18 June 2018

Sujeewa Senasinghe and the politics of spectacle

Years ago, a young graduate made a very perceptive observation: ‘there are no wrongdoers in this world; everyone justifies what he or she does to him/herself, so in his/her mind he/she is innocent.’  

There would be exceptions of course. There are people who swear by the law and have the humility to be remorseful over transgressions, intended or otherwise. By and large, though, the contention is true. Self-righteousness bests humility, admission of error is akin to confession of murder. Humility is seen as a weakness, people think, and therefore fight tooth and nail to establish innocence.  They absolve themselves of wrongdoing be it petty theft, grand larceny or murder, be it a white lie or a barefaced lie, be it a simple transgression of norm or an aberration that is censured by one and all.  

We saw all this in the Derana ‘360 degrees’ program recently where Sujeewa Senasinghe was questioned by Chapa Bandara and Dilka Samanmali.   All three and their respective supporters/loyalists may very well have imagined that they won the day.  

This is not the place to dissect that debate and give marks to each of them for their performance in terms of expectations and perceived responsibilities. This is however a note about what’s not being said. 

Let’s get the facts out first. 

Sujeewa Senasinghe said that he communicated with Arjun Aloysius of Perpetual Treasuries Ltd (PTL) to obtain information for a book he wrote and published on the Central Bank bond issue. Some of the calls were made AFTER the book came out. Go figure!

Sujeewa Senasinghe said he would resign his parliamentary seat if it was found that he had received money from PTL. He did received money from PTL. He has not resigned. Go figure!

Sujeewa Senasighe earlier said he had his own wealth, that his family owned elephants and he had horses to ride on; he therefore didn’t need any contributions from anyone.  Sujeewa Senasinghe did receive money from PTL and, according to him, from others too. Go figure!

Sujeewas Senasinghe said that he had no inkling about the donor at the time the money was received. Some of the money however had been received AFTER the elections were done. Go figure!

Now for what’s missing in this drama. 

First of all, Sujeewa Senasinghe is not the only person who has received money from various sources to support a political campaign. Secondly, this is not the first time that an individual received money for a campaign.  Thirdly it is not only PTL that has pumped bucks into political campaigns. Fourthly, it is unlikely that PTL and Arjun Aloysius were the first entities under a could that gave money to politicians. Fifthly it is not only at election-time that politicians receive monetary gifts. Sixthly, Sri Lanka does not have any robust laws about campaign finance; nothing about transparency and accountability, nothing on full disclosure, and therefore it is not possible to track beneficiaries of policies or decisions to see if they were indeed being ‘repaid’ for ‘services rendered’. 

Then there is this question which no one seems to be worrying about: did Arjun Aloysius, either directly or through any company he’s associated with, help the parliamentary election campaign of the United National Party (UNP)? An attendant question would be, ‘has the UNP made public all accounts related to the party’s election campaign in mid 2015 and if not, why not?’ 

Again, that only tells part of the story. We should ask if other parties have come clean about who funded political campaigns and how much they pocketed out. We should then check back and trace the ‘return on investment’ as far as they are concerned.  

Instead, we have Sujeewa Senasinghe’s ‘media show’ where he rants, raves and says precious nothing about any of the issues raised above. Earlier we had Ravi Karunanayake doing the same. That’s old news. It’s no longer a story that titillates. Soon, Senasinghe will be ‘old news’. A new name would be tossed out. There will be a hue and a cry. There will be a ‘show’ if not on Derana TV, then some other channel. The relevant individual will rant and rave, as probably would the presenter(s). They’ll all believe they won the day.  The relevant TV station would see their ratings go through the ceiling. 

None of this will see systems being changed to ensure that people like Arjun Aloysius cannot purchase representatives and through them security.  

Where is the call for legislation? Where is the call for checks and balances? Why are the Yahapalanists not crying out in horror about the Yahapalana Government’s high and mighty shooting down their precious ‘winning idea,’ their fervent prayer and all that kind of thing? 

If you really want to know what all this is about, it’s simple. Replace the names of the men in question with some names from the previous regime, cross off ‘Ranil Wickremesinghe’ and replace it with ‘Mahinda Rajapaksa,’ erase UNP and instead call it ‘UPFA’  You’ll would hear a mighty roar of umbrage from multiple sources: academics, ‘civil society’ (sic) activists, the US Ambassador, the British High Commissioner and even people from Washington, New York and Geneva.  

That’s it ladies and gentlemen. This is a circus. A spectacle. Sujeewas Senasinghe is just one of many and he’s having a ball.The messiahs are pickpockets and brigands. The promised land is a cess-pit. 

Sit back. Enjoy the antics of the clowns. We might as well get a few laughs.