Not giving people and our animals a chance

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That was a holiday that was. Five days in a row and the great minds that earn more than their living from the House at Diyawanna Oya were summoned on a Saturday to contribute their intellectual worth to the birth of a new phenomenon.

Some might call it Destructive Debt Recovery (DDR). For others, the Central Bank Governor’s new coined phrase sounded far more impressive though less intent on clarity.

Well, it certainly would be so for the hoi polloi who haven’t got even the “O” Level which the learned President Wickremesinghe is thinking of abolishing, but still amorphous enough to confuse those astute worthies of Diyawanna Oya, some of who probably feel the less they understand the easier rests their conscience.

Governor Dr Nandalal Weerasinghe decided to change tack in mid-stream, as it were, and name it Domestic Debt Optimisation (DDO), which before too long could come to be known as Domestic Debt Optimism- hoping that all this financial gobbledegook would be accepted by the people of this once- blessed though they continue to be befuddled by what awaits their provident funds and ETF.

Right now, Colombo’s big corporates and other glitterati with undeclared assets from Seychelles to Dubai to San Marino and beyond, might well be pleased that they can continue to gormandise until their protruding bellies are full thanks to the rise of UNP neoliberalism and the corrupt cabal in the SLPP who have long feared that accountability could soon catch up with them if the IMF diagnostics truly means anything, that has linked with the UNP hoping to save their skins rather than the nation.

So the Nandalal ‘magic’, which some suspect, is not so much to display a new independence but to provide a vital pillar to buttress the new liberalism while surrendering to wider IMF diktats and exigencies of western financial institutions, has enthralled the Diyawanna Oya lot who rushed to press the button in favour of the DDO.

Such was the haste to get through with the DDO which might have been more meaningful if it had another “O” between the two Ds that the Speaker called it a day by 7.30 that evening when there was time for others to say their piece.

For all Mr Speaker’s efforts to get the vote done and dusted, 62 voted against it and 40 members did not turn up including ‘King’ Mahinda and his heir apparent Namal. That is a sizeable number out of 225.

Colombo’s glitterati might have their champaign chilled and their stocks and shares counted as it were, ready to celebrate the messianic policies that critics say were also intended to safeguard their boodle.

But did they give any thought to the millions of those in the lower social- economic strata who are suffering today due to povertisation and likely to suffer even more when state-owned enterprises are sold to business cronies claiming the government should not engage in business?

In the wings the Labour Minister is sharpening his knife, which he calls newin labour laws (restructuring too perhaps) that will prune down trade union powers and probably allow employers to rid themselves of troublesome workers without even a by- your-leave.

Governments not engaging in business is a joke meant for a stand-up comedian. There is enough shady business going on in governance that the IMF had decided to keep an eye on government activities.

Those accustomed to watching the government in action ‘fixing’ one thing or another to help itself and its friends and even meddle with elections, tampering with them or denying the people’s democratic rights by denying polls say the government is very much in business.

Right now, there is a Private Member’s motion to let the local government bodies whose term have already expired be permitted to continue until doomsday, denying the people their
rightful franchise.

So what is the difference between the Sri Lanka people and the thousands of Toque monkeys that Agriculture Minister Mahinda Amaraweera wishes to export? Nothing — because they are both being denied their freedom.

The people are being denied their constitutional rights and the freedom to choose their representatives even at the lowest level of governance. The animals are being denied the right to live in freedom in the habitat they are accustomed to.

Minister Amaraweera took umbrage when several organisations protested against his plans to export some 100,000 of the endangered species at the request of a Chinese company and sought judicial intervention.

Such was the outrage against this attempt by the Agriculture Ministry to export the monkeys which Amaraweera should know or have known, is none of his business and he has no powers to export animals, that the Attorney General had to intervene to inform court that this proposal had since been ditched.

That did not stop Minister Amaraweera from pitching into animal rights and environmental groups for exacerbating a human-animal conflict.

But that is nothing compared
to a classic comment he made to the media.

“If this programme was implemented”, Amaraweera reportedly said with the confidence of a Diana Gamage promoting cannabis or ganja, “the toque macaques (rilaw) would have had the opportunity to live in zoos with kindness and love”.

One would think that Amaraweera was offering them each a luxury penthouse apartment like the one former Minister Ravi Karunanayake lived in once and do perhaps.

Here was a kind-hearted minister trying to give a 100,000 of our endemic breed a rare opportunity to live in a zoo with “kindness and love”.

Well now that we know how life is in a zoo, one can look forward to the day Amaraweera leaves his ministerial abode in Colombo
and enters a reserved cage in the Dehiwala Zoo along with his ministry officials and spend a month or so acclimatising
himself with all the loving kindness bestowed on him. Then he can despatch the monkeys to a new life and not some to a
Chinese restaurant.

He shouldn’t forget to take his shaving gear along in case the facilities at the Dehiwala luxury apartment do not include that.

Incidentally did the minister have an opportunity of having a few words with “Muthu Raja” or Sak Surin, the Thai elephant who had such a kind and loving life during the two decades he spent in Sri Lanka that the Thai Government paid some $600,000 for a chartered aircraft to take the 4000 kilo tusker back home to Chiang Mai to treat it for its multiple wounds given with loving kindness by its carers.

Perhaps this mammal is too polite to discuss life in Sri Lanka.

Well in that case Amaraweera might exchange pleasantries with stand-up comedienne Natasha Edirisooriya who would surely have enjoyed the loving kindness of the State and would have been State guest longer had it not been for a judicious High Court judge in Colombo who rightly abjured the abuse of an International Covenant by domestic law makers and breakers.


(Neville de Silva is a veteran
Sri Lankan journalist who was Assistant Editor of the Hong Kong Standard and worked for Gemini News Service in London. Later he was Deputy Chief-of-Mission in Bangkok and Deputy High Commission in London.)



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