It’s show time: time to prove the government can feed its people post-war

by Pearl Thevanayagam

A Sri Lankan flood victim waits for food donations at a Hindu temple in Karaithivu, about 220 kilometers east of Colombo, Sri Lanka, Saturday, Jan. 15, 2011. Sellaih Rasiah, a community leader in Karaithivu, said villagers affected by the devastating 2004 tsunami have lost most of their belongings and would again have to start anew. Schoolchildren have lost their books and clothes, he said. - AP Photo
(January 16, London, Sri Lanka Guardian) For forty years since the 1971 JVP (Sinhala Marxist) insurrection, Sri Lanka profited from a war economy. The ending of the protracted secessionist war did not bring in the expected post war economic boom. On the contrary, the 287,000 strong military is now compelled to barter its fighting skills for trading in agricultural produce, mostly from the war battered North and East to supplement their stagnant pay. We are now faced with a ceremonial defence force rather than a functioning one.

Economists would argue that the ending of the war only ended in depriving the financial assistance from ‘friendly’ powers such as US, UK, India, Pakistan and others sympathetic

(or motivated by self-interest in their dominance in the Indian Ocean gunning for their enemies such as Iran and each other ) to keeping the island from seceding the rights of the minority Tamils.

Overtly Israel, Russia, UK and Sweden provided grants to the then JRJ government in 1977 for the Accelerated Mahaweli Development Scheme. Covertly JRJ managed to settle Sinhala farmers thus displaced, in the eastern province, diluting its Tamil hegemony. And the aid was in fact utilised to build up the defence force to thwart uprisings by both Sinhala and Tamil insurgents who felt they were being side-lined by the ruling regime.

The ramification of all of this metamorphosed into a climate of terror for which the country paid dearly for four decades. Yet, none of these above-mentioned countries are now willing to cough up for the government which is increasing its defence budget pre-empting a resurgence of the LTTE or an alternative uprising.

In the wake of Sirimavo Bandaranaike’s nationalization policy which left many non-English speaking Sinhala graduates jobless and the standardisation in education which polarised Tamil youth since 1971, there was a legitimate fear the masses would not take this step-motherly treatment lying down and hence successive governments bolstered its defence rather than address the grievances of the masses.

Those who so far supported the Eelam cause are now genuflecting before the President with KP’s support and one can only surmise that except for a handful of patriots the common masses opt for their own economic well-being.

Both the government and the minority Tamil diaspora are now eyeing the LTTE stash deposited with international banks hoping they could get a slice apiece. Gone are the days when NGOs championing conflict resolution, peace and election monitoring managed to procure foreign funding. Now courting KP to get at LTTE funds stashed away in banks has also steered Tamil diaspora in supporting the government much to the chagrin of separatist idealists. At the end of the day money talks.

Yet, countries which gladly took in the LTTE funds have frozen their assets. Banks do not discriminate; money obtained through fair means or foul is still money. Ambrosiano, the Vatican Bank of the Pope is a case in point which took in money laundered through drug cartels from BCCI (Bank of Credit and Commercial International) in early nineties. BCCI which was founded by two Pakistani brothers with the help of a Middle East prince folded leaving a trail of disgruntled and dis-empowered bankers who were left high and dry. What Satan procured the Holy See could purify seems to be the stance for the Catholic hierarchy.

Getting back to our own scenario the present government’s economic policies spell doom for our future. It did not foresee mass unemployment and rocketing cost of living. Unlike post-war Britain and US which invested in its people’s welfare this government does not have mechanisms to lead the country through economic recovery.

GSP+ is now an emerging topic and already Sri Lanka lost its concession last year due to its abysmal Human Rights record during the last stages of the war. That it set up the lame duck of a commission named LLRC (Lesson Learn and reconciliation Commission) aping the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa set up by Pretoria post-apartheid in the’60s is not going down well with international powers.

Unlike post war Britain and US which invested in its people through welfare programs Sri Lanka has done little to assuage its populace their lives are that much easier on the economic front after years of living in terror and tightening their belts to fight a dirty war no-one wanted.

How long can the government bask in the glory of vanquishing terrorism? Far worse terrorism is dogging the public. The horror of empty stomachs and mass unemployment. The soldier from the village who stood proud defending the nation is now reduced to selling vegetables!!! How low can the morale of this soldier get and how long does the government think it can support its military force which brought an end to terrorism?

Confining the key element General Sarath Fonseka who led the military to defeat a terrorist outfit in Magazine Prison is certainly not the answer. His supporters are many but the government sycophants are few. And foreign powers still eye the government with suspicion that it has no clear strategy to deal with post war development. The General’s incarceration could turn out to be his strength in that his stay in prison could only boost his popularity both locally and internationally.

It is a certain bet that Rajapakses cannot even complete this term never mind the second one in 2016 unless they make a turn around in their strategy and address the grievances of minority Tamils who have been battered time and time again and more importantly the rest of their hungry population.

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