JOURNALISTS, LET’S DO WHAT WE CAN

The theme for this year’s World Press Freedom day is ‘Journalism under Digital Siege’. It refers to multiple ways in which surveillance and digitally mediated attacks endanger journalists and journalism. 

I’m not going to keep to the theme. I’m going to talk, here among friends, about keeping the faith. 
The threats we face are multifaceted. Digital is one of them and admittedly the most complex. I’ve been told to change my phone, my phone number, to use various apps that might keep my interactions safer and to secure my accounts. 

We do what we can. But the danger evolves, often before our eyes, and it is exhausting to keep up. Journalists have to conduct the various facets of our profession like a Mafia boss runs his operations without a fraction of the resources a Mafia boss has. 

How do we exchange documents securely? How do we ensure our interactions are not compromised if our devices are taken over? How do we protect our sources? How do we protect ourselves? How do we survive the relentless online attacks, with our mental health intact? Who do we trust? How do we just-keep-reporting?

Journalists and experts better versed than I am are grappling with digital safety. And I don’t think we have an answer because every new day throws up a new challenge, on top of the mountain of hurdles that has been piling up over the decades. 

But it’s important to keep trying. To keep doing what we do. And I’ll tell you why. From my experience. 

I report on corruption. It’s a thankless job. I often say that being an investigative journalist is a lonely existence. It can be. It is also frustrating. Because corruption rules the world. And because corruption, particularly in this part of the globe, has gotten so progressively bad that solutions seem completely out of reach. 

Many are the times I’ve asked my editor, “What is the bloody point? Why do we do this?” And many are the times he has replied, “Because it’s our duty. We do what we can.”

Journalism, when done right—without the freebies, the influence-peddling, the discounts, the complimentary hotel stays and restaurant meals, the festival hampers, the selfie and photo ops—is not a glamorous career. It’s hellishly difficult to cultivate contacts, to build trust, to get your hands on the documents, to do the number-crunching, to think like a criminal so you can get as close to the story as you possibly can. 

As for security, the unknown threat is as cripplingly worrying as the known one. Where will it come from? What will they use? 

Our families also suffer. It’s not a normal existence that we lead, particularly if we take the job seriously. It extends after-hours and the frustrations, the fears, the despair, can impact on spouses and children. Without their support and understanding, our work would be that much harder. 

Yet we do what we can. 

Because amidst all these, there is great usefulness in the role we play. Because…imagine if we didn’t exist. If we didn’t take the risks and do the hard work, even the information that is now available, that allows voters to make informs decisions, that educates the public, will be missing from discourse. Then what?

Of course, the age of social media means that information reaches the public in some form. But social media has not eradicated the need for professional journalism—the type of journalism that doggedly verifies, substantiates, cross-checks with multiples sources and presents news in a form that can be relied upon. 

Sri Lanka is going through dire turmoil. The main reason for widespread misery is economic—arising from furiously bad policy, mismanagement, sheer pigheadedness and a frankly inexcusable lack of planning and preparedness. The government was grossly negligent. And now we are running out of fuel, food and medicine. 

But amidst the obvious debates and analysis on economic strategy and failures is another LOUD conversation about corruption. The emptiness of the state coffers has prompted a tsunami wave of anger and discontent over inflated tenders, commissions—the dressy term for bribes—vanity projects and their predictable lack of returns, bid-rigging and an enrichment of the ruling class that is disproportionate to their incomes. Suddenly, everyone wants to follow the money.

Wait? Isn’t that what we journalists have done for years? And, for the most part, was gone unheard or ignored?

Yes. Yes, it is. Yes it was.  

But it doesn’t matter. Because a crucial lesson the Sri Lankan crisis taught me is that what I write may not be accepted or even noticed at a particular point of time but it will eventually matter, sooner or later. And the reasons for this may vary. 

In Sri Lanka, citizens have overnight started to make the connection between corruption and the depletion of reserves, the absence of money to pay off the loans taken to build those corruption-riddled, cost-inflated roads or other infrastructure. 

Increasingly more people now realize that the terms of those contracts were shrouded in secrecy. That the competitive procurement process was set aside by a handful in power so that these projects could be parceled out to identified companies that were happy to oil the right palms. And that the bribes were often used for purchase of property and other assets. Or lie deposited in offshore accounts, untaxable, while the rest of the populace starves. And pays off the loans.

Mindsets are changing. That is a huge victory in itself. 

 And when citizens look for a reference point, they find our work. I have had ordinary people reaching out to me for articles I wrote in the past, asking to know more. Social media has helped to spread information far and wide. People want verified, professionally executed pieces of work published in reliable media under names you can trust. 

It gives journalists like us some sense of gratification and restores our sense of purpose. Because, let us be honest, this job—especially in our part of the world—pays peanuts.  For those of us who don’t do it for the freebies but in the hope that our journalism will bring about positive change impacting the lives of ordinary people, of our own children, the only reward IS change. 

Sri Lanka isn’t there yet. So let me dampen my enthusiasm with a characteristic dash of pessimism flavoured with cynicism. I don’t know if things will change. Because journalists more experienced, more senior than I am will tell you they’ve been here before. And that 20, 30, 40 years down the line, we haven’t really seen meaningful structural or behavioral adjustments.

