We are a concerned group of academics fighting to ensure the opportunity of high quality public higher education for the Sri Lankan masses. This blog is intended as a bulletin board to share news and ideas relevant to the cause. The views and opinions expressed here do not necessarily represent the views and opinions of the FUTA. If you wish to post any interesting articles please e-mail them to uteachers.sl at gmail.com
“…power without compassion, might without morality, strength without sight” - Martin Luther King (Speech on 4.4.1967)
By Tisaranee Gunasekara
The incident is indicative of the Rajapaksas’ will to control; it also demonstrates that the spirit of resistance is still alive in Lankan society.
A group of university-academics issued a statement protesting a decision by the Higher Education Ministry to hand over the security of state universities to a company run by the Defence Ministry.
The employees of the Rakna Arakshaka Lanka Ltd. are former soldiers. Indubitably a central part of their new duties would be to act as the eyes and the ears of the Defence Secretary in the universities. That way the Rajapaksas will be able to keep close-tabs on any academic or student with dissenting proclivities.
As the academics pointed out in their courageous statement, this ‘outsourcing’ was done arbitrarily and opaquely, without calling for tenders or following due-procedure. “We are also concerned about the increasing infringement of university autonomy in matters pertaining to academic programmes and in decision making… We are especially concerned about the role the military establishment is increasingly playing in the administrative and academic spheres of the universities… We of course have in mind the leadership training programme conducted by the military to university entrants… This last development of encroachment via hiring procedures by the Ministry of Defence is seen as a further elaboration of this trend of increasing militarization of the universities”.
Militarization of Sri Lanka by a Rajapaksised military is the Ruling Family’s desideratum. Taming the universities would be a key component of this agenda. Incidentally some of the international embarrassments we are facing (the cases against Generals Shavendra Silva and Jagath Dias) could have been avoided if the regime refrained from militarising the diplomatic service so crassly. But rewarding Rajapaksa acolytes in uniform with diplomatic plums is necessary for the transforming of the Lankan Armed Forces into a praetorian guard of the Ruling Family. The contradistinctive fates of Rajapaksa-loyalist Shavendra Silva in New York and Rajapaksa-opponent Sarath Fonseka in Welikada are meant to teach every officer and soldier a lesson in submission.
When the Leadership Training Programme was proposed the university dons should have opposed it vigorously. They did not. The latest infringement demonstrates that the Rajapaksa octopus will spare nothing and no one in its drive to control every aspect of Lankan society. That is why democracy is endangered and devolution an unachievable goal under Rajapaksa Rule.
What is distinctive about Rajapaksa Rule, what sets it firmly apart from other Third World experiments at finding political dynasties, is the presence of the dynastic intent on the agenda from the very inception.
With Hosni Mubarak and Muammar Gaddafi, the dynastic project was a later happenstance, something which came after (and as a result of) years in and of power. The intent to find a political dynasty was not present at the beginning of either rule. This is true of other political dynasts, including those who came to power originally in free and fair, multiparty elections such as Papa Doc Duvalier of Haiti.
Monopolising all power in the hands of the Family was the strategic goal of the Rajapaksa project, from Year-Zero. Logically so; how else can a flawed-democracy be turned into a Family Oligarchy? For the Rajapaksas, governance means spreading their tentacles in ever new directions. For instance, last week the Defence Secretary announced the imminent reactivation of Civil Defence Committees to “preserve the peace within the country” (Daily Mirror – 29.9.2011).
The degree to which we have become acclimatised to this new Order is evidenced by the sanguinity with which we accept the unacceptable. “Parliamentarian Namal Rajapaksa, Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa and Economic Development Minister Basil Rajapaksa are playing a lead role in the UPFA campaign in Colombo” (The Nation – 25.9.2011). Parliamentarians Basil and Namal Rajapaksa, as politicians, have the right to campaign for the party of their choice, but the Defence Secretary, as a public official, cannot engage in politics. Yet this gross-violation of a fundamental tenet of public service fails to shock or to anger; it is as if we accept that the Rajapaksas are above the law, that they make their own rules in whatever manner they please. (The fact that such a cardinal rule of public service is being violated so blatantly indicates that line of demarcation between the Ruling Family and the Lankan state has become almost non-existent.)
The more power the Rajapaksas gain, the more abusive of that power they become. After winning the Presidential election, they engineered the incarceration and conviction of Gen. Sarath Fonseka, thereby removing a determined opponent from the political arena. After winning the parliamentary election, they introduced the 18th Amendment, enhancing the powers of the presidency while removing its term limits.
Now the Rajapaksas are intent on winning Colombo. An outright election-theft may not be practical, since the fate of the 2013 Commonwealth Summit and the 2018 Commonwealth Games hang in balance. Instead the Rajapaksas engage in massive abuse of state power/resources, with the silent-consent of the Elections Commissioner and the Police (this is how the 18th Amendment works in practice). They also resort to extravagant lies, fabulous promises and veiled threats. According to the Defence Secretary, “No household or businessman in possession of legitimate documents for their buildings and structures will be affected” (Daily News – 27.9.2011). As the following video exposes, the Mews Street residents evicted from their homes in May 2010 had legal ownership and yet their houses/small businesses were demolished with a ruthlessness civilian Tamils in the North and East would not have found unfamiliar. (See: http://www.youtube.com/user/yatvwebcast?blend=2&ob=5#p/u/0/86eyCKs8Xms).
The Rajapaksas are reportedly planning to evict not just the poor but also a sizeable section of Colombo’s middle class: “The government is to demolish housing schemes constructed by former President Ranasinghe Premadasa, officials said” (The Sunday Leader – 25.9.2011). It makes sense. How else can a cash-strapped regime with extravagant tastes make a fast buck than by selling national assets, especially land?
In Milinda Moragoda the Rajapaksas have a mayoral candidate of their own ilk. Mr. Moragoda was a founder of the Merc Bank. Despite his reputed efficiency, his bank, like Mihin Air, never made a profit; in three years of existence its accumulated losses were Rs. 300 million. Although Moragoda is a passionate advocate of privatisation, some of the largest depositors of the Merc Bank were state institutions (two of these, the National Lotteries Board and the Development Lotteries Board came under Moragoda’s ministry). As the Supreme Court stated (in the case filed by Vasudeva Nanayakkara) the fire-sale of Sri Lanka Insurance which Minister Moragoda oversaw was “flawed and marred by various improprieties… the Court questioned the actions of former Minister Milinda Moragoda, who chose to appoint a Steering Committee which had no standing in law. The cabinet of ministers had wished to appoint a Cabinet Appointed Tender Board at a future date but had been thwarted by the actions of Minister Moragoda, who it appeared had acted ultra vires or beyond the remit permitted of a minister” (The Sunday Leader – 7.6.2009). With such an infinitely adaptable man as their puppet-mayor, what will the Rajapaksas not be able to do to Colombo and its hapless inhabitants?