It is now clear that one expected outcome of the regime change of 2015, namely a more helpful approach to Sri Lanka on the part of the West, is not going quite as expected. Though the European Union has finally granted us GSP, against some significant opposition, its decision makers are going on and on about the need to implement those aspects of the President’s manifesto that they consider important. In the process they ignore elements in the President’s manifesto more important to our nation, and concentrate instead on those commitments to the West made by individuals and organizations funded by the West.

The latest to pronounce, without ever I suspect having read the President’s manifesto, is the new German ambassador to Sri Lanka. He seems to be a throwback to the ambassador of the war period, Jurgen Weerth, whose patronizing lectures astounded even other Western envoys.

Fortunately he was succeeded by a young man who moderated that approach, and then a charming very positive individual, who has been now sent to Mumbai, doubtless for not being tough enough. In his place we now have an individual who talks of the changes ‘promised by the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government in 2015’, if the newspaper report is accurate.

He obviously does not understand that the change happened because Maithripala Sirisena was elected President, and that Maithripala Sirisena owes it to the people to fulfil his promises to them, not promises made by others, to others who did not contribute (except perhaps financially) to his electoral victory. In particular he said categorically that ‘I will allow no international power to ill-treat or touch a single citizen of this country on account of the campaign to defeat terrorism.’

Even as the West resorts to extreme measures to deal with the terrorism that they have inflicted on the world, in their haste to effect regime change – supporting the Taleban initially in Afghanistan, and then fundamentalists in Libya and Syria – they continue to insist that our forces be punished. They have been supported in this by our Foreign Minister, who has at least been consistent, in obviously having resented during the war period the successes the forces were achieving. But government policy is made by the President, and this should be done in terms of his commitments to the people.

Why he continues to tolerate a Foreign Minister who strives to undermine what the President has promised baffles me. Perhaps he thinks that Mangala should be allowed to bark, since he will not be given the teeth to bite our war heroes. But at least now the President should realize that, by allowing Mangala full rein, he leaves room for those who want to control us to continue to make veiled, and not so veiled, threats.

Sadly the German ambassador has not considered the fact that the issue which carries most space in the President’s manifesto is corruption. It seems he does refer to corruption, but he has twinned it with impunity, which in the general understanding of it as having to do with war crimes is of much less concern to the people. That was not central to the President’s vision. In that regard, while it is clear that the ambassador recognizes that corruption continues, he ignores the fact that it is promoted by the failure to fulfil other aspects of the President’s manifesto that were much more important to the people. In particular, the Right to Information Act was totally inadequate, and when it is implemented in the breach, with the Prime Minister’s Secretary finding excuses for refusing to hand over his Assets Declaration, one realizes that we have the mixture as before, only worse.

Interestingly, while most politicians fight shy of declaring their assets because they have too much, I would like to continue to think that the Prime Minister does so because he has too little. I do believe now that he is the most dangerous of the corrupt politicians to run this country, because of what he initiated at the Central Bank. But the damage he does to the country is the greater precisely because he still tries to preserve his reputation, and therefore allows others to make money (and also drive up interest rates, thus putting the whole country into jeopardy), instead of stealing it direct himself.

I suspect he now knows his reputation is in shreds. One of those who knew him at school, and used to subscribe to the Colombo view that he was a paragon of honesty, recently told one of his relations who is supposed to have some influence with him that she should tell him that even diehard UNP supporters felt he could no longer be considered honest. But he continues to elide over these changing perceptions, hoping that Colombo will think he has more than enough to live on. With a wife who is not extravagant, and no children to indulge, he does not need more.

But the point is that he relishes a lifestyle, involving grand hotels, that he could not afford on his income or his assets, assuming they are such as his honest parents left him and he has not added to them surreptitiously. That I think is why he is shy of making known what he actually possesses, for that would make clear that he has lived off his party for several years. Now of course he can live off the country but in his long years of opposition he also travelled expensively and had wonderful times with his acolytes in posh resorts all over the country.

