Monday 4th October, 2021
Beggars who pester pedestrians and motorists are wary of venturing out, these days, as they run the risk of being packed off to faraway quarantine centres. But their besuited counterparts at the higher echelons of government have no such problems. Clean-cut ruling party worthies are ever ready to go cap in hand to foreigners, who must be considering them a real nuisance.
Successive patriotic governments have reduced this country to penury; it therefore needs international assistance and is a beneficiary of the munificence of other nations. But there are projects that the Sri Lankan governments should be able to carry out without foreign funds. Why should foreign taxpayers be made to sponsor audiovisual equipment installed in some of Sri Lanka’s courtrooms? This is the question one may have asked oneself on seeing a handout picture we published on Saturday; its caption said that in response to a request from the Ministry of Justice, the US Agency for International Development (USAID), on behalf of the American people, had provided audiovisual equipment to the Ministry and the Commercial High Courts, and it would enable courts to record and transcribe their proceedings and facilitate adjudication during COVID-19-related restrictions, further strengthening the justice sector’s efficiency and effectiveness for Sri Lankan citizens.
The US and its people should be thanked for their concern and generosity. They have also sent large stocks of vaccine to help save Sri Lankan lives. But what is the use of having a government here that cannot even provide some courtrooms with audiovisual equipment without external help?
The current Sri Lankan government is highly critical of the US, which it considers meddlesome. The US is leading a campaign in Geneva to have a war crime tribunal set up here, and the leaders of the present government are struggling to defeat that move. In June 2019, it was reported that the Bar Association of Sri Lanka had strongly objected to attempts by the American Bar Association to set up a branch in Sri Lanka. Curiously, the SLPP leaders have no qualms about seeking and receiving US funds for audiovisual equipment for some courts!
From Hulftsdorp or Aluthkade, one can see the Lotus Tower, which is a monument to irrational spending if not waste. There are several such Ozymandian projects which the country would have been better off without. (Most of them are in Hambantota!) Now, unable to pay back loans drawn for them, among other things, the present dispensation is raising funds at the expense of vital state assets such as power plants, and begging for foreign aid.
Computers for Parliament, which is full of patriots who claim to have done so much for this country, came as a gift from China. Those who vilify China at the drop of a hat are using these machines; they also accept junkets the Chinese government generously offers. Funds for refurbishing the parliament media centre came from the US. No wonder some foreign diplomats present in the parliamentary gallery as the Speaker’s guests, in October 2018, burst into cheers when their favourites—the UNP and its allies—won a vote against the forcibly formed Sirisena-Rajapaksa government in the House.
The government which claims to lack funds for building schools, upgrading hospitals and providing necessary equipment to courtrooms, behaves as if it had no financial problems at all when it satisfies the wants of the members of Parliament. A few months ago, it sought to buy about 390 brand-new luxury vehicles at a cost of Rs. 3.4 billion for ministers, the MPs and others, and if not for heavy flak it drew from the media, those dream vehicles would already have been here. If such wasteful expenditure is curtailed, there may be enough funds for essential projects.