1. The President: Excellent; no two words about this. Maithripala Sirisena is not loud in his manner nor speech but is strong and gives the impression he brooks no nonsense. So we really are in good hands. Objectively comparing him with former presidents, to me he tops the list. He delegates; he listens to advice; he prioritizes the welfare of the nation and its people. Remember he said he was the servant of the people. He is completely free of vaulting ambition and power will not go to his head, even if he holds the position of executive president for the full five years.
2. The Prime Minister – faring very well. He neither tolerates fools nor sycophancy; thus we are assured of a fair deal. He has clout with the international community and is respected, particularly by the West. Our foreign relations with India, the West and Japan will improve. China wisely will not be let down too markedly from the peak position it held during the previous regime. We will not go seeking the support of tinpot dictatorships and banana republics.
3. Ms. Chandrika B Kumaratunge seems to be right up there. The Independence Day event had her ceremonially escorted to the grounds just before the President with the Prime Minister receiving her, second protocol-wise. We do not grudge her this honour as she was instrumental in ushering in the change we longed for. But wasn’t a precedent created at the celebrations? I suppose all past Prezs are invited.
4. February 4 saw one of the most significant events of the country’s calendar – the Independence Day Parade. It was just as it should be: simple with the right mix of pageantry spiced with a dash of glitz. The flourishes of past parades with brandished power in the stride of the President and his speech and the expense, especially if it were held grandly in a venue distant from Colombo, were absent. If the new President had his way, I am certain the horses, the ceremonial escort of lights flashing motorbikes and even the luxury limos would have been done away with. Thank goodness they were retained; we need ceremony and its attendant flamboyance as long as they do not cost much. Most certainly this time’s Independence Parade was carried out sans ostentation and expense.
5. The President looked solemn but to me he radiated a sense of serenity and metta. I approved his going back to wearing his sleeveless Indian-style coat which becomes him.
6. His address to the nation was excellent and content just right. He recalled the history of our independence movement; thanked those who deserve gratitude; mentioned Mahinda Rajapaksa and General Sarath Fonseka who led the forces to victory. Most significantly, President Sirisena emphasized the prioritization of forging good diplomatic relations with all countries and building genuine, time and pressure withstanding bridges among the peoples of the different regions of the land, meaning all ethnic groups. He ended thus which speaks volumes: “We will clearly carry out our task of moving forward as an awakened nation by obtaining the cooperation of all…” the UN included with its Conventions.
Note the plural first person pronoun. Not for this President to go it alone and do what he wants as he desires, and boast about it.
7. (Lucky seven). I would say the country’s luck has turned. I title this year’s celebrations ‘Humans first and last’ with subtitle ‘humanness to the fore’. The forces were given pride of place; youth was very touchingly and aptly represented by the three young ones who expressed their vision for the future, symbolizing equality of race and language; and those who sang the National Anthem – a fine mix of nationalities and schools.
8. In keeping with the Eightfold Noble Path, moderation and a reduction of ego was clearly seen. In Maithripala Sirisena’s address on Feb. 4 there was absolutely no mention of what he has achieved, no ‘me’ and ‘mine’ unlike in recent past celebrations where President Mahinda Rajapaksa would mention what his government achieved, never forgetting the war victory. The sentences spoken in Tamil were appreciated until one realized it was mere lip service; the Jaffna man did not live in freedom and parity.
9. The coalition of parties close to nine were represented in the audience watching the parade, prominent among them R Sampanthan of the TNA. They were absentees in previous Independence Day celebrations as they felt they had no independence from the government and its Sinhalese majority.
10. A further bouquet. Even though not part of the parade, D S Senanayake was remembered with floral tributes placed at the statue in Independence Square.
11. The appointment of the most senior Supreme Court judge – a Tamil – as Chief Justice is lauded as it demonstrates meritocracy and experience count and race is discounted.
12. I will not dare comment on the phenomenon of three CJs occupying that exalted seat at Hultsdorp on three consecutive days! Nor will I touch on debates. If a CJ sycophants himself to the President and even promises to give court rulings as desired by the highest in the land, leaving aside being present during the counting of votes on the night of Jan. 8 at Temple Trees, he should be relieved of his high office.
13. Trust and parity are evidenced by the racially mixed Cabinet of Ministers and appointment of other high officers like the Governor of the Central Bank.
14. The budget. Much has been written about it and it is being debated. From the point of view of an ordinary woman, it is good.
15. Three cheers for the mansions of the nouveau riche being taxed. Though these new palaces were hidden behind towering walls, people gossiped about that politician or those who were so poor earlier, coming from almost disadvantaged birth homes, now being king-like. Let law and order cut them down to size while the taxman taxeth them heavily!
