2022: Survival of the Richest

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PEOPLE POWER: Will this be the scene in the new dawned year as the people’s patience nears busting point

  • What horrors await masses in new ‘no news is good news’ year?

Like a farmyard hen cackling in a barn after laying a single egg, Central Bank Governor Nivard Cabraal was over the moon on Wednesday, flapping his wings and squawking frantically for all to hear how he had hatched a golden egg which had miraculously raised the nation’s puny dollar reserves by US$1.6b to end the dying year on a note of cheer.

Don’t tell him and rob him his moment of triumph but it was later claimed it was from an unutilized  line of credit the former  Central Bank Governor  W.D. Lakshman had negotiated and obtained from the Chinese Government in March this year. If so, no wonder Cabraal kept mum on the paternity of this raven’s egg. But hush. Even a paltry amount obtained on loan must suffice to have the people dancing in the streets to welcome the dawning year on a high.

Nivard Cabraal maybe the last of the hopefuls in a dying tribe once  6.9 million strong who romance the notion and live the day dream that vistas of prosperity are around the mountain awaiting to be blown by a providential wind no sooner the mist clears.

But the Government’s ‘good news’ prophets who sing hosannas to their masters by day in faithful worship and spin bedtime tales to the masses by night in haughty disdain, are fast running out of fantasies to weave when the chasm between fiction and reality is widening as far apart as that between earth and sky. With the economy in the last throes of death, good news is no longer swallowed whole wrapped in a Chinese fortune cookie whilst the wretched bad news chewed raw is digested and regurgitated as a decreed penance to atone the sins of others.

Now, after having bidden goodbye and good riddance to the horrible year that was, tighten your belt as Lanka heads for a roller coaster turbulent ride in what is expected to be a ‘no news is good news’ year. If you thought 2021 was bad enough, think again, brace yourself for worse is to follow.

Thus with a future too terrible to behold soon upon us, and with a new year still on the cusp to unfold, perhaps the time is apt to take refuge in the unalterable past and ask not of the governing authorities, for answer there maybe none, but of the Oracle of Delphi what fate befell the unsolved mysteries the interred year left behind as its living legacy?

ASK of the Oracle what happened to the investigation into the 15 billion buck sugar scam that was alleged to have taken place at Sathosa in March. It came to light only when the Finance Ministry blew the lid and exposed that, in spite of the Government slashing the duty on sugar imports by Rs. 50 to 25 cents, the people had not benefitted and the public coffers of the State had been denied Rs. 15 billion.

Despite the government itself baring the fraud, still no credible explanation has been offered to clarify the amazing coincidence in timing between the date of tax and release of sugar to the market that made rich pickings possible. Isn’t the Government curious that it has remained inert without launching an investigation? Pray say, oh Oracle, who had siphoned off the missing sugar billions and padded their pockets with this flash flood of manna from over the sea by diverting the tide into their pockets for their personal enrichment?

ASK of the oracle what happened to the assurance given by the Government to induce fasting farmers to renounce their protest that   meaningful actions will be taken to end the human elephant conflict which had resulted in the deaths of both man and beast. 407 elephants were killed in clashes with humans in 2019. In 2020, the number was 318, with human deaths notching a high of 112 in the same year. This year’s death toll: 225 elephants killed until the end of August and 55 humans killed upto June end.

Say, oh Oracle, how much longer must elephants get killed foraging cultivations due to their natural habitat being eroded and their natural corridors sealed; and how many more farmers must pay with their lives to protect their crops? Say, on what top shelf is the ‘blueprint for conservation and harmonious human-elephant relations’ submitted by concerned environmentalists to the Government in December 2020, gathering dust?

ASK of the Oracle further- since we are on the subject of environment – how many hectares of vital forest cover have been cleared these last two years to make way for foreign companies to sow maize and who these new robber barons are?

ASK of the Oracle what on earth happened to the compensation received, if any, for the colossal environmental damage caused when the good ship X-press Pearl with her evil cargo of chemicals sank off the coast of Colombo in June, and how much was given to those whose livelihoods were affected?

ASK, too, of the Oracle, since we are on toxics, whether it’s safe to use coconut oil in cooking after the presence of the cancer-causing ‘aflatoxin’ was detected by chance by Port Customs whilst checking an imported shipment of coconut oil? Tell us, oh Oracle, whether – despite the assurance given to us by the consumers’ statutory watchdog, Sri Lanka Standard Institute’s Director General Dr. Siddhika Senaratne, in a televised interview, that ‘to eat a little poison is okay for short time ’- the coconut oil used today is free of carcinogenic contamination?

Following Dr. Siddhika’s shocking admission, the then Cabinet spokesman Minister Rambukwella said the Government does not approve Dr. Siddhika’s remarks that exposing local businesses whose products are found to contain toxins could lead to their collapse and that the government had launched an investigation into her statement.

Tell us, oh Oracle, tell us whatever happened to the Government inquiry and of its findings and action against Dr. Siddhika’s callous remarks? Or whether we are still eating a little bit of poison in our various imported food stuffs, making it a whole lot of poison altogether, with the SLIS official seal of approval stamped on the offending imports stamped by its Directress to protect local business brethren in a showing of ‘Api Venuven Api’ solidarity?

