Ports and Shipping Minister Arjuna Ranatunga was cock-a-hoop the other day about the completion of his artificial Christmas tree on the Galle Face Green. He fought quite a battle to neutralise his critics. The record-breaking project, however, does not seem to have found favour with some prelates; Archbishop of Colombo Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith, delivering his sermon on Christmas Day, looked askance at the waste of resources on decorations and ‘trees’ in the name of celebrating the birth of Jesus.
The giant Christmas tree, however, will figure in Minister Ranatunga’s election posters in the Gampaha District, which has a sizeable Christian community. It is hoped that neither Ranatunga nor any other minister will undertake to put up the tallest Vesak thorana or pandal next May.
Many Sri Lankans hit the sack on empty stomachs and children die in their thousands a month for want of life-saving medical and surgical care. The country is in dire financial straits. Therefore, the government ought to set an example to others by curtailing its wasteful expenditure and pressuring its big guns to desist from extravagance, profligacy and dissipation.
Minister Ranatunga has apparently missed the port for the Tree, so to speak. A terminal of the Colombo Port will be handed over to a neighbouring country, we are told. There is no reason why the veracity of this claim made by a proponent of yahapalanaya and ardent supporter of the present regime should be doubted. The stage is now set to hand over the Hambantota Port to the Chinese. The deal was struck without Ranatunga’s knowledge.
Vast extents of land are being leased out to foreigners for 99 years. At the rate state ventures under the purview of various ministries are being sold or leased out to foreigners the day may not be far off when there are many ministers without portfolios; Ranatunga is very likely to be among them.
Roman rulers, unable to live up to public expectations, with their empire disintegrating, used bread and circuses (panem et circenses) to prevent popular uprisings against them. The present-day Sri Lankan rulers are using circuses sans bread for that purpose. Marie Antoinette got into trouble by asking the protesting masses to eat cake if bread was not available. The present-day Sri Lankan leaders are lucky that they are not troubled by popular uprisings though their economic mismanagement has caused the bread and rice prices to go into the stratosphere. A wag says those who converge on the Galle Face Green and keep looking up have to check for the safety of their wallets. For, the nearby Finance Ministry is full of nimble-fingered politicians and mandarins!
Meanwhile, the grand opening of the Galle Face Christmas tree was marred by the presence of an erstwhile pet of the Rajapaksas. He and others of his ilk who went places by licking the then rulers’ sandals were also responsible for their masters’ pratfall. This politician was a law unto himself in the Galle District during the previous regime. Regrettably, he continues to enjoy legal immunity having switched his allegiance to the present government. The mere sight of him made one’s gorge rise. There were many others like him including the notorious thug who crowned himself as the king of Kelaniya and flouted the law with impunity because he was close to the Rajapaksas. The previous government also shielded a sex maniac in the garb of a local government politician who, according to the late Ven. Maduluwawe Sobitha Thera, used to throw parties after raping women. He was one of the organisers of the SLFP’s May Day rally in Galle this year! Their association with the current administration makes one wonder whether yahapalanaya is the Rajapaksas’ stale toddy in Sirisena’s new pot.