Lanka lost a lot of the reputation and the attain it had earlier enjoyed. But these seemed isolated examples, and the connections to any incentives had been never direct.
But by the time the Rajapaksa regime was settled in, the potential for company had expanded immeasurably, and Namal, with initially a lower profile than these holding executive positions, but with certainly the greatest influence of all, was soon swiftly befriended by several regional and foreign businessmen. But as with the Packer deal, he could doubtless convince himself that he was advertising far more financial activity in Sri Lanka, and that the nation would also advantage.
One more region in which his friends had a field day was the Stock Exchange, which it quickly became identified was being ruthlessly manipulated. The President’s vital innocence about this sort of thing seemed apparent when he appointed as its Chairman Indrani Sugathadasa, a former senior public servant of wonderful integrity, who was also the wife of his Secretary Lalith Weeratunge. But just before lengthy she felt obliged to resign, and the President accepted her resignation. She had asked her husband just before she resigned regardless of whether it would impact his position, and he had reassured her because he did not consider he could contribute to the vitiation of her integrity. But, offered that it was rumoured that Namal had played a function, on behalf of his buddies, in generating her position untenable, the matter obviously impacted his personal feelings and his possible effectiveness.
Mrs Sugathadasa was replaced by an additional figure of known integrity, a former Member of Parliament, Tilak Karunaratne. He was also concerned about education, and was a member of an advisory group I had set up named Religion, Education And Pluralism. After he was appointed, he recommended that we meet in the Security Exchanges Commission office, since that would save him the extended journey to my Reconciliation Office which was near Parliament. I asked him then how confident he felt about his position, and the clearing up he thought was vital, and he told me that the President had assured him of a totally free hand to restore self-confidence. But inside a handful of months he too resigned.
His successor was deemed far more prepared to oblige those in power, but even he, shortly following his appointment, was rumoured to have attributed a shaky transaction to the Secretary of Defence. The matter was hushed up, but it was a sad decline for Gotabaya Rajapaksa, whose reputation for economic integrity had earlier been above reproach. The association with Duminda Silva had dealt it a blow, but now it seemed that he also had systemic involvements with big company. This seemed additional established with the incident at Weliweriya, where it was claimed that the forces had been referred to as out at the behest of the Chairman of a organization which was under criticism for polluting the water provide.
Ironically, there was no evidence that the firm had deviated from safety requirements, and Gotabaya’s view that the protests had been orchestrated was almost certainly appropriate. Entertainingly, if tragically from the viewpoint of the bereaved, the protests against the business had been promoted by Mervyn Silva, who was believed to be close to Basil as a major politician of the Gampaha District where Basil had headed the poll for the government. But the initial qualms of the individuals about the water provide had not been addressed, even though misleading details about the PH aspect of the water in the area had contributed to anxieties which burst out in fervent protests. The selection then to deploy the army may possibly have been made in the belief that, if protracted and violent, the factory would be damaged – but the upshot was that the factory had to move, given the resentment the deaths roused. That this was largely due to internal rivalries was symptomatic of how far the government of President Rajapaksa had moved from its initial unity. And the absence of any systems to appear swiftly into public grievances created it clear that no one particular was interested in advertising the grass roots level consultations, with prompt redress for issues, that had been a cornerstone of the Rajapaksa manifesto.
Though the President must in the finish take responsibility for the failure to live up to his ideals, the truth is that he was now operating in a planet really distinct from the easy understanding of politics that he had evinced in his own profession, and which he had inherited from his father and his uncle ahead of him. Mahinda Rajapaksa was the initial elected leader of Sri Lanka who did not come from the Western Province, and his commitment as a result to rural improvement was special (although it should also be granted that President Premadasa before him, from the Western Province but a comparatively deprived background, also understood and worked on the want for equitable development). But he left the bulk of activity in this regard to Basil, who concentrated on cement rather than people. Gotabaya, although devoted to his soldiery, often thought safety required repression of men and women who evinced hostility, even of the mildest sort. And Namal, who ought to have been most concerned with the Rajapaksa legacy, was emphatically a child of Colombo, devoted to the concerns of the rich with whom his closest associations have been.
