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Year 2017 for Sri Lanka; Reading outside Astrology

30 December 2016 07:07 am - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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Year 2017 dawns with all arrangements including a week for ‘reconciliation’ put in place to celebrate two years of Maithripala Sirisena presidency and Wickremesinghe government. More precisely, it would be two years celebrated for ousting the Rajapaksas. The UNP on its own was conceded as no strong contender to floor Rajapaksa. Mr. Wickremesinghe thus agreed on Sirisena as the Common Candidate to defeat Rajapaksa. Ousting Rajapaksa was all that the Colombo ‘civil society’ owners too wanted. They still cry proud not about their victory but about them defeating Rajapaksa. Everything else is unimportant to them even now. 

 


Two Years Spent 
Henceforth, drawing up a brief profile of this government’s two-year performance begins with its leaders exposed as totally incapable of reading the global economy, ‘post2008.’ They expected the West to fund their projects as soon as they came to power. With no funds coming from the West, they ended up at the doorsteps of China. They are also far more untidy and corrupt than the Rajapaksas. Already they have 47 Cabinet ministers plus another 45 Sate and deputy ministers on tax payer funds. In just 18 months, they have at least seven mega corruptions including two bond scams as against three such mega deals during the first 36 months of Rajapaksa. 


The government failed miserably in its annual budgeting, two years for now. The budget 2016 was cut, chopped, axed and sawed from day one -- so was budget 2017. It ran into public protests almost instantly. Different and contradictory interpretations were given to proposals by the Finance Minister himself. The President pledged protesting bus owner she would amend budget proposals, least concerned about revenue and expenditure. 


Having failed in smuggling a VAT without informing parliament, the government blundered (again) in getting a proper bill to levy the VAT. On finance and monetary policies and management, this government is pretty amateurish. Within a year, the PM made two statements on economic policy and strategy. Yet, the budgets do not reflect any policy nor does what President proposes and implements under him. 


The most shameless betrayal by this government is on reconciliation and in letting down the Tamils and Muslims. The North and East have not been out of the ‘Rajapaksa grip,’ two years after January 2015. With all those messing up comes the effort to bully and intimidate media. The PM publicly threatened and coerced media many a time demanding media ‘fall in line’ with the government. These were no isolated threats to democratic life. This government proposed amendments and bills that were more draconian and tyrannical than what the Rajapaksas passed. 

 


With them the year 2017 
Two major issues that have been dragged along for two years post January 2015, await reasonable and justifiable answers at least in 2017. The IOSL Resolution 30/1 demands more serious attention than it had in 2016. Tamil political demands and war related issues tinkered around with no political will to address them need no more delaying. On the economic front, ‘national development’ must go beyond urban economic gains. Rural economy should be able to retain youth with space for viable economic life. That is what is necessary. But what is in store for the North-East Tamils and Muslims and for the majority rural Sinhala poor in 2017 under this famously-labelled ‘Yahapalanaya’? 
The ‘reconciliation week’ proposed by President Sirisena to mark his two-year presidency is a publicity gimmick that wouldn’t fool the Tamil people. A president who clubs the Buddhism Ministry with the Justice Ministry is one who is wholly ignorant of the conflicting ethno-religious mindsets in this war-battered society. It is also chaotic to leave these two conflicting ministries in the wrong hands. But he had done just that. A president who cannot instruct the Justice Minister to unconditionally release all Tamil youth detained without charges for many long years can only talk of reconciliation for media hype. 


It is indeed nothing but frighteningly dangerous to pin hopes on a president who patronises extremely violent and Rajapaksa-nurtured Buddhist monks who openly incite racial and religious hatred. A government led by such confirmed Sinhala leaders would not leave any hope for the Tamils and Muslims in 2017. 


This government shows no deviation from the Rajapaksas to believe they could be better in 2017. Torture continues with impunity, proving the government is incapable of disciplining the law enforcement agencies. It refuses to admit the judiciary as a system that is ethnically biassed. Even before the verdict on the murder of former MP Raviraj raised serious concerns, the judicial process was proved biassed against the Tamil victims and when indicting security forces personnel, President Sirisena vows to defend as ‘war heroes.’ The case on the mass murder of 24 Tamil villagers including 12 women and seven children of Kumarapuram in Trincomalee exposed the judiciary’s racial bias. The Kumarapuram case was transferred from Muttur to Anuradhapura High Courts after a long lapse. Transfer to Anuradhapura allowed for a Sinhala jury. All accused were identified by victims as those who committed the crimes. In July 2016, the Sinhala Jury nevertheless deemed all suspects as innocent. 


With three PC elections and the unjustifiably postponed islandwide LG polls to come in 2017, this Sinhala political trend is destined to take a more aggressive leap. Desperate in grabbing control of the SLFP, President Sirisena is seen collecting Sinhala extremism around him with Rajapaksa making loud promises to the Sinhala constituency. That competition to be more Sinhala than Rajapaksa has prompted the government to leave the OMP Bill (adopted in parliament) in cold storage. The new draft Constitution the TNA wants with more power-sharing than in the 13A and genuine reconciliation would thus be a far crying 2017 under this administration. 


Reconciliation limited to rhetoric, a corruption free rule and national development in 2017 will not be the fate of the people. Frantic haste in bringing investments into this crude neo-liberal economy will certainly ensure mega corruption. ‘Development’ promised by this government is now exclusively Chinese and Indian. This free market model with direct Chinese investments and designed for profits with economic growth, would have to allow Chinese labour in massive numbers into 
the country. 


Already there is an unaccounted number of Indian, Bangladeshi, Pakistani and Chinese labour on ‘tourist visa’ employed in local factories. Agreements with China on the Hambantota industrial zone and Chinese invested FTZ will involve large-scale Chinese labour, more than what the government would publicly accept. Indian sponsored investments would be no different. All of it could even compel the government to amend the Immigration and Emigration Act to accommodate foreign labour legally. The export industry had been canvassing for the right to import labour, even during the Rajapaksa era. Initial protests by the Rajapaksas therefore will only be publicity stunts. These, after all, are extensions of their own projects. 


For its own survival and in serving its own financiers, these mega investor projects would need arrogant implementation, ignoring protests and disregarding existing laws. Most mega projects including the redesigned Colombo  Port City, pay no response to continued public protests and scant respect for environmental concerns, totally disregarding coastal zone management plans. 2017 will see an acceleration of all such arrogance. 


There naturally will be public protests against land grabbing and environmental concerns with a large extent of land acquired, displacing people. There will also be brewing unrest and protests within employed labour too. Trade unions do not seem to comprehend the crisis they will be dragged into in 2017. Sri Lanka will have to have carved out large zones with Chinese and South Indian labour, with no labour laws applicable to them -- not even to the extent they are presently applied in already existing FTZs. A condition the government will have to agree to, when big Chinese and Indian investments are canvassed. That certainly will have a viral effect. Other investors will also want the right for same relaxed conditions applied in their factories. The writing is already on the wall. The employer thrust even now is in union busting especially in the Katunayake FTZ. Key players in the government seem to be bidding time, to give the nod for a complete go. Trade unions will have a turbulent year ahead. 


The rabidly free economy the government is obsessed with, demands the State to facilitate arrogant and repressive rule in 2017. The role of this repressive State is being defined by draft bills the government has in its hands. The draft Development (Special Provisions) Bill that was rejected by PCs but would be brought up in February 2017 together with the draft ‘Counter Terrorism Bill’ to replace the existing PTA, spells out how much centralising the government wants in canvassing Chinese and Indian investment and how repressive it intends to be in its effort to crush all inevitable protests. 


Thus, 2017 will be a year that would test the ability of this ‘two part’ government to stay together. Shameless and morally unacceptable greasing of MPs with numerous packages and privileges are legal bribes to hold the government together for wheeler-dealer projects. That while disappointing and leaving the Tamils and Muslims in a further polarised Sri Lanka. It would also be a year the government replicates few more ‘Rathupaswelas’ and workers’ could taste from the Hambantota port ‘menu.’ The PM thanking the Navy’s action at the Hambantota Port says it all. 

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