From the Penthouse to the Dog House

LONDON, Aug 18 2017 - All that goes up must come down was considered a truism from the days of yore. The apple that descended on the Newtonian dome-probably a fable anyway- had obviously got Sir Isaac thinking. So was born what is called the law of gravity.

Those untutored in physics were often told by elders not to walk under coconut trees in case a nut falls on their pate. But there are nuts that ignore such advice and one day pays the price for discarding their school texts which would have told them that objects do fall whatever the height, even from the fifth floor.

Remember what happened to a loquacious minister of the former regime who in search of his misplaced room key in a hotel somewhere in Australia went tumbling down from the balcony on to the bushes below. His son almost fell 35,000 ft in the company of a plane load of passengers and crew when he mistakenly tried to open the exit door instead of the toilet door. So it was said at the time.

These are dangerous times. The higher you go the harder you fall. These days when politics has become a money-spinning vocation and amassing wealth at the expense of the public is a time-tested occupation with even the corrupt prone to preach against corruption, one needs to be careful.
Whether it be the good, the bad or the ugly they somehow defy gravity and keep going up and up, at least their bank balances and other assets do.

One cannot cheat the laws of nature forever. At times people do get entangled in a web of deceit. Is that what happened to Ravi Karunanayake, former finance minister and until late last week foreign minister who has fallen from grace? On Thursday I was still trying to decide on a subject for today’s column when news of resignation hit cyber space.

Earlier in the life of this government Tilak Marapana honourably resigned his portfolio after a speech in parliament in which he inappropriately made references to one of his former clients under investigation at the time.Now Ravi Karunanayake has, like Marapana, gone from the front benches to the rear to sit among what some call the parliamentary hoi polloi, the back benchers.

Yet within months the former Thomian Tilak Marapana had risen like Lazarus and was back in the cabinet, albeit in some ambiguous role playing, as it were, for the minor counties. That, however, was till Friday when he was suddenly elevated to acting foreign minister.

Since the former foreign minister has quoted scripture in his resignation speech we might do the same, in our fashion. Will we see the Second Coming of the old Royalist Karunanayake or has he been thrown to the wolves by some of his former schoolmates (as Karunanayake has tangentially hinted) who have learnt not to depart but to protect themselves (and the party?) from further political fallout now that the Treasury bond scandal is beginning to unravel and possibly edging closer to ‘home’ or so it seems.

Rarely, if ever, does a country have three cabinet spokespersons. But then we are the wonder of Asia and set trendy ways to achieve political obscurity if not oblivion. Anyway the most vociferous of them who often has a habit of straying beyond the contours of the week’s cabinet discussions and interposes his own comments, stood steadfastly by his fallen (or falling at the time) colleague just as Mark Antony did speaking to Brutus and Cassius about the assassinated Caesar.

The modern text has Antony referring to corruption though the original has no reference to the corrupt. Yet in the circumstances the modern seems more appropriate. Says Antony: “Oh, mighty Caesar! Do you lie so low? Have all your conquests, glories, triumphs, achievements, come to so little? Farewell. Gentlemen, I don’t know what you intend to do, who else you intend to kill, who else you consider corrupt”.

If I might add a couple of lines of my own to bring Shakespeare up to date on Sri Lanka’s convoluted, contentious and often corrupt politics it would read:

“It was only the other day you were chosen as Asia’s best and our envoys celebrated in London town. Today you lie rejected and dejected. See how the mighty have fallen. Will others join you on the floor, bespoiling those lavish rugs with their blood for party and country?”
In a passionate plea Ravi Karunanayake’s daughter Onella appealed for understanding and justice for her beleaguered father who suddenly became the centrepiece of this drama. An anxious public waiting for the promised crackdown on corruption and abuse by the previous regime have seen no accountability, nothing more than a chimerical creation.

So when a serving minister fell foul of the inquiry by accident or design, a hungry public denied the theatrics they expected from corruption trials at last found something to savour, never mind who was being hung out to dry. The drama was made more exciting because here was a government minister being ‘crucified’-as Karunanayake called it- when all the time the public had been waiting to see the former ruling clan and its senior white-collar officials in the dock.

This sudden and dramatic turn of events where the recent accuser has become today’s accused was theatre of a high order and served as a moral pep pill for a disenchanted public. Scant wonder then that this turned out to be drama not for the gallery but for the pits and Onella Karunanayake was prompted to make that plea on behalf of her father. When she asked why only my father, a distraught daughter was articulating a question that many were asking in their own way.

Brutus was there plowing his lonely furrow. But where were Cassius and Casca the real plotters of the conspiracy to assassinate of Caesar. Would they ever be found and with enough evidence to bring them to trial for this Commission is not a court of law but a fact finding mission only.
Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe seemed proud of his colleague’s resignation. It was proof of the principles of good governance advocated by the unity government. Those advocates of clean and accountable government had told the citizenry that nobody was above the law and the people believed it then. But do they believe it now?. They know only too well that one swallow does not a summer make.

The troubles for the Yahapalanaya government which claimed it will exorcise this country of all kinds of malfeasance and malignity are hardly over. The saga of the Treasury bond affair continues to fester. One does not have to be a prophet to say that President Sirisena is enjoying the squirming that is going on inside the UNP which has behaved with hauteur and haughtiness as the SLFP struggled to maintain order within its ranks.

There might well be more on the UNP plate. It was reported last week that sections of the UNP are planning to bring a “no confidence” motion against the Justice Minister Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe. He has publicly declared he is opposed the ‘sale’ of Hambantota port to the Chinese and said he will not rest until he regains its ownership on behalf of the people.

If I might get back to Julius Caesar, ambition should be made of sterner stuff. Is he speaking as Minister of Justice or as Minister of Buddha Sasana or in some pseudo-patriotic garb he has donned in recent days? He will not rest, he says, until he sends the Chinese packing. Maybe the Chinese could suggest a traditional cure for Rajapakshe’s political insomnia. Perhaps he could draw inspiration from the conduct of that ‘hit man’ of the Bodu Bala Sena (BBS) Galaboda Aththe Gnanasara or revive the services of Avant Garde and chase the Chinese all the way back to Beijing.
If those in the UNP planning to move a confidence motion against the Justice Minister are serious then justice might well be done and the party better served.

In the meantime President Sirisena should temporarily recall the Kandyan sword, the kasthane, he gifted to the museum and keep it handy. If the UNP does to Justice Minister Rajapakshe what it has done to Ravi Karunanayake President Sirisena could hand over the sword to the Justice Minister to fall on it.

Now that Rajapakshe is trying to carve for himself a role as a patriot, or it is being carved for him, he might well relish the fall. As far as the public is concerned justice would have been done.

By the way isn’t Minister Faizser Musthapha desperately looking for ways to get rid of rubbish?

This story was originally published by The Sunday Times, Sri Lanka

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