Spendthrifts of yesteryear still living it up; snippets from overseas

- island.lk

Cassandra’s ole head is spinning like a carousel after reading Don Manu’s column in the Sunday Times of December 4, titled Mahinda gorged on foreign cake while people struggled for bread. He lists the

millions spent on foreign trips of two brothers – then Prez and PM – and in a separate box deals with the arrival of the third brother and very costly breakfast had by around 100 sycophants who crashed into the BIA VIP lounge.

But here’s the crunch; the salient point. Gotabaya spent only about Rs. 7 million in total on three vital trips he undertook in September, October and later in 2021. He attended, as other heads of state are bound to do, the UN General Assembly in New York in September and a month later the UN Climate Change meeting in Glasgow. Third trip was to the Indian Ocean Conference in Abu Dhabi, paying his wife’ airfare and taking only necessary officials. His elder brother on the other hand had a ball of a junket with family and friends and hangers-on at a trivial meeting in Italy and later a birthday bash in Bangladesh costing the Sri Lankan Treasury a cool 37 million – to Cass horrendous.

2021 was no rosy year for this country. We were feeling the pinch of poverty and that too due to rampant corruption and incurred debts for Mahinda R’s colossal vanity constructions. We in Colombo have a constant reminder of such in the useless (so far) Lotus Tower blazing away in technicolour at night. Garish!

The Treasury going empty was a-coming and the printing press of the CB churning out rupees last year. These new millions were spent extravagantly like feathered seeds blowing in the wind. And hence our plight now; the country’s position in the world: a begging state after some lived extravagant, and deplorable mismanagement which should never have been. And its one lot of people, swarming around one family that beggared wonderful Sri Lanka.

Hopes of every Sri Lankan rose in 2009 when the civil war ended; thanks to two Rajapaksas and Field Marshal Fonseka. But the war was won but peace lost. All that money saved with no northern war eating into the exchequer did not trickle down to the people. We became poorer.The million-dollar question of the day is who spent for the breakfast tamasha in the $200 per single visit costing VIP lounge at the Katunayake airport when Brother Basil was welcomed back to his second home, second hand to him now. An answer should be got for this. But then the adopted brother is head of state; so how get to the bottom of state secrets?

Extravagance in official staff numbers

A friend who was a VIP during Mrs B’s time and earlier, chatted about then and now. He cited that Mahinda Rajapaksa as Prez in the period 2010 to 2014 employed personal staff numbering approx 2,500 which cost the country 630 million. Maitripala Sirisena exceeded him in expense. His personal staff in 2014 to 2019 numbered around 1,500 but cost the Treasury 850 m. In contrast, this friend who is a wizard at remembering persons and figures, said that Mrs Sirima Bandaranaike had around 6 personal staff members; yes, 5 or 6. Dudley and D S had even less very close personal aides. With much fewer personal advisors and henchmen, their governments rendered peace, stability and enough food and spending money to all Sri Lankans, except of course the abject poor. In the times of the later presidencies, people progressively found life harder to bear, and are now reduced to almost impossible existence. The earlier PMs cared for the people, saw to their welfare, more especially DS. Mrs B caused people to scrabble in garbage bins when she clamped down on imports to improve the country’s foreign reserves, but all in all she was better than those who followed her, barring W Dahanayake and D B Wijetunge.

The person who was a close official to Mrs B mentioned that she travelled Economy Class, unless the inviting country paid her airfare and of course, First Class. She was often upgraded by the national carrier to Business or First Class if those had empty seats, but only her, not her assistants, around five in number. Never forget that Sri Lankan which was profit making when with Emirates, started its downhill plunge of loss-making trajectory only because of Prez Mahinda R’s pique. Returning from London, he wanted 34 seats for his retinue – mostly hangers-on taken on a joy ride to the UK – on the very next flight to Sri Lanka; which meant off-loading full payment made travellers. Five seats were offered to him and immediate family. Refused. The Minister of Airways/Transport then sacked the Head of Emirates/Sri Lankan in Colombo.

When you consider the numbers mentioned you feel that every issue, trivial and major, that confronted the Prezes of our country (barring perhaps the first – JRJ) would have had 50 to 100 persons to help sort them. Of course, we know that under the regimes of MR and MS, the large number of cooks definitely spoilt the soup for the country, though it gained loyalty, sycophancy and debt paying to the lordly presidents. They were far from lordly families. In fact, the Ordinaries like Cass approved of Sirisena and lauded him as a son of a peasant paddy cultivator from Rajarata progressing to live in President’s house/Temple Trees. We overlooked the fact of the final step he took: treacherous behaviour in breaking hoppers with his boss and then undercutting him. But we lauded Maitripala Sirisena until he showed his true colours: demanding a mansion as the Prez residence of two huge houses converted to one; forgiving a murderer and unable to stomach his elite PM, substituted MR as PM though previously he said this man would have buried him alive.

All this is typical Sri Lankan. These and others who made money through vile corruption live well, and others who lived decent suffer; the poor unbearably.

Short takes from across the oceans

Georgia, in the midterm US Senate runoffs has elected Democrat Raphael Warnock defeating Republican Herschel Walker, also African American, 51.4% to 48.6%, bringing the numbers in the Senate to 51% Democrat and 49% Republican. The capital of the State of Georgia, Atlanta, was embroiled in fierce fighting in the US civil war. Georgia was cotton growing and infamous for its black slave labour. The State was recently famous for returning one of its own – Billy Carter – to the White House.Cass remembers meeting two white women in Atlanta, one a State Legislator, who were so pro-Black that they even married African Americans.

Trump in trouble

Good news to many. Cass knows a woman in the States who said she woke up each morning with dread churning her stomach when Trump was Prez fearing evil he would bring upon the country that day.

He seems to be losing ground though his ‘armies’ of whites, some militant thugs, are still loud in their rallies. The Trump Organization has been accused of tax crimes; yes crimes. News reports also that the Republicans seem to be losing ground as evidenced in the mid-term elections.

VP of Argentina

The crime of corruption and bribe taking seems to not take long to be proven and punished in foreign countries. In this once Resplendent Island major crimes by those who were in power never seem to be judged and convictions given. Actually, names have been mentioned since fear of revealing truths has been mitigated somewhat by and after the Aragalaya. However, the guardian angels hover over them.

Christina Fernandez, attractive Vice Prez of Argentina has been found guilty of corruption – helping friends – and sentenced to six years in prison.

BBC’s 100 Women of 2022

The list of 100 women selected by BBC News for the year just ending has been announced. They are from all walks of life including authors, culture promoters, actresses, scientists and others. The list included three Indians: Priyanka Chopra Jonas; domestic violence victim turned social worker Sneha Jawali; astronaut Sirisha Bandla and author Geetanjali Shree.

Cass listened to a BBC news interview with Priyanka by Rajini Vaidyanathan, BBC South Asian correspondent who seems to flit around all over – one day In Afghanistan, another in Pakistan and here in Sri Lanka to cover the Aragalaya. She is appealing and most often casual in pants and blouse. In her interview with Chopra she was dressed up and perfectly groomed.Women definitely are in the forefront, even in wonderful, driven rotten by men, Sri Lanka. More loveliness to them in appearance and personality and more power to what they do!

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