5th Column

The golden catch

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My dear Ali Sabri Raheem,

I thought of writing to you, although I must confess that I didn’t know who you were till just the other day. I suppose, being a politician, being known nationally and having your photo shown on every television channel and newspaper is something you wouldn’t mind, even if it is for the wrong reasons.

I must also admit that, when I first saw the headline ‘Ali Sabri nabbed with gold at the airport’ my thoughts were not of you. Even so, and as much as I disagree with almost everything our Minister of Foreign Affairs says these days, I knew that our learned friend was made of a very different mettle!

Now, after all the hullabaloo in the media about what happened at the airport, if you thought that you have created history by becoming the first parliamentarian from Paradise to be nabbed with gold at our airport, you are sadly mistaken, Ali Sabri Raheem. You are not the first to go down that path.

Just over 40 years ago, when the Greens were ruling the roost and JR was King, the youngest MP in that Parliament – a good four years younger than Uncle Ranil who was learning the ABCs of politics from his uncle at the time – was also nabbed with gold at the airport.

I don’t know what will happen to you eventually, but JR wanted that chap removed, and he was. At the time, the system of nominating a ‘chit MP’ instead of someone who had resigned was in place, so JR, to keep matters within the family, nominated his sister to replace him!

Since Uncle Ranil took office nearly a year ago, we have been discussing the similarities in the styles of government adopted by him and his uncle. Isn’t it strange that he too is being confronted with the same problem that his uncle was faced with: an MP with gold at the airport?

Uncle Ranil is busy in Japan right now, but I doubt he will ask you to resign when he returns. Firstly, although you were elected to Parliament from your own party, you have been voting with the ‘pohottuwa’ chaps who Uncle Ranil doesn’t control, though they are part of the Government.

Then, even Uncle Ranil knows he needs every vote in Parliament to change the Constitution so he can have an early presidential election. So, he would be foolish to take stern action against you just because his uncle JR did so 40 years ago against another person caught with gold at the airport.

I am told you were fined some Rs 7.5 million and released. I don’t think you have much to worry about now. The wheels of justice move with lightning speed for MPs, don’t they? Also, it is always good to have Rs 7.5 million handy to meet incidental expenses, isn’t it?

Even if there is any action against you, you need not panic as long as you know which side to be on. Ruling party politicians are ‘acquitted and discharged’ of bribery and corruption regularly, Johnston being the latest, just last week. You may have even increased your chances of becoming a minister!

What is more interesting is what happened afterwards. You attended Parliament where there was a vote to remove that chap who was controlling the commission that regulated electricity rates. While all in the Government – and a few in the opposition too – voted to remove him, you voted against that.

When asked, you provided some candid comments which provide much food for thought. You said you asked Uncle Ranil’s secretary and Dinesh to intervene but they didn’t. As there was no point in being in a Government that doesn’t intervene on your behalf, you voted against them, you said.

Rather than blame you for what you are alleged to have done, we should thank you for telling the truth. The moral of the story seems to be that the Government is there to look after the interests of its MPs, no matter what they do – and not those of the people. If they don’t, MPs cease to support the Government.

There are also different explanations for your decision to vote against the Government. Some say the Government asked you to do so, so they could distance themselves from the scandal. Others say your fellow MPs are unhappy because you didn’t share the gold valued at Rs 74 million with them!

Ali Sabri Raheem, you showed us that, despite all the ‘aragalaya’s waged last year, despite getting rid of a President, despite all the shouting from the Government and the Opposition, the ‘system’ hasn’t changed at all: Our politicians still do what they always did. Thank you for reminding us that.

Yours truly,

Punchi Putha

PS: You say you are innocent because all you did was carry bags packed by someone else. Is it that our MPs are so foolish as to carry bags packed by someone else through an airport, or should we be foolish enough to believe you? I think we all know the truth, ‘Honourable’ Member!


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