by Gamini Weerakoon (Sunday Leader)
The many ‘patriots’ who are seen on the streets these days bringing everyday life to a standstill, shouting obscenities, creating chaos, causing much hardship to people are indeed giving patriotism a bad name. It gives credence to that old saying of Samuel Johnson: “Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel.”
Are these imposters of pretended patriotism or gullible people directed like a herd by diabolical political minds or are they simply idiots? Probably a mixture of all these types and more…
Last Tuesday all forms of activity in this country were brought to a halt by a strike of Petroleum Corporation workers who halted the island wide distribution of fuel. It was done in the name of patriotism – to safeguard ‘national treasures’.
The fuel tank farm in Trincomalee, abandoned by the British after World War II, had been lying desolate for over 70 years and ‘patriotic’ workers of the Petroleum Corporation had not given a thought to it all those years. It had certainly not been considered a ‘national treasure’ (Jaatika Vasthuvak) or a strategic asset that had to be protected in the security interests of Sri Lanka. Not even in 1986 when India thought the tank farm will fall into the hands of the Americans and made it one of the excuses to land troops here, did our Petroleum Corporation patriotic warriors evince any concern. But in recent times it is good enough a reason to paralyse the country on proposals that the tank farm will be leased out.
There was another cause for this outburst of patriotism – the Mahinda Rajapaksa Harbour in Hambantota where ships rarely call and the Mahinda Rajapaksa Mattala Airport where planes don’t land and has earned the sobriquet ‘The Loneliest Airport on Earth’.
Former President Mahinda Rajapaksa had a pharaoh-like illusion of immortality and borrowed billions of dollars to build the harbour and airport among other monumental structures for his immortality around the modest town not giving any thought to reasons as to whether the ships would dock in or planes would land at Hambantota. The total cost of the first and second phases of the port was a staggering $1,322 million and the annual debt service payments amounted to $73 million (Rs 10.6 billion)
The Mattala Airport’s cumulative losses so far adds up to Rs 37.2 billion ($ 253 million) and the annual loss is Rs 5.9 billion a year.
Neither Mahinda Rajapaksa, the hundreds of patriots who went on strike or anyone else had a clue on how these super colossal debts are to be repaid, but the government has to do it on a near empty Treasury left behind by the previous regime. The people are paying these debts through indirect taxes on their consumables while the government too has to borrow heavily from international lending institutions.
Ranil Wickremesinghe’s solution has been to have a joint venture with a Chinese company holding 80 percent of the shares and the Sri Lanka government 20 per cent on a 99-year lease. For the 80 per cent shares Chinese would pay $ 1.1 billion which would settle the massive loans that the Rajapaksas brought out their hordes by the thousand to Hambantota on January 8. The day the agreement was to be signed and the government caved in and a new agreement is on the cards. Do the patriotic warriors of the Petroleum want this billion dollar debt – the Crown of Thorns passed down the line by the Rajapaksas eliminated or for the government to carry it on their heads?
The COPE Committee report headed by Rajapaksa’s comrade, D. E. W. Gunasekera estimated hedging losses at Rs. 15 billion. Did the comrades take to the streets then?
Mihin Lanka the airline started by Mahinda Rajapaksa for him and named after him incurred a loss of Rs. 17.27 billion between 2007 and 2016.
SriLankan Airlines managed by the Emirates had made an accumulated profit of Rs. 9.288 billion from 2008 began its financial collapse to colossal losses after it’s manager Peter Hill was asked to leave the country when he refused to off load paying passengers to accommodate the entourage of President Rajapaksa returning from Britain after the passing out parade of son Yoshitha from the Dartmouth Naval College.
The most valuable land in Sri Lanka in Colombo Fort was given at no cost to Shangri-La Hotel at no cost. Were there any protests by the trade union comrades for these losses and many more? Trade unions certainly should enjoy their democratic freedom, but like every freedom there is a limit beyond which they cannot proceed without crossing into the regions of the wild ass. A government is there to stop these transgressions and it is time to crackdown with all severity on those who may be under the impression that they can run parallel governments.
TUs and the ‘educated”
Now preparations are afoot by the doctors’ union to team up with other trade unions to get their support to abolish the private medical college. The aim appears to be to link lack of training facilities in SAITM to leasing of the Trinco tank farm and the moribund Hambantota Rajapaksa monuments to precipitate a strike to topple the government! Trade Union comrades are not usually considered as being of the ’educated’ class as the ‘doctors’ who last week were performing in their circus at Lipton Circus over the issue of the private medical college. These ‘patriots’ are now gathering forces to achieve their ‘nirvana’- abolishing SAITM and also topple the government with the assistance of patriotic Petroleum Corporation comrades and the like. These ‘patriots’ are different from the hoi polloi who wear sarong and banian. They wear ties with rubber tubes round their necks to distinguish themselves from others. Ever seen a ‘doctor’ in sarong and banian? But never mind the sartorial styles of the ‘educated’. Their patriotism does not extend to those above the poverty line whose parents are capable of educating their children at their own expense and not that of the state.
Are they not citizens of Sri Lanka?
Patriotism is the blanket that is being used to cover the Machiavellian machinations against the Government. Save Sri Lanka from ‘patriotic scoundrels’.