Mahinda Rajapaksa had perhaps been lucky in that his mentor had not been capable to gain him admission to S. Thomas’ when he moved to Colombo. He had been told by the then Warden of the College that it was too late to bring the boy into conformity with the culture there. But Namal’s admission to that elite establishment was facilitated in the nineties and, although he did not shine in school, and was certainly deemed a straightforward but decent youngster, he absorbed a culture which was by then orientated towards the consumerism of the West. The magnificient collection of watches that Namal possessed, brand names in designs and colours to match whatever else he might be wearing, was probably the most critical symbol of what his education had given him
But what was far more critical than such tastes was his potential to finance such tastes. My personal understanding of how the young man operated created when I was told by Arjuna Ranatunga, former Sri Lankan Cricket Captain, how Namal had sought to profit by investment in cricket. Arjuna had been an SLFP Member of Parliament, but he had left the celebration in 2010 to help Sarath Fonseka, so it is feasible that his story was coloured by his political position. But he had generally had a reputation for integrity as well as strength of character, and I had found him a committed colleague at the Committee on Public Enterprises, exactly where he had also evinced a powerful social commitment.
He had been particularly scathing in the examination of Sri Lanka Cricket, exactly where his brother had been the Chief Executive whilst also operating for the Carlton Sports Network. His questioning made it clear that the award to that Network of telecasting rights for cricket matches, a especially profitable contract, had been irregular. But Arjuna also noted that the losses Sri Lanka Cricket was creating was because of huge expenditure to develop up stadiums for the Globe Cup in which we had been co-hosts. His point was that this was unnecessary, since when he had been in charge of Sri Lanka Cricket he had reached an agreement with the World Physique that the facilities we had did not call for enormous upgrading for the purposes for which they would be used.
Later he told me that the President had wanted him to develop a globe class cricket stadium in Hambantota, his personal District, the list of representatives for which in Parliament was now headed by Namal. Arjuna had told him that such expenditure would be a waste, and that it produced much more sense to create facilities in schools in the area to train up youngsters. The President had seemed annoyed, but he had evidently taken to heart Arjuna’s point that, whilst the nation must not invest on this, he was prepared to function on it if there had been an investor – for Namal named Arjuna up soon afterwards to say he had one particular accessible.
The dilemma was that, when Arjuna had told him it would price about 15 million dollars, Namal had asked him to say it would be 30. Arjuna stuck to his figure when the man was brought to see him, and the man had seemed interested, but stated he wanted to be confident Arjuna remained in charge. But Arjuna stated he could not assure that, provided his political commitments, and the investor lost interest. But the stadium was then constructed, at huge and unnecessary expense as Arjuna described it.
The President doubtless went ahead with the project simply because of his devotion to his residence District. He had already had a harbour built there, which created a lot of sense provided that it lay on properly employed sea routes. Though there have been difficulties connected with a rock that seemed an obstruction, those could doubtless be overcome, and in time the harbour would probably prove a sensible investment.
There was much less optimism about the new airport that had been constructed in the Hambantota District. Even though a second airport was a good idea, its siting left significantly to be preferred, considering that it was far from the coastal areas that it should have serviced if tourism was a priority. And no work had been made to develop the infrastructure in the region and guarantee excellent cause for passenger planes to get in touch with there. So the couple of that had began operating there gave up, and inside a couple of years there had been no typical flights there, except for some Sri Lankan Airlines flights that known as there en route to or from Colombo, an workout that was wasteful of time and income.
When to this was added a stadium in the District, it was clear that sentiment had overcome rationality. But the added difficulty, about the further cost which Namal’s involvement seemed to entail, was possibly not anything for which the President could be held straight accountable. It was clear nonetheless that his excessive indulgence was proving especially tough on the country.
And no matter whether Namal understood the needs of the country, as opposed to his own, seemed in doubt. One particular of the saddest stories about him was that he had not been worried about Sri Lanka losing the vote in Geneva in 2012, because that could be utilized to win votes at elections in Sri Lanka. It is tough to think that he could have been so callous about the forces who would be the victims of the Western try to pin war crimes charges on Sri Lanka, but it was argued that that may well clarify the own goals the Sri Lankan team engaged in, ignoring the approach of our Permanent Representative, Tamara Kunanayakam and her efforts to create up defences internationally. Sadly, inside a couple of years of Mahinda Rajapaksa becoming elected to his second term, choices seemed to be in the hands of those without having the capacity to program or think beyond their own interests.