Sri Lanka was a country that was an example to every post colonial small country with a small GDP, an example worthwhile for even Lee Kwan Yew of Singapore to take note of. What was unique about Sri Lanka was the fact that within 20 years of independence it had achieved a literacy rate around 90%. It had free education, a disciplined public service, and a free health care system - an envy of any developing country.
Today, Sri Lanka is unfortunately a country in disarray. Led by corrupt politicians, an ineffective politicised public service, a failing economy, a debt of 20-30 billion, and a dwindling educated middle class that is migrating, it is essentially a predatory state which is embezzling the wealth of the nation. The predicament of Sri Lanka is embedded in her colonial history and the natural evolution of exploitative processes of its colonial masters. For Sri Lanka, colonialism never ended with Independence. It is a lesson all Asians need to learn.
Sri Lanka’s debacle began after the election of JR Jayawardena in 1977, under the false premise of a Dharmishta Society, a noble vision. What he achieved, of course, was the beginnings of a predatory state and the destruction of all achievements of the past. The unsuspecting electorate gave him a 2/3rd majority in parliament. He took resignation letters from all the MPs and held them to ransom to achieve his ends.
JRJ epitomises the greatest achievement of colonialism - servility to old colonial masters. A descendent of a servant in Governor Driebergs house, whose ancestors achieved a prominent position in society by collaborating with colonialists, he was the ideal leader for the ex- colonialists: a servile, pseudo-democratic dictator, a man with a Macaulayan mindset and a belief that westernisation was modernity. Under his patronage, colonial exploitation reared its ugly head again. The plan, as the book Economic Hit Man portrayed, was for the destabilisation of the country and region and embezzlement of the nation’s wealth. To achieve this, the following programmes were instituted.
Control of economy
To qualify for Aid, IMF and World Bank advice have to be obeyed. Thus, the currency was devalued, subsidy on education and health care reduced, and an open economy established allowing cheap subsidised goods to be imported and destroying the nation’s nascent industries. The Trojan horse was development, which was geared to corrupt business and political systems, to establish a predatory state to embezzle national wealth.
The biggest development programme of the regime was the accelerated Mahaweli river project, which was said to establish self-sufficiency in food and energy. It is of course well known that only 60% of allocated funds go into a project; 40% goes into commissions and administration. The commissions are bribes to politicians and public servants, which is re-circulated into the western banking system. It was rumoured at the time that ministers in charge had bought apple orchards in Australia!
It is hardly surprising that a minister in the present government, Mr C Ranawaka, has alleged that the Mahaweli project costs were overestimated to four times the real cost. He claimed that Sri Lanka borrowed $68 million and after 20 years owed $548 million after paying $ 314 million!
More importantly, Sri Lanka is still not self-sufficient in food or energy. In fact, Colombo has signed an agreement to buy electricity from India. The ecological damage is horrendous. Worst it is the allegation that the water is contaminated by heavy metals, causing kidney damage to citizens. A corrupt government that works hand-in-glove with the IMF dare not investigate this.
Another issue is the import of steel bodies for buses, replacing the aluminium light weight bodies produced domestically. This has created loss of employment in Sri Lanka, but more importantly, the light weight aluminium body does not rust and being light, consumes less petrol and is economical. This project was carried out with World Bank aid.
There are many examples of such logic-less IMF advice, which only force economic policies geared for embezzlement of national wealth. For example, Sri Lanka has reduced subsidy on education but allows Rs 1000 billion for the education of the elite abroad. Similarly, there is VAT on locally produced rice, but no VAT on imported wheat flour, when rice is the nation’s staple diet. The most recent example involved the World Bank-funded Southern Highway contracts being signed 4 times - commissions and administration charges 4 times over! For such blatant embezzlement society was destabilised; a stable society will never allow it.
Destabilisation of society
The basic ingredient for destabilisation is commissions, which establish a predatory state. A pseudo-democracy where politicians’ view on any subject was formed by the commission they could take, made politics a profession for easy money. It is so lucrative that violence has been used to perpetrate themselves on society, with their children joining the fray. This also establishes a corrupt expanding middle class that is dependant on commissions. The decent educated class finds it very difficult to survive in this corrupt system; they migrate to serve the West, where the seeds of this instability originate!
