While millions of people in Sri Lanka are struggling for survival and the cost of living keeps on soaring, the Government is to spend a staggering Rs. 1,930 million for the Commonwealth Summit to be held here in November.
The Government had waged an international battle to ensure that the summit was held here amid widespread calls for a change of venue because of the Rajapaksa regime’s track record on human rights issues, alleged war crimes, destroying the independence of the judiciary and the independence of the media with a major breakdown in the rule of law.
Eventually, political analysts say India brought about a turning point by insisting that Colombo should be the venue of the summit. The full political price the Government paid for this is still not known, but most analysts believe that the holding of a free and fair election to the Northern Provincial Council without any changes to the 13th Amendment was one of the conditions agreed to by the Rajapaksa regime. Whatever the political price and whatever the internal consequences with some of the Rajapaksa regime’s main allies, strongly and openly opposing the compromise, the financial cost appears to be far too much and the people would have the right to ask who gave the Rajapaksa regime the political power to bust up the common wealth of the people. After all, the Commonwealth is regarded by most analysts as a pompous artefact of once colonised countries and the main benefit will be the privilege given to the President to be the Chairman of this largely powerless organisation for the next two years.
Reports say that at a recent meeting, the President himself cautioned ministers to be careful of what they say or do not say about the summit. He pointed out that the former Prime Minister had presided over the Colombo summit of leaders of more than 70 countries in the Non-Aligned Movement in 1976. The next year her party was thrashed at the July general elections and it did not have enough seats for her to even become the Leader of the Opposition.
According to our sister paper the Sunday Times, in addition to the colossal Rs. 1,930 million, the Rajapaksa regime is also to import super luxury cars for Commonwealth leaders. The choice now is between full option BMW 7 series and Mercedes Benz super class vehicles or a combination. Earlier the regime had planned to rent the fleet from owners of luxury vehicles or buy them and after the summit to sell them at a public auction. But latest reports say some UPFA ministers - who already enjoy an extravagance of privileges including the payment from public money of their monthly electricity bills amounting to more than Rs. 200,000/= - have asked for these super luxury summit cars to add to their fleets of vehicles. Such and other instances of super luxury living if not vulgar extravagance has raised questions among millions of people as to whether politicians are serving them and giving to the country or whether they are shamelessly grabbing the wealth and resources of the country.
According to a report submitted to the Government, the expenditure for the summit is like the accounts book of a billionaire.
For millions of people, especially those living below the poverty line, such expenditure and numerous other instances of super luxury living by politicians who are elected to be servant leaders of the people are outrageous. These millions of people may be wondering whether they are considered as collies in a company or sovereign citizens of the country.