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The Year That Was

[The Sunday Leader.lk, Sunday, 25 December 2011 11:00 No Comment]

When we reflected on the year that is ending, our thoughts went back to a person whom we like the least but had said an absolute truth about a pathetic failing of Sri Lankans: ‘You fellows just cannot remember a thing beyond two weeks’.

We won’t spoil the festive season by recalling his name but it is true that most of us just cannot recall events beyond two weeks or even less.

What happened in 2011? We went to our archives to refresh our memories and it all began falling into place. By the beginning of the year most Sri Lankans had worked themselves to a terrific pitch over that seemingly harmless bland faced Korean, Ban-Ki moon, the UN Secretary General. He continued to haunt us throughout the year.

Ban demanded an international probe into alleged ‘war crimes’ of our military men who were and still are the ‘heroes of the nation’ having won the 30-year-war against terrorism which Ban and fellow travellers said cannot be won

Ban Ki-moon sent up our national adrenaline levels to dangerous heights. ‘It is a violation of our national sovereignty,’ we howled in unison. But Ban kept calm and cool as the moon and did not flinch from his original stand. The Lessons Learnt Commission led by C.R. (Bullah) De Silva appointed by President Mahinda Rajapaksa has released the report which has most Sri Lankans patting themselves, ‘Bullah’ and the rest of the commissioners on their backs, but the Americans as expected  expressed their reservations. Ban has not expressed his opinion on the report as yet, but is bound to agree with the Americans or be even harsher having started it all.

This is a deadly serious issue that can affect our diplomatic, trade and economic relations with our major trading partners. Perhaps only Russia and China will to come to our aid if the global economic crisis compels the affected Western Powers to reduce Sri Lankan exports. Still Sri Lanka will be in dire straits because the Russians and Chinese are not major buyers of garments, a main Lankan export.

The LLRC report can provide a way out of the impasse between Sri Lanka, Western nations and the UN. The report fortunately has not gone the way of most presidential commission reports saying ‘Ehei Hamuduruwane’ (Yes, My Lord) to  placate all presidential wishes but made some very sensible recommendations such as the need to investigate some of the very serious allegations of war crimes that have been made with regard to the alleged ‘disappearances’  of individuals who are said to have surrendered to the military, bombing of hospitals with artillery and firing into No Fire Zones. The Commission had said that there were certain alleged incidents which need investigation.  There should also be an independent investigation into the authenticity of the controversial Channel 4 Video. The statement by the American State Department was that the report did not address all allegations of serious Human Rights violations that occurred in the final stages of the conflict. With the LLRC itself calling for investigations on certain allegations made, the demands of the UN and Western Powers could be met if an agreement can be reached on whether the investigations should be made by  Sri Lankan investigators as Sri Lanka insists or by international investigators as the UN has asked for. This is the biggest national issue for the year and will not go away unless resolved.

Sri Lanka’s embrace of China although not objected to openly by the West or India is obviously a sore point to them and continues to  be a major issue for us. China is pouring billion of dollars into Sri Lanka for various infra-structure projects such as roads, harbours, an airport and power stations. All these constructions make up a grand show of ‘Rajapaksa Development’ but do the poor peasants who keep Rajapaksa in power realise the implications of paying back these loans at commercial rates of interest – around 5 percent? Countries such as Sudan and Iran who are recipients of such Chinese assistance have oil exports to pay off the loans but what has Sri Lanka got? The Hambantota Chinese built harbour cost millions of dollars from China but although the beautiful deep harbour is full to the brim with the blue waters of the Indian Ocean, no deep seagoing vessel has yet entered it because of the massive rock at its entrance. Is this the price for doing things in a mighty hurry for no worthwhile reason other than to demonstrate power and efficiency?

Western and Indian concerns though not openly expressed is the spread of Chinese Naval power in the Indian Ocean which has manifested itself in some other Indian Ocean countries as well.

The Rajapaksa family during the year came to be known as a sporting family. Apart from the two sons playing rugger for their school, their sporting prowess had been unheard of in other fields. But now we have one of them involved in cricket, building colossal stadiums at astronomical state expense. Whether only one or two international matches are played there for a year, does not appear to be of any concern. Lamborghinis, Ferraris Aston Martins and BMWs coming in appear to be the harbingers of Formula 1 racing. An attempt to stage the 2018 Commonwealth games in Hambantota reminiscent to the Olympic Games was on the cards but the Commonwealth Games committee decided otherwise after Sri Lanka spent millions of dollars for the initial moves. Beach volley ball is being promoted – not forgetting the girls. Poor peasants around Hambantota may be wondering what they could get out of all these sporting activities but then they could watch international cricket matches for the first time in their lives from the new stadium in remote Sooriyawewa and the Kandyans from not so remote Kundasale.

The year  passed away with not much excitement to the low income groups. It ended up with a bang when vegetable vendors and cultivators rioted against enforced attempts to pack vegetables in plastic containers for transport. The government beat a strategic retreat – though only for one month, the defiant Johnny Fernando said.

Then came the surprise of surprises. Ranil Wickremasinghe rose phoenix-like from the ashes after everyone had given up hope and rebels are hiding under their beds political wags say. The old adage: ‘Failures are the pillars of success’ holds true.

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