It is tempting to give up. But it’s not necessarily true that change didn’t or doesn’t occur. In Sri Lanka, there have been past administrations that introduced laws, set up or strengthened institutions, devised and implemented strong policy and made strides in the right direction. Some of this was reversed, some of it was not. It happens in cycles. 

So do we give up? No. We do what we can. We aim for the next cycle.

Because amidst the confusion, the chaos, the anger and the emotion, we journalists help bring some clarity and to shine a light on the FACTS. We are trained for it. To decipher, to untangle the hidden webs. We have the access. We have the right. We have the skill. We have the power. 

When we chose this profession we also subscribed to the duties and responsibilities that came with it. For me, there are no two ways to do this. 

Do we pay a price? Yes, we do. And being under digital siege is just one of them. Another, particularly in Sri Lanka, is the absence of whistleblower protection. Even in countries where such legislation is available, implementation isn’t ideal. Where such safeguards haven’t even been conceptualized, the journalistic pursuit of information is infinitely more difficult. Sources demand anonymity almost by default. Consequently, the journalist—and his or her institution—absorbs a great degree of risk. 

Despite this, a brave few continue to approach us, leak information and documents, help us along with our stories and spread awareness. Obviously, we need to be careful of motives, to not be tools. But there are time-tested templates to guide us through the obvious pitfalls. 

In Sri Lanka, today, people who never paid attention to the work of journalists are asking us to do more. The demand for quality work has exploded. Not the resources. Not the number of people entering and staying on in journalism. Not the quality of protection. There are no guarantees. Our newsrooms are stretched to their maximum. 

But I’m not here today to tell you not to do it. I’m here to encourage you, and above all myself, to keep at it. To keep renewing your sense of purpose because WE ARE IMPORTANT in this equation. To keep saying continue digging, continue searching, continue shining that light. On those dark days when you come home thinking, ‘Man, I’ve failed again’, look into the eyes of babes and think, ‘That’s ok, I’ll try again’. 

We have spent decades dissecting the threats and looking for the best solutions. That must continue. But alongside it, we journalists MUST do what we do best—that is, reporting the truth. Keep the faith. 

WE MUST DO WHAT WE CAN. 

No, they were not “extremists”.

I covered the #Mirihana protest while it was still contained at Jubilee Post. I left around 8pm. We soon heard that demonstrators had entered the private lane that President Gotabaya Rajapaksa lives on. There was a sense of dread that it wouldn’t end well.

But the Jubilee Post protest in the one-and-a-half hours that I was there wasn’t like this. The size of it surprised me. And so did the ardour. People were angry. Incandescent. They railed, first, against Gotabaya Rajapaksa and, second, against the #Rajapaksa clan.

It was unlike any other protest I had seen in recent times because it was “ordinary, middle-class folk”.

There were friends. There were young, educated, white-collar workers. People who previously had little to no interest in my journalism. People who thought the “news” was extraneous to them. People who thought that real problems, where you couldn’t afford to eat or had no means to earn a living, happened to others.

They carried placards, flaming torches and shouted for the Gota to go home, for the Rajapaksas to get out and that they’ve had enough. They. Have. Really. Had. Enough.

Passing vehicles from buses, lorries and three-wheelers to motorcycles and vans tooted their horns in support of the protesters. It was loud, boisterous, and very, very fed-up.

I wasn’t at Pangiriwatte to see how the violence erupted. But I know that when the President labels everyone that participated as “extremists”, he is ignorant, misguided and fantastically out of touch. Who are his advisers? Because I have lost confidence–if I ever had any–that he can think or analyse anything independently.

At every protest, there are disruptors. We have seen it repeatedly. They are the types who incite violence. Often, they join from outside the main protest. Add the STF, police and military to the mix, and the outcome is as predictable as it has ever been in this country.

Mirihana underwent rapid beautification after the President chose to continue living in Pangiriwatte Road. The junction was widened within weeks so he could have a pleasanter drive back and forth. Trees were planted on roadsides. Old buildings gave way to new ones. And plainclothes intelligence officers started crawling everywhere. Perhaps they parroted this tired “extremist” narrative to Mr Rajapaksa who, unable or unwilling to confront his own unpopularity, readily absorbed it.

But let me tell you from our reporting in recent weeks and months that the people who are angry now are not extremists. Everywhere you turn is a tale of utter despair. It is interminable pain. It is difficult to express in words the level of abject scarcity, desperation and hopelessness that people have fallen to.

I’m not going to compare this with the northeast narrative. Because I know that story, too. I reported it. I have cried bitter tears over what I have seen and heard. Even as I write, the similarities are stark. And the south must understand that. However, this truth also needs to be conveyed on its own merits.

I don’t have space to narrate the stories of the men and women who I’ve met over the past few weeks that tell me their sufferings. They are across sectors. Not just the poor, who have been delivered a blow they might never recover from. These are people who built businesses and put away money to provide better lives for their children, only to have years of toil decimated overnight and the value of their savings more than halved.

