Can SAARC take a new road to prosperity?

by Gamini Weerakoon

(August 03, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) This political and media hype now on about SAARC was driving us nuts. Morning, noon and night radio and TV have been droning and drooling about SAARC. Newspapers with their technicoloured headlines are screaming SAARC, SAARC.

To getaway from this SAARC cacophony, we took refuge in our hansiputuwa by a window to ruminate about far more pleasant things and enjoy the invigorating monsoon breezes blowing in. We fell asleep in the cool morning but were suddenly jolted from our slumber by someone screaming 'SAARC, SAARC' in our garden.

This was the giddy limit and we were about to go rushing out when we spotted the culprit: A crow on our gate singing merrily his favourite tune: 'KAAK, KAAK.' It sounded like 'SAARC, SAARC.'


Our nerves were shattered and we decided to soothe the frayed nerve ends at the water-hole. But even on the way, SAARC leapt out from everywhere in the form of billboards. The laying of a wafer thin rubber carpet on the road to make the representatives of the poor South Asians have a comfortable ride during the summit had brought traffic to a halt. Our taxi driver - obviously an UNPer - cracked: 'Don't know whether the rubber carpet will last the three day summit.'

Why the summit?

There was absolute peace and quiet at this oldest water-hole in town around noon with only the dispenser on the other side and us sipping ice cold water as a prelude, perched on a stool. Not even the club cat was present.

But you can't keep this all pervasive subject out for long. A thirsty political academic spotting us at a distance came in saying: 'I say all you newspaper hacks have missed the most essential point. Why did Sri Lanka decide to host this summit? True, Maldives passed the Rs. 5.1 billion cheque on to us but how come we accepted? Was it Mahinda Percy's love for political razzmatazz and all that jazz or our Big Brother twisting our arm to keep the Sri Lanka pot boiling?'

'Surely with bombs going all round the capital, Mahinda and his boys engaged on three war fronts - Wanni, Anuradhapura and Ratnapura, Red Comrades threatening a three day strike not forgetting the price of bandakka, wattakka and wambottu, the mood is quite right for a three day peaceful pow-wow with our South Asian brothers on the delights of poverty alleviation in five star comfort?'

Mind boggling

As we confessed before, we were sick to the gills about this SAARC lark. We called for the papers and showed the academic, the mind boggling defence of SAARC by Boggles - sorry - our Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama. The major portion of the expenditure would be spent to purchase new technologies, vehicles and motorcycles for the police, he had said. It is because they don't have these facilities we need so much money. Besides 12,000 police officers would be working during the summit and they have to be given breakfast, lunch and dinner, the Minister had pointed out.

Now we know why the police couldn't catch those abductors in white vans, thugs assaulting journalists, women being attacked in public highways and the like. The poor cops didn't have the facilities and free meals but after the 15th SAARC Summit we can hope that these crimes will come to a halt.

BMWs for patrolling

Most probably PC Punchi Banda and SI Silva will be given bullet proof BMWs that were imported for this summit for their routine patrols. Besides, according to this mind boggling logic, all this expenditure will go down as capital expenditure.

And this will make the Treasury boss Punchi Banda Jayasundera and Governor Nivard Cabraal crow from the top floor of the Central Bank that the GDP has reached the highest ever. Defence expenditure being taken as capital development in calculating the GDP! Will some learned economist calculate how much of defence expenditure went on to boost the high GDPs in the two years of the Rajapakse regime?

SAARC is good

SAARC is good for the man on the street. Ask the residents of Glennie Street, Slave Island who are on the streets after their homes were demolished. What about those of other nations? We yakkos of Sri Lanka don't know what is good for us.

One newly arrived pundit writing to the state press speaks of the SAARC Development Fund established in1996. A 'series of studies' had been conducted but the fund apparently has no money because a sum of US $ 300 million has only been recommended for the 'Social Window' of SAARC but not yet granted.

Whatever has happened to the plans for poverty alleviation in the region? There are tonnes of research papers read at five star hotels to fill up libraries. Have the yakkos read about 'inter regional connectivity,' 'economic and people- to-people connectivity,' Infrastructure Development Fund and other esoteric subjects?

An entire new SAARC Industry is in the making like the Human Rights Industry but the latter is not short of funds unlike those backed by the eight regional states.


We have to confess about our failure to answer the question: Why hold the SAARC Summit in Colombo at this time? We have been told why not. If we can play three Tests against India at this time why not hold SAARC?

Besides we are winning 'the war,' we are told. We are also told that our honourable leader sees 'connectivity' between SAARC, cricket, 'the war' and inflation. It makes us forget the cost of living.

A cynic says: 'If we go by statements of our government spokesmen, we may soon overrun Chennai and our troops will be proceeding to Bangalore.' We told him: Don't be SAARCastic, we are patriots.'

The cynic quotes an American showman of yore, P.T. Barnum: 'A sucker is born every minute' and says that South Asia is famous for it and we all are 'SAARCers' - one billion of them!
- Sri Lanka Guardian