16. I watched a budget discussion with a panel comprising Ravi Karunanayake, Dr Harsha de Silva, the new Governor of the Central Bank, Dr Arjun Rajendra and Dr Indrajit Coomaraswamy. The participating delegates from business establishments seemed to approve the budget. The main point for me is that this budget targets people’s betterment and the home, not the country’s technological advancement per se in the short term. Once people are satisfied that the money earned gets them a fair deal in life, the country will progress and development brought in.
17. Critics have said the 100 day budget is that of Mahinda Rajapaksa holding the Finance Minister’s portfolio, with minor alterations. Not so at all because what is said will be done, will be done this time, unlike budget proposals from 2010 onwards.
18. Corruption and/or bribery. The points here could cover so many items. Suffice it to say that the range, volume and extent of corruption that prevailed in the last five years is stunning and unbelievable. Comments often heard: there seems to have been no limit to greed and cheating. Isn’t there a saturation point for one’s stashing away money and goods? It was mass corruption with an entire extended family involved and plenty of hangers-on following suit. (We are so glad that the Speaker is not in this cabal and that the new government appreciates him and wanted him to continue as Speaker). Of course we ordinary folk suspected there was illicit money making, but never thought it would be to this extent.
19. We wondered to whom KP’s riches were gifted to allow him free roaming – escorted and by helicopter. We wondered where the gold extracted by the LTTE from the genuine-jewelry-loving Jaffna women went which was handed over to General Fonseka who in turn handed it over to the correct authority in Colombo. Now we are told who got all that gold. The gesture of handing back bits and pieces to a very few Tamil women at Temple Trees in the run up to the presidential election by President Rajapaksa was another puerile gimmick, seen to be such even then.
20. Slowness in detection, proving and punishing. Reasons are given along with protests by those complaining of bribery or corruption. But with the promise and will of this government the long list of cases will be investigated. The truth must out and punishments meted. That is not revenge, but justice and a deterrent to future cheating. The country and its leaders must reach a point where a firm NO is said to bribery and corruption. If the leaders are clean, those below are also clean. Hence we have hope that this government in its 100 days and longer, will definitely cleanse the body politic.
21. Sports. Thank Gamini Dissanayake’s son for the clean up in the various sports bodies, particularly in Sri Lankan Cricket that is on now. Heads should roll; bribe takers apprehended and punished; and sportsmen like Kumar Sangakkara vindicated. Never forget he consistently brought honour to the country not only within the game but in the very heart of the gentleman’s game – the MCC.
22. The Minister of Justice has run into a spot of trouble with his promise to bring back capital punishment. Needed in the face of so much criminality but as queried, will the President being a devout Buddhist sign a death warrant? The Minister’s choice of venue to announce the bringing back of the death penalty was bizarre, to say the least!
23. Hurrah! Packer has been sent packing. There is a most definite halt to the spread of casinos. Posh ‘dens’ advertise they are only for foreign clientele but Sri Lankans creep in. Never mind the new rich losing their ill-gotten gains but others with wives pinching to manage too get addicted.
24. The law and political will must come down ruthlessly strong on the kingpins of the drug menace. Wele Suda has spilt some damning beans. His finger of accusation must be followed very diligently and all drug barons caught and their money squeezed out and added to the exchequer and their ties (Gordian no doubt) cut resulting in the saving of countless young lives.
25. We are very glad about the increase of the education ministry budget; the control of drugs by law and the soon to be passed Right to Information Act.
26. We are also sure about comparatively minor matters receiving immediate attention like insertion of railway gates at exposed crossings. I well remember the former Minister of Transport saying there was no money for such precautions being put in place.
27. That is the number of Ministers of State in the Cabinet. Doing well, attending to work in hand. A spot of bother with tourism and Sri Lankan Airlines but Faizer Mustapha’s hasty resignation has not been accepted. This is fortunate since he is competent and knows his job.
28. One grouse. Disappointment that the pleasure island off the sea near Colombo will rise due to a commitment made to the Chinese. Supposedly this is a must. But stop forthwith the Lotus Tower (let it be stunted) and any other white elephants that were envisaged.
29. Finally a wish. If only the 100 days could be stretched out to the time the Parliament is due to be dissolved. Then we could go on with the present Cabinet of Ministers and work that has started at speed would get the time required to really make a difference and improve things for the people while making it hot for those who cheated.
I hear the howls of protest! 100 days must be 100 days, they shout. No spirit of a thing rather than its actual letters.
30. This summary of a survey through the eyes of a discerning, inquisitive, criticizing woman who has lived her entire (long) life in this Island. She believes that it can go back to being Paradise. The danger of its being a failed state under dictatorship with independence of the people drastically curtailed is lifted. The Change wrought is good, excellent really. We feel free now and liberated. A fine feeling to savour!