It is hard, HARD, to watch your perspiring child study by torchlight or candlelight. To register for courses that you cannot attend because there’s no electricity or connectivity.

To eat one meal of rice a day and bread the next two, only to find bread too expensive overnight.

To depend on diesel and petrol to earn a living and spend three days in queues to get a day’s worth.

To not give your baby milk.

To run out of cooking gas and not find any despite standing in line.

To buy firewood as a substitute and find kerosene out of stock.

To have no power to work from home, no fuel to get to work, and deadlines to meet.

To not be able to farm or fish because there’s no diesel for the outboard motor or fertiliser costs too much.

To not be able to sleep in the sweltering heat.

To not be able to afford rice, lentils, fish and vegetables. Or the little “luxuries” you bought for the kids at the weekend. Hell, there was no sugar at one time.

The corporate sector is suffocating. Their costs are spiraling and returns drying up. They need money just to electrify their offices. This is already impacting jobs. People who dreamt of building their lives in this country are desperate to leave. And it’s too expensive even to do that.

All these “sacrifices” might have been worth had there been even a semblance of a plan–and I don’t mean Ajith Nivard Cabraal’s shameless lies.

Because you know what rankles the most?

The denial at the top. The President and his administration denied for more than one year that there was a problem and that swift action had to be taken to avoid the situation we are facing. There were people to help. There still are.

Now, the situation has arrived. And STILL there is denial. Because, you know… the “neon lights”.

In his address to the nation on March 16, this is the one thing President Rajapaksa said that he truly believed: “This crisis was not created by me.”

Oh, but it was. Just by failure of governance, by not reading the signs, not listening to advice–apart from his inner cabal that clearly benefits from whatever this reality is that they created for the rest of us–and acting swiftly enough to cushion the blow. Experts have shouted themselves hoarse offering solutions. None were taken.

Until the money completely ran out and, with it, food, medicines, fuel, electricity, transport, businesses, and everything else. It is unraveling at a breakneck pace.

The second unacceptable truth: That the Rajapaksas blithely continue to enjoy all the benefits that the public granted them by virtue of the vote. Their sons, daughters, extended family and friends flaunt their privilege while an entire nation–minus them–are begging, crying, pleading for solutions to their problems. Their hangers-on, the “positivity brigade” that has direct financial benefit from their blinkered support, are investing in properties and other assets.

For heaven’s sake, who is governing this country? Is it the President, Prime Minister, Finance Minister (all of them Rajapaksas)? Is it PB Jayasundera and S R Attygalle? Is it the Cabinet? Who?

Where is the roadmap? Where are the answers? If there aren’t enough dollars for fuel today, how will we find them tomorrow? If we can’t clear coal shipments, what is the alternative?

We don’t need a government if all it does is continue increasing the number of hours we spend without electricity. And water will be the next to go.

This is why people turned up at Mirihana yesterday. Anybody that says otherwise needs to get his or her head out of the President’s rear end.

We deserve more.

It is impossible to fathom the depths of the morass that #SriLanka is in. Or the brazenness with which the “government” treats this unprecedented economic freefall.

The total citizenry is today swallowing a lot more mismanagement, corruption, idiocy, incompetence, pig-headedness, irresponsibility and, frankly, crap from its “government” than any voter with an iota of intelligence, self-respect or dignity will ever do.

This is not a child. And we are not indulgent grandparents.

Still, we are suspended in a strange dimension between survival and total calamity. We’ve made adjustments. Yet, we function. We line up at petrol stations to milk the last bit of fuel from the pumps in the illogical belief that the “government” will find more for next month, next week, tomorrow.

There’s no fuel to generate thermal electricity and the reservoirs are depleting. But, save for the hours of chaotic, unplanned power cuts, the shop windows are lit up and consumption continues as usual. Because we think the “government” will do SOMETHING. Next month, next week, tomorrow.

There are questions about how to procure medicines, essential food and inputs for export industries. Yet we live as if the “government” will find a way to keep supplies coming without particularly caring how it does this.

At the same time, fixing the rupee against the dollar contrary to all sane advice has allowed non-essential imports to continue in the illusion that this is how all economies in dire crisis function.

Strictures from the gilded palace—occupied by a chief who negotiated Cabinet status, two pensions and a hefty salary increment (in addition to a pre-existing unlimited credit card allowance) before taking that position—for the hoi polloi to deposit their damn dollars in the damn banking system hasn’t worked.

We may not have the courage to question the status quo, but we know how to stash our dollars where a financially, morally and fundamentally decrepit “government” cannot find them. Right?

Tourism has picked up. But it merits looking at how much of the loose forex it brings ends up where it is now desperately needed, the state coffers. As long as the exchange rate is fixed at these levels, nobody will use the banks. You have to be incredibly naïve not to see that. Naïve, or just not care.

Remittances will not come in as long as this persists. That conclusion is evidence-based. Not politically-motivated, self-serving, illusory chicanery confidently spouted to heads of state that don’t know better.

What is particularly worrisome is how the “government” does not offer any—ANY—solutions to this complex situation other than piecemeal borrowing and, from the