Once Faraz Shaukatally asked him, when he was at one of those resorts, who was paying for it, and did not get an answer. I suspect this was because it was the party. So when people claim Ranil is honest because he does not make money for himself, they ignore the fact that, so long as the UNP is in clover, he does not need money for himself. So the fact that a party that had very little during the election campaign of December 2015 was able to spend massive amounts eight months later testifies to some very shrewd dealings by the chief beneficiary of this plenitude.

So too with the massive amounts spent on posters at elections from the time he became leader, whereas other members of the UNP have to find funds to triumph over both friends and foes in this awful electoral system that Ranil seems determined to perpetuate, contrary to the President’s explicit commitment. I remember way back when he was last Prime Minister the then Editor of the Sunday Times, in general a strong supporter of the UNP, telling me that there were only 3 honest Ministers in the Cabinet – the Prime Minister, Karu Jayasuriya and Karunasena Kodituwakku.

Of course he may have been exaggerating, but the results of the following election seemed to prove his point. Kodituwakku, a great gentleman of impeccable integrity (who also kept English medium going in schools against the Prime Minister’s virulent opposition) lost badly, unable to spend even a modicum of the amount poured in by more able politicians such as the present Finance Minister. Jayasuriya did do very well, even though he did not use posters, but in addition to leading the Gampaha list, he had heavy media backing and received much media coverage. And of course Ranil did not have to spend anything himself on the beautiful posters of him that sprang up all over the country, because the party paid for them.

One reason for thinking Maithripala Sirisena the best of the possible Prime Ministers I urged the then President to appoint in 2014 was his reputation for honesty. That is also why I had no hesitation in supporting him, without making any conditions as so many others did, when it became clear that the then President would not embark on any of the reforms he had pledged, and which would have allowed him to consolidate the gains he had given the country.

President Sirisena still has a sterling reputation for honesty, and this continues to count in the country at large. But he must also realize that the country is getting tired of unnecessary concentration on issues that are of concern only to Mangala Samaraweera and the West and the agents it funds. He should think then of actually working on what now seems a laughable commitment in his manifesto, when he asserted that ‘Just by stopping mega corruption and wastage I will provide the country with development which is ten times that of the last six years, and provide relief to the people.’

Ranil Wickremesinghe and Arjuna Mahendran have shown exactly how mega corruption and wastage can be expanded beyond belief. But the government as a whole must take responsibility for the abject failure to develop anything like as quickly as the last government did. The stopping of work on the Colombo Port project, followed by abject acquiescence now in the Chinese plans – which had been developed with more sympathy for Sri Lanka under the last government, given that it did not gratuitously insult one of our best friends – is symptomatic of the haphazard approach to development of the economic team the President allowed the Prime Minister to put in place.

None of this matters at all to the German ambassador and his ilk. What the Sri Lankan people want and need does not matter to them so long as they can pursue their own agendas, whether dictated by crude electoral considerations or the herd mentality that has overcome Europe. Entertainingly, ruthless pursuit of a selective agenda is accompanied by high-falutin nonsense about it being what the world wants. Thus it was reported that ‘The Ambassador noted that the latest UNHRC resolution, which gave Sri Lanka two more years to implement its promises, had been co-sponsored by 47 nations besides Sri Lanka. “This is a record number and underlines the global support the new government enjoys for its reconciliation and democratic reform program,” he said.’

The ambassador should perhaps be given a lesson in geography. As I noted earlier, of those 47 nations, 27 ‘members of the European Union are there, this being one Western way of raising numbers even though we know that they work in terms of uniform foreign policy. Then there are four more long established European countries and another four hived off from Yugoslavia. Two former communist countries now firmly in the Western orbit, Albania and Georgia, are also there’.

Thus 36 of the 47 sponsors are European, while Georgia would like to be seen as European. When you add the seven countries such as the United States and Australia that are unquestionably Western in orientation, you find very little support from the rest of the globe.

My father used to say that people believe what they want to believe, but I cannot think the German ambassador is so naïve as to believe the globe backs the West in its campaign to reduce Sri Lanka to vassal status. And I can only hope Maithripala Sirisena does not believe him, and instead goes back to the commitments he actually made to the Sri Lankan people, on the basis of which he was elected President. He owes us a nation, he does not owe our nation to the West.

Ceylon Today 2 May 2017 –