ASK of the Oracle, since we have touched on inquiries, what became of the multitude of investigations launched into the unbecoming conduct of the then Minister of Prisons, Lohan Ratwatte, at the Welikada and Anuradhapura prisons in September.

The charges against him were:

That on September 5 or thereabouts, the Prison Minister Lohan Ratwatte had stormed his own Welikada Bastille with a bevy of friends, allegedly in a drunken stupor, to give them all a macabre guided tour of the gallows. When the prison guards had cautioned him not to take a woman in shorts past the men’s’ cells which lay en route to the gallows, they had been verbally abused for their insolence to dare question the minister’s rite of passage to the gallows.

AND, that on September 12, Sunday evening, he had flown by helicopter to the Anuradhapura Prison and lined up Tamil prisoners held under the Prevention of Terrorism Act and forced two prisoners to kneel before him. He had then taken his personal gun and had held it point blank against their heads and asked them to confess their guilt, making no bones about whose fiat ran through the prison compound.

Following the public outcry, Lohan Ratwatte resigned as Minister of Prisons on 15 September though he still continues as Minister of Gems and Jewellery. Three investigations were launched to probe the shocking incident by the Police, by the Prisons Commissioner and by the Sri Lanka Human Rights Commissioner.

Say, oh Oracle, say whether the individual efforts of these investigators have been collectively blown away by the monsoon winds and any fruits of their toil washed away by its rain that the poor man faces the Good Lord’s New Year neither vindicated from blame nor indicted of crime but in the pillory of scorn? Say, too, oh Oracle, why the 28,915 prisoners in Lanka’s jails by the last 2020 count, still have no Minister responsible for them and their welfare since the vacancy created by Ratwatte’s sudden departure is still to be filled?

ASK of the Oracle, of the infamous Papers that flew out of Pandora’s Box, that revealed to the world the secret wealth of the Super Rich and ignited a local political scandal when it claimed that Lanka’s business tycoon Thiru Nadesan and wife – former deputy minister of the previous Rajapaksa regime and close relation of the ruling family – Nirupama Rajapaksa had stashed their secret wealth, that had grown to 160 million dollars by 2011, in secret offshore companies. Say, oh Oracle, say what do the fates hold for the Bribery Commission’s inquiry to proceed to an early end and afford the ‘power couple’, Thiru and Niru, the right to establish their professed innocence and clear their good name of the stigma that Envy pastes on the rich and famous?

ASK of the Oracle, of the President appointed Committee into the recent spate of gas explosions in the countries kitchens which took two weeks to decipher what had been the common knowledge of all: that the gas explosions were due to a change in the compositions, despite denials by the state owned company Litro Gas.

Say, oh Oracle, now that the Committee have identified the source of the blame, when and what punitive action will follow against those who have endangered the lives of the people and wrecked their homes? If naught, say then oh Oracle, what other value does the Committee reports contain except to render it to the nearest trash can? Say, further, oh Delphi, with gas explosions still booming even after the Minister responsible has assured they are safe, what credence can henceforth be attached to his honour when the buck that is passed around is a Lankan rupee debased?

And finally, ASK of the Oracle, what woe will betide those who dare to still clamour for the Presidential Commission’s Easter Sunday Blast report, handed over on 1st February, to be implemented in full when even its complete findings are yet to be released to the public domain. But, say, oh Oracle, for thou knowest, thou, with thy omniscient eye, see all, say, will the masterminds behind the carnage who triggered off the explosions which killed over 200 devotees as the prayed in church to celebrate the resurrection of their Lord, be ever brought before a man-made court to receive earthy justice?

Or – answer, oh Oracle – will the world have to kneel in prayer and invoke Nemesis for their evil, even as a now forlorn cardinal prays to his God to wreak divine wrath on its perpetrators still hidden behind a satanic veil?

Will the ghosts of 2021 remain entombed in their crypts, will last year’s skeletons stay closeted in their cupboards or will they emerge in the New Year in new form and flesh to be driven with a legal stake through their hearts and be interred forever in their graves?

If wishes were horses, beggars would ride and, alas, it’s far too much for a beggared nation, pauperized to its nadir, to harbour hope in a new year that promises nothing but the worst. With the masses overburdened by the unbearable cost of living, with inflation set to gallop with the indiscriminate printing of Lankan rupees causing prices to soar higher, with shortages of essential items, with long gas queues followed by kitchen explosions, the writing’s on the wall, writ large, the bursting point is close at hand.

Already the masses — for whom hope never comes that comes to all — are showing sign of cracking under the excruciating strain; and giving audible vent to their pent-up frustrations by emitting singular syllables against the ruling class, so much so that it is no longer a moot point but an actual fact that the whole social edifice now stands threatened.

As the lamed masses, chained to their barely draggable iron balls of woe, start to run the New Year gauntlet, only few can expect to last the course. Only those who possess sufficient resources to provide them enough resilience, can expect to ride the turbulent storm. No wonder then if 2022 will come to be known as the year that saw: ‘The Survival of the Richest’.

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