Disruption of society is enhanced by Christianisation. On one hand these countries embezzle the wealth of the poor, with the other hand they come with a measly piece of bread to give salvation to the starving masses. It reminds one of the famous statement by Jomo Kenyatta: ‘when the white man came he had the Bible, we had the land. Then he said, ‘let us close our eyes and pray’. When we opened our eyes we had the Bible, he had the land.’ Propagation of extreme forms of Islam using Gulf oil money is another mechanism to prevent any harmony in society. Sri Lanka has not been spared, although its Muslim population is small.
Tamil terrorism and its international connections
Terrorism and destruction gives the international lending systems an opportunity to propagate their own projects. It is used to destabilise the society, and to destroy. Destruction as in Iraq is another opportunity for ‘development’ and exploitation. The purpose of the LTTE cannot be assessed from a perspective of Tamil nationalism alone. Vananu, the Israeli dissident, in his book describes how the Tamil Tigers and the Sri Lankan Army were trained at the same time!
Whilst covertly assisting the LTTE, the Israelis sold arms to the Sri Lankan armed forces. The West allowed the Tigers a safe haven to collect money and invest their drug earnings, whilst speaking of peace. This hypocrisy extended to every sub-continental terrorist group, including support for the now-defunct Khalistan Liberation Front, Kashmiri Liberation Front, etc. The LTTE also infiltrated Tamil Nadu politics, trained insurgency groups in India, killed Rajiv Gandhi, which goes to show that it was not concerned with only Tamil nationalism in Sri Lanka.
The interests and motives were more obvious when the Americans wished to send a plane to Sri Lanka to rescue Prabhakaran and top LTTE leaders. The visit of the foreign ministers of France and Britain, and Nambiar of the UN, to save Prabhakaran showed there was a hidden hand behind the LTTE, to destabilise not only Sri Lanka, but India. The latest WMD used against Colombo is human rights violations of IDPs and war crimes allegations. There is now a threat by the West to take the Sri Lankan military to the International Criminal Court. Mind you, these are allegations made by NATO countries which are daily killing innocent civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan. Don’t Afghans and Iraqis have any human rights?
Programme of Regaining Sri Lanka
A programme of Regaining Sri Lanka was made by the IMF / World Bank with the Ranil Wickremesinghe Government in 2001. The programme, according to Naomi Klein in his book SHOCK DOCTRINE, was geared to making Sri Lanka a major tourist resort. He says it was going to displace a lot of rural folk from their habitat for highways and tourists resorts for the rich. They were going to deforest many acres of land owned by the government. This was the plan of the international community that was sponsoring Ranil Wickremesinghe’s ceasefire agreement with the Tamil Tigers. It failed as Prabhakaran who was a megalomaniac refused accept anything other than a separate state.
Remember how the President of the European Union and various western leaders were making pilgrimages to Kilinochchi to establish this plan to further destroy the environment and cause further indebtedness? The irony is that this plan was to exploit all Sri Lankans, the Singhalese, Tamils, and Muslims. It is very similar to the corporate land grab and displacement of the rural populace in India.
The successor to the open economy is globalisation, a new mechanism to transfer pollution and exploit the poor. Globalisation was described by then President Fidel Castro as the sauce with which the West was going to swallow the rest of the world. How right.
Since globalisation, the gap between the rich and the poor has widened. International bankers, politicians and businessmen have embezzled the wealth of the poor. How sustainable is globalisation? Globalisation makes us all travel in a big ship where 10% are extremely rich and 60% are below poverty line; how long can it last? The effects of globalisation on Sri Lanka were more of the same, with a dose of privatisation with more embezzlement.
International banking system
The vehicle of embezzlement is the international banking system and the world currency: the dollar. It was not very surprising that Ben Bernanke, Chairman of the Federal Reserve, said that the greatest asset America has is the printing press of dollars. All international banks are controlled by the Bank of Settlements in Basle. In his book CURRENCY WARS, Song Hongbing confirms that the Federal Reserve is partly privately owned. Song Hongbing says that initially devaluation was the mechanism of currency exploitation; now it is fiat. FIAT is defined as money not backed by any reserve, that is, virtual money. Most banks in the west have loaned more than 50 times their asset value. Virtual money is used to embezzle the wealth of the poor. This is the deception of the world economic order.
It is interesting that during the recent banking crisis, the power that the banks had on the Congress made the American Congress come to the aid of the banks but not the ordinary citizens who were loosing their homes. One wonders how much influence the banks have on American foreign policy, such as on Iraq, Afghanistan, etc.
Failure of Indian foreign policy
The greatest failure of Indian foreign policy has been an inability to understand how Britain, a small country of 60 million, was able to control 600 million Indians and colonise India for 200 years. Or for that matter, how Portugal with a populace of 3 million was able to colonise part of China, the most populous nation in the world, by annexing Macao. It was the age old policy of divide and rule. The sub-continent is a multifaceted society with boundaries of religion, caste, class, language, and much as we are divided, we are united by a common inheritance. This is what needs to be emphasised.
India unfortunately carried out a policy antagonising 74% of the populace of Sri Lanka, which was Sinhalese. The policy of might is right and hegemony created a neighbourhood environment not favourable to India, and countries as far apart as Nepal and Sri Lanka are looking towards China for leadership and guidance.
The unity of Europe has been her ability to respect each others’ sovereignty. That is what every neighbour expects from mother India. Be it Sinhalese or Tamil, they are connected both by religion, origin, and philosophy to India. The bias in Indian foreign policy is destructive; fuelling sectarianism in Sri Lanka will only create sectarianism in India and destabilise her.
The question that needs to be answered is – is the foreign backing of the LTTE meant to divide Sri Lanka, or more importantly, balkanise India? Has India not learnt the lesson of history?
Stability of society is absolutely essential for economic growth and well-being of any community. Failure of internal dialogue has created an opportunity for foreigners to interfere. Is not internal dialogue the answer to the problems of West Asia, and not military might?
What is happening in Sri Lanka is a microcosm of what is happening in India, Pakistan etc. Ably led by a servile post-Macaulay leadership, and a growing middle class that is a beneficiary of the virtual money disbursed by the west, India is blind to the seeds of instability it is creating. How can one justify this dream when 60% of the populace lives below the poverty line, the environment is been polluted, rural populations are displaced in the name of an economy run on virtual money disbursed by an international banking system that has been called immoral even by British Prime Minister Gordon Brown. How long will the poor tolerate this? God forbid if the instability of Pakistan permeates into India. The seeds of instability have already been created; they are waiting to germinate.
A case for Asian unity
What is needed is internal dialogue, good governance, respect each others’ sovereignty and establishment of a stable society. It is the stability of society that will give the security of states. It is time Asia moves away from the disunity that was the reason behind 200 years of colonialism, and moves away from a world economic order of consumption economics that is responsible for the ecological damage and the immoral system of embezzlement of Asian wealth to the west.
Rabindranath Tagore, the great Indian humanist, appealed to Japan to look towards the moralism of Asia as against the Might is Right policy of the west, when Japan was deciding whether it should emulate the west or not. He would be very disappointed with the policy of might is right and militarization being carried out by the Indian government when 60% of the populace is living below the poverty line.
The reality is that all Asians are children of the Himalayas. Ecological damage of the Himalayas by India, Pakistan, or China, will destroy both the Indian and Chinese civilisation. Militarization would not be necessary if Asia unites to establish stability. Okakura said the compassion of Buddhism elevates a lowly beast to the level of a human; it made Confucian China accept Buddhist philosophy from India. It will be the moralism of internal fair play, saving the environment and establishing a sustainable economy that will appeal to the rest of Asia, including China. Unity and stability of Asia is in the hands of the two biggest countries in Asia: India and China. The plan towards unity of East Asia is off the ground with 50% of the trade being with each other. It is time South Asia joins in. Chin-India is the need of the hour, not Chin-America.