The party is over; now to sell the leftovers

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The guns have fallen silent. The paras have packed their chutes and gone wherever they go after jumping for joy. The mathematicians at the Presidential Secretariat have done their calculations even faster than those Treasury boys who were bleating the other day they had no money to spend for a local election.

That was after the allocation for it was announced in the 2023 budget last November and approved by parliament.

So good were the higher mathematicians at the secretariat counting house counting out the money, a disgruntled public who had been excluded from the independence festivities that displayed our military prowess which could have driven Putin out of Ukraine had apparently whooped for joy when they heard that a cash strapped government was left with some loose change.

Of the 200 million rupees that was originally set aside– or so we were told– for a celebration that would hold the world in awe, only a pittance was spent we are now told. The cost-cutting exercise has been so drastic that instead of the 200 million rupees that evoked national anger, the presidential calculators have within two days whittled it all down to a paltry rupees 11 million and some peanuts. This should surely draw the attention of the Nobel Mathematics Prize committee or attract international stage performers like a modern-day Houdini.

It should surely deserve a special padakkama at next year’s celebration for the secretariat “ganang karayas” as our Vbloggers never tire of saying, saving the country from financial bankruptcy at the end of the day and proving Ranil lokka’s critics wrong.

To bring an estimated cost of Rs 200 million down to a measly Rs 11 million and some is a mind-boggling achievement that should shake the Washington foundations of the IMF and make its policy wunderkind resign and seek employment at the Presidential Secretariat.

This is not the time to gloat, for, as the president said hard times are still ahead, but if the IMF needs a quick bailout, surely Sri Lanka can pass on that extra change we saved—at a reasonable interest rate, of course—and to hell with restructuring

Anyway, this should warm the cockles of the collective hearts of the Election Commission (albeit one heart that stopped beating days before by resigning) which found the police had inflated the cost of services to be provided for the local government elections saying that is the price one pays for poor economic policies.

That surely should come as no surprise because the police have a penchant for inflating most things they can lay their hands, if not their batons, on, including “B” reports as the judiciary seems to discover these days.

That is if you don’t count the inflated egos of the top brass as soon as a new chip is added to their shoulders as though they do not already have enough chips on their shoulders, judging by the way some cold shoulder court orders or those of some independent commissions and subsequently drag their way to their presence to offer abject apologies.

But that is another story to be told in the days ahead as more critical remarks about police conduct and lack of respect for the rule of law come to be made by the judiciary and fines are imposed on these men in uniform for various violations of the law.

Those who remember Roman history would recall that in 47 BC when Julius Caesar quickly defeated Pharnaces ll of Pontus, he shot off a letter (there was no texting in those days as you know) to the Roman Senate saying “Veni, vidi, vici” which read, in the English language “I came, I saw, I conquered”.

That, of course, was the brashful way old Julius (no, not Junius who was our president’s uncle) would say of his achievements until one day he ignored a Roman soothsayer and ended up with lots of holes all over him.

Had Julius the foresight not to dismiss with such condescension the words of that masculine “Gnana Akka” who warned him to beware the Ides of March, his friend Mark Antony would not have had to spend so much denarii on cleaners to mop up the senate floor.

To those who think that this reference to the Ides is as irrelevant as some of the ministerial utterances one reads about, let it be said that next month is March when back in Rome all the back stabbing happened.

Not that those who inhabit the political world of our Resplendent Isle are not accustomed to back stabbing and other black arts. It is just a reminder to those looking forward to the presidential push to pump more oxygen into 13 A that political hijinks could well be on the cards as political crossings and double crossings are already in motion.

By that time all this talk of IMF bailouts, creditor assurances and how much more Sri Lankans will have to cough up in more taxes, higher prices and other fiddles before the government will breathe a sigh of relief expecting some temporary oxygen, will perhaps be known.

Still we cannot forget that seven representatives staunch and true from SAARC (which seems slightly fuller than our own saarc-kuwe) were here to be reminded of the celebrated words of Caesar. After all President Wickremesinghe justifying the 75th anniversary celebration was to say that he wanted to show the world what Sri Lanka could do in its clean suit–never mind the empty pockets.

So the seven wise representatives of SAARC would have returned home saying “I came, I saw and I concurred” with the president that to put on a grand show for the world to see, if not your own people who were shut out of the proceedings by police blockades, you don’t need bagsful of money-legit or otherwise.

After all, the ancient Roman emperors did a grand job of trying to distract social discontent by staging their own extravaganzas and providing food and drink- what the poet Juvenal called “panem et circenses”. At least the citizenry then had bread to fill their empty stomachs.

Then it looked rather like Sri Lanka at election time when bottles and buth packets changed hands along with a 500 rupee note or more. Those days are gone what with recent legislation restricting the largesse to voters to around 20 rupees.

Scant wonder it was an independence without people unlike decades ago when the roads were decorated with colourful flags, homes and shops hoisted the national flag and there was merriment at home and in some open spaces.

But then some had a good time- some 3000 odd including diplomats who proudly watched military hardware they sold Sri Lanka passing by while thousands of others seemed pissed off (if one might be pardoned the language) that there were mobile toilets for politicians and invited gliterrati and only blocked roadsides for them.

(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 Commissioner in London.)

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Disclaimer: The party is over; now to sell the leftovers - Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect point-of-view

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