November is the month of the Budget: possibly the penultimate/final budget before the presidential election likely to be announced any time between Christmas in 2014 and Sinhala/Tamil New Year in 2015; Timing is on a presumption that festivities brightens the mood to offer a turbo boost to a government confident in remaining in office with an opposition presenting no evidence of interest to mount a challenge.
Presumably, the coming budget should radiate much sunshine irrespective of any economic despondency with a synthetic bounty on offer at a forthcoming election. Come November 2013 such a budget pales to insignificance with an impending tsunami coping the weather patterns of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting [CHOGM] in Colombo. The Ministry of National Disaster has failed, understandably, to sound the alarm bells since it is conditioned to withstand the shock and awe that is controlled by the Government.
A curse waits on the streets around Colombo in a week of inconvenience with many lanes closed. Mindful to ease the flow of traffic, a forced closure of schools has been enforced, close to year-end: disarranging school calendars, disrupting the curriculum, disturbing scheduled vacations looked forward to by families. In other countries, school kids are lined to cheer and wave flags at visiting dignitaries. Entering the city will mean a much longer wait with a circus in town, public will be held captive at traffic lights taxing their patience watching delegations whiz past. Tempers will arise with offices supposedly open but, in fact, more shut, taking longer to reach office and get back home. Life around Colombo will be on hold while the public has to pay for it in hard cash for an oncoming national dislocation.
It’s worth every cent if it is to improve our image at Geneva 2014. Reverse is more the likelihood with the international media hovering around in plenty on easy visa.They will try to extract prohibited words from the lips of the protocol-bound white mission heads in denouncing Sri Lanka at media sessions. Mindful of the diaspora vote they would talk to please the home audience within the permitted space of diplomatic niceties. [Diaspora missed out on Canada by keeping them away –whereas they could have been turned to embarrass the host nation with their presence.]In a nutshell, we are providing a stage for the hostile to air their venom at our expense at our doorstep. Foreign media folk scurrying in search of anti-Sri Lankan material will have a field day in strengthening the hands of Lady Pillay. They will carry stuffed stuff sufficient to serialize and cultivate sources to continue the story.
It will be a visit to the carnival for those invited to eat drink and frolic at the pantomime. A party time for the lads and lasses of the Ministry of External Affairs (George Orwell might have rebranded it as ‘Ministry of Travel and Loose Talk’) to dress to their best and strut around feeling important rubbing shoulders with the visiting crews after timing a show to bring the government into more disrepute with a helpful nudge from their Indian counterparts. Our South Asia Desk should first study the old Indian rope tricks before rendering advice and making decisions to lose votes.
Poor External Affairs Minister suffers being trapped in Colombo for a fortnight –possibly one of his longest stays at home (outside the budget period) but may build bridges to feed fish to polar bears in the artic regions - a territory so far unvisited.Amidst the booze, grub and floor shows who cares for the suffering public? Let them watch it all on state television to see their leaders make merry to enliven on confined evenings. To accommodate the delegations, hotels will close door to tourists but instead of earning dollars the exchequer will foot the bill in local currency mostly raised in taxes or loans from friendly foreign sources at unfriendly rates.
Its not all gloom and doom, Colombo is looking pretty with roads widened, still better, pavements enlarged and extended to make it easy for pedestrians. Parks are in the making, old buildings are being restored to magnificence but the city is badly in need of a color wash. The red brick old colonial buildings in private hands in Fort look a disgrace lowering the status of their owners sitting beside public structures majestically reinstated. Harsh critics are being flattered with invitations for the grand show – likely crossover candidates are being specifically courted.
Last time Sri Lanka was showcased in Mrs Bandaranaike’s era with the Non Aligned Conference-which brought the country much glory and goodwill for the money it spent. There lies the difference. In the height of the cold war the non-aligned nations ruled the United Nations Organization with their majority vote and stood ground as an invincible commanding force, solid as a monolithic rock. To gain stewardship of the outfit during such a period was indeed prestigious and was a voice that counted in the international realm. No more does the non- aligned nations hold the whip with the end of the cold war.
The glory days of Rule Britannia is long over with Britain no more ruling the waves and the Commonwealth Games overtakes the Conference in popularity in a empire that has seen the sun set. More so, all the participants at the non-aligned conference were genuine friends from emerging nations that showered their goodwill and provided petro dollars that partly funded the conference. They did not come threatening to teach us a lesson unlike some of the present Commonwealth countries. Indian Prime Minister has not yet assured of his presence while we have fallen at his feet, Mrs. Indira Gandhi in happier times played kid sister to Mrs. Bandaranaike at the conference in Colombo. India will look small if its Prime Minister fails to participate at a function held in a friendly neighboring country. It is small-minded posturing after the External Affairs Minister was gracious to personally deliver the invitation.
How many of the commonwealth countries count at the critical Human Rights Council vote in Geneva 2014? Maldives, Pakistan and Uganda voted with Sri Lanka at the 2013 count with Botswana and Kenya abstaining and Sierra Leone voting against among the 53 countries participating at CHOGAM in November 2013. Only six commonwealth countries enjoy the vote at the UNHRC and the price paid is high for the festivities.
Public loves a show where they are a part of the show. State carnivals from Gam Udawa to Devi Neguma though costly attract multitudes that enjoy them to the hilt and treat lightly the expenses incurred. Expenditure on airports, harbours, stadiums and highways are welcome because the public has access and ensures their benefit irrespective of the high costs.
The show of shows is taboo to the public; its gates are closed. People are left out in the cold. Fun and games are for a select few that parties, anyway, much of their time. The government will have to tempt people arriving late to office on to the empty roads granting a paid holiday to generate false enthusiasm as the delegations wend their way to the conference.
To make them cheer the passing Brits, Indians and South Africans is a tough call? Aboo or a slow handclap is more a possibility. In a country where one butted a foreign prime minister another assassinated him; don’t permit a nude streaker to cross the path.