Sri Lanka: No time to die, live, laugh or cry?

Two Sundays ago, the dapper Minister of State for Finance, among many other portfolios, Nivard Cabraal, was reported to have requested that he be paid pension for having served as the Governor of the Central Bank from July 2006 to January 2015.

by Gamini Weerakoon

The James Bond quote “No time to die” is the rallying call of an international TV channel in its effort to make humans fight back the virus killing them on a global scale. Perhaps, those who are surviving and  seeing decent human beings falling victim to this killer and seeing their beloved being dispatched at desolate crematoria in the absence of those near and dear, will be wondering whether it is  the time to live.

However, reading and listening to the sayings of our politicians have made us laugh and cry as well.

Two Sundays ago, the dapper Minister of State for Finance, among many other portfolios, Nivard Cabraal, was reported to have requested that he be paid pension for having served as the Governor of the Central Bank from July 2006 to January 2015.

Oh Yeah Baby… Oh Yeah

It appears that despite the aura of diplomatic, financial and bureaucratic wizardry radiating around him, Cabraal had fallen in between the stools of politico-administrative hijinks when the abolition of pension schemes for all public servants in 1998 was restored later to all public servants, but not state and Central Bank employees.  No CB governor appointed after 2004 is deemed eligible to a pension.

Poor Nivard Cabraal! After serving the Rajapaksa regime for nine years as its Central Bank chief well beyond the call of duty, was thrown out by the Yahapalanaya government. He had to survive for almost five years without a pension!

Remember his valiant efforts with Namal Rajapaksa to hold the last Commonwealth Games at Hambantota even though the office of Governor of the Central Bank does not entail duties for promotion of athletics.

Imagine the prestige it would have brought to Sri Lanka, the people of Hambantota and its leaders. Never mind the number of gold medals won or not; would the Central Bank have been cleaned out a thousand times more than what happened under Yahapalanaya, had the Games been held at Hambantota? Certainly not, say the Mahinda Chintanaya fans of that time.

Our financial wizard would have kept the economy going just as much as he is doing now although the world around him appears to be collapsing. He appears to be absolutely sure that everything is hunky dory, point out the Rajapaksa cheerleaders.

Remember how Cabraal and Namal led a delegation — a plane load of Sri Lankans– to St Kitts in the Caribbean to canvas support for staging the Commonwealth Games at Hambantota.

At this time with the nation in peril, the rate of mortality, perhaps the highest on record, and our economy, according most economists — other than those aligned to the Rajapaksa government — is sinking under the heavy debt burden, the cost of living is spiralling, food shortages are resulting in street protests, Cabraal is taking it all nonchalantly.

His answer given in a media interview to the question whether news agency reports of food shortages in the country are correct as a food emergency has been declared, indicates his cockiness.

His answer: “I specifically say those are untrue reports… There has been no food shortage in the country. The people are well fed.  The people have to be given the opportunity to work… There is plenty of food in the country.”

Cabraal the economist is correct in a way. There is food in the country.  But it is also a fact that people quite often don’t have food to eat.

There are mountains of pumpkins piling up on the fields, as shown on TV. But in Colombo and in towns, people find it hard to buy even a slice of pumpkin; sugar and rice are in stores or hoarded in stores. Sugar is rationed at one kilo per person and those requiring more than one kilo have to turn up each day to get that kilo. Rice being hidden by the ‘Rice Mafia’ is an old, old story which consumers hear every year while paying through their nose. Cabraal may be correct logically and on sheer economics theories — and he may be right at times but logic and economic arguments are no substitutes for food to the starving people. Politicians seek power on the promise of providing essential commodities not to provide arguments that it is not possible for these commodities not to be available.

He sounds like the proverbial surgeon of yore: Operation successful but patient died.

His economic theories about exchange inflows and nonchalance about the foreign debt will be wonderful if only he can show that the mounting foreign debt is no problem, if we do not default on interest payments. Would the debts be written off by our generous friendly lenders?

The Cabraalian rhetoric in defence of his boss, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, takes us to our favourite quote of George Orwell: Political language is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable and give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.

Giving solidity to pure wind, seems to be Cabraal’s forte.

Nonetheless, Cabraal appears to be inclined to go back to economics or rather the Central Bank than be in his state ministerial post. At the time of writing. it is reported that he is being offered his Central Bank job once again probably with arrears for non-payment of his pension all this time.

What exactly are new Finance Minister Basil Rajapaksa’s economic strategies and would they differ from those of Cabraal?

The answer to such queries is that there is only one strategy — the strategy of Lt. Col. (Retd) Gotabaya Rajapaksa — to all issues. All other strategies — even if they be Cabraal or Basil — are subservient to the Gotabaya Strategy which was clearly spelled out during elections: One country, one ruler, one law. Sounds familiar, what?  Ein Volk, ein Reich, ein Fuhrer –One people, one nation, one leader.

Jayawewa!

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