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Legalising Rajapaksa-Banditry

[The Sunday Leader.lk, Sunday, 13 November 2011 07:46 No Comment]

Kleptocrat: A ruler who uses power to steal the country’s resources.

Oxford Dictionary

By Tisaranee Gunasekara

Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, Mahinda Rajapaksa and Basil Rajapaksa Mindless-extravagance; land-grabbing; media-muzzling: the three Rajapaksa preoccupations are intimately interconnected.

The Ruling Siblings need money to strengthen their power and to sustain their voracious appetite for exhibitionism, and the fastest way to make a fast-buck in a cash-strapped economy is grabbing other people’s properties and selling/leasing them. Since such kleptocratic ways might alarm and alienate the Sibling’s Southern-base, muzzling the non-compliant media is of vital importance.

Those who allowed themselves to be deluded by the Siblings’ disingenuous assurances about the one-off-nature of the Expropriation Bill are in for a shock. Even before that Bill was passed into law, the Rajapaksas were getting ready with their next, even more draconian, land-grabbing measure: “The government today sought to amend the Town and Country Planning Ordinance to acquire lands for economic, social, historical, environmental and religious purposes within municipal and urban areas… According to the Bill, it is possible for the authorities concerned to declare land areas as conservation areas, protection areas, architectural and historical areas and sacred areas… In the acquisition of lands under the provision of this Bill, it will not be considered whether there are buildings within them or not” (Daily Mirror – 8.11.2011).

If this Bill is passed into law (a near certitude given the compliance of the judiciary and the cravenness of the legislature) the Siblings and their favourite-acolytes will be legally empowered to grab any piece of land, any asset, they desire by the simple expedient of declaring it to be a ‘conservation, protection, architectural, historical or sacred’ area. It would not matter if the land concerned contains a factory or a school, a hospital or a park, an office or an orphanage, a temple, kovil, church or a mosque, or, simply, the home of some citizen. Rich or poor, Sinhala, Tamil or Muslim, no Lankan will be able to feel safe from the marauding regime, once banditry is thus legalised.

The UPFA’s humiliating defeat at the CMC election seems to have caused a temporary setback in the Rajapaksa plans to mass-evict the city’s poorer citizens and grab their lands. The Ruling Siblings will try to circumvent the obstacle of an elected CMC in any way they can. Superimposing an unelected Corporation on the elected CMC or cajoling/browbeating opposition councillors to back the eviction plans are two possible measures. The new Bill, if passed into law, will resolve this problem by enabling the Siblings to declare vast swathes of Colombo ‘conservation’ or ‘protection’ areas and evict their current inhabitants.

Has the Expropriation Bill enabled Sri Lanka’s business class (and the UNP) to realise the vital, indissoluble link between evicting the poor and expropriating the rich? Do we understand that allowing the regime to evict the poor from their homes will make the rest of the society more unsafe as well? Are we capable of seeing the totalitarian totality of the Rajapaksa project, at least now?

No Lankan will be immune from the new Bill, including those UPFA/SLFP leaders who are outside the Rajapaksa charmed-circle. Those who still believe cannot be adversely affected by the current trend which legalises outlawry and protects criminality, should bear in mind the fate of the publicly-slaughtered Bharatha Lakshman Premachandra; and the plight of his widow, reduced to trekking to the Human Rights Commission, as a supplicant for justice for her murdered husband.

Swindle, Spend and Suppress

The Rajapaksas yearn for acceptance, recognition and glory. They want to shine, not just in Beijing, Islamabad and Tehran, but also in Washington, London and Paris (after all, two of the three Ruling Siblings abandoned their motherland in search of the American Dream). Their anti-western diatribes are like the tantrums of a child demanding attention and affection from an indifferent adult. This subservient-mindset is illustrated by the fact that, for all their nationalist-hype, the Siblings are more likely to take some minor Western official into their confidence, while lying to their own people. For instance, according to a WikiLeaks cable (dated 1.12.2009), Defence Secretary Rajapaksa admitted to two visiting staffers of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee (Nilmini Rubin and Fatema Sumar), that the war, though a success, had ‘not been clean’!

Given the childish glee with which any photo-opportunity with a Western leader is gloated over by the rulers (and their acolytes), a key attraction of both the Commonwealth Summit and the Commonwealth Games would be the hoped-for opportunity to play host to a handful of Western leaders and some members of the British Royal Family and even if the 2018 Commonwealth Games bid is defeated, the Siblings will avidly seek other opportunities to flaunt themselves on regional and global stages. Unfortunately, such spectacles are exorbitantly expensive affairs. With an expected revenue of Rs.1.16 trillion, and an estimated expenditure of Rs.2.22 trillion, Sri Lanka’s income-expenditure gap for 2012 is a colossal Rs.1.06 trillion. Since the current national debt exceeds Rs. 5 trillion, the contours of a future financial crisis of epic proportions are already in place. This parlous state of national finances would compel the Rajapaksas to engage in legalised banditry and scavenge for saleable assets and ready-cash. This means ever more innovative schemes to swindle the populace out of their movable and immovable assets. For instance, “the government is considering the possibility of extending the period for refunding sums in the Employees Trust Fund (ETF) from the present five to ten years” (Daily Mirror – 9.11.2011). Is this measure aimed at hiding gross misappropriation of ETF funds, especially if Hambantota wins its 2018 Commonwealth Games bid?

Lop-sided economies in which a small minority enjoys unprecedented wealth and a large majority teeters on the brink of disaster are causing socio-political discontent across the globe. This 1% vs. 99% divide takes the form of chasmic-gap between a micro-minority consisting of the Ruling clan (and its cronies) and the rest of the populace. But this reality is the polar-opposite of the image the Siblings portray, of patriotic leaders committed to selfless national-service and the furtherance of popular (rather than familial) interests.

Manufacturing and maintaining a degree of consent is necessary for even the most repressive regime (including the Third Reich). The Rajapaksas too would want to retain their Southern base for as long as possible. Suppressing non-compliant media which reveal what the Siblings want to conceal, is thus a necessary condition of Rajapaksa rule.

The first website to be banned by the Rajapaksa administration was Tamil Net. That measure was explained as a war-necessity and accepted as such by a majority of the populace. Lanka news web was banned next; that too did not create any uproar, probably because it was seen as an exception. But last week’s banning of five websites has rendered such comforting self-delusions impossible. The banned websites include those duly registered with the Information Department. That and the fact that some of the proxy-sites too are being jammed indicate that the regime may introduce a Chinese-style internet censorship, soon.

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