Sunday, June 04, 2017
The very idea that more law is needed to effectively operate relief to affected persons hit by natural disasters in Sri Lanka, as put forward by some bright ministerial sparks in recent days, is an asininity which needs to be peremptorily dismissed.
Let us be very clear. The issue is not the law. It is the sheer woeful incompetence of the political leadership and more specifically the imbeciles in charge of disaster management even though many government officials rendered yeoman service in helping the afflicted in recent weeks.
It is only in nations as unfortunate as ours that the Minister in charge of the subject can dawdle overseas in some international conference or the other in some luxurious resort or the other while the country staggers under the worst floods in a decade or more. True, no member of the human species (politicians included with some perceptible reluctance) could be blamed for being overseas when disaster strikes. But the fundamental principle surely is that returning home must be at the earliest opportunity. Have we lost all basic notions of propriety in the first instance, let alone more grandiose calls to proper governance?
Last week, this column referenced the plight to which Sri Lanka has been reduced to due to the actions of a few incompetent imbeciles in the unity alliance. Deliberately tautologous language was used. This severe indictment was heightened by events thereafter. The unbridled arrogance on the part of the responsible Minister at the time, Anura Priyadarshana Yapa in meeting questions that were raised regarding the accountability of the Government even after he returned belatedly to a grief stricken populace, beggars the imagination.
Are the afflicted supposed to live on the streets?
The ministerial worthy could only snap that the Department of Metereology should be closed down if it is thought to be of no use. Let alone accountability at ministerial or official level, there was not even the slightest sense of empathy in responding to an unprecedented disaster. The other fantastical notion put forward by this worthy was that Sri Lankans are unique in that they do not want to leave their homes even when there are warnings issued of impending disaster and that therefore a law was needed to compel such action to be taken, when it is so warranted.
So is this what we have now been reduced to? Absent any proper disaster management plan, absent sophisticated technological equipment to predict turbulence in weather patterns despite millions of rupees being wasted on such equipment in the past, our politicians can only yap about laws?
Pray, where are these people, liable to be now dragged out of their homes in anticipation of future disasters supposed to go to? Nearby Bangladesh coped far more effectively with the sweep of cyclonic fury that hit Sri Lanka. The Bangladeshis did so by putting effective disaster response schemes into place. In contrast, in this unfortunate paradise isle, the afflicted of past disasters have yet not been given relief, including those caught up in the Salawa explosions. How can a populace allow its politicians to escape without any minimum responsibility in this manner?
Learning lessons in general
While that is so on one side, the so-called Joint Opposition can only capitalize on the misery of the people by saying that government officials are afraid to help due to fears of action being taken against them by the Financial Crimes Investigation unit. Certainly its leader, former President Mahinda Rajapaksa does not need to be educated on the benefits of natural disasters, given the corruption that took place directly under his command in the Helping Hambantota Fund.
And lest we forget, when investigations were launched by the police into the Helping Hambantota corruption, a former Chief Justice of this country, Sarath Silva not only absolved Rajapkasa of all culpability but ordered costs against the police officer who had investigated. The exercise degenerated from farce to comedy when this same former Chief Justice apologized for his actions when his political loyalties switched. One wonders (if one bothers) as to whether one would be privileged to witness another apology for that past apology in these shifting winds of political allegiance?
Regardless, there is a greater lesson to be learnt. These nonsensical exercises are not limited to a particular political period. And let us not be led astray by the magnanimous proposal by the unity alliance that the millions reserved for luxury vehicles of politicians will be shelved for this year in the wake of the flood disaster. These are palliatives meant merely to soothe rising tempers rather than signal a genuine change in policy.
Proving the extremists wrong
Indeed, the argument that the law must be revised has two dangers. First, it has the same opportunistic ring as the protestations of the Rajapaksa regime when it claimed that the existing law was not sufficient to deal with crimes of religious violence against the country’s minorities in the wake of violence targeting the Muslim community.
As we all know now, the reality was different. It was not the law which was at fault but powerful members of the ruling Rajapaksa cabal who sanctioned and indeed drove carefully manipulated incidents of violence. It was politically engineered. During the recent weeks, when the mayhem of the floods hit innocent people with no sensible disaster prevention policy in place, ordinary Sri Lankans reached out to help one another, untouched by race or communal hatreds. This is what gives the lie to those who scream till they are blue in the face against one race, one community or one religious group.
Extremism is not limited to marauding monks in yellow robes; there are Islamic fundamentalists as well. They are all silenced when the silent majority refuses to be cowed by fear or by fascism. But when the focus becomes the law it diverts attention away from political responsibilities. It is this diversion which must be firmly resisted. Secondly given this Government’s dubious track record in amending laws or enacting new laws in general, one must be wary of whatever is being proposed.
Cosmetic changes will not suffice
In sum, the imbecilic character of the establishment goes beyond this most recent disaster and the unprepossessing personage of the Disaster Management Minister.
Put simply, this characterizes the systemic collapse that has been evidenced in Sri Lanka for some time. The simplistic belief that these failures could be tackled by a cosmetic change of heads should surely now be stripped of all its pretensions.
Much deeper thinking is needed in regard to addressing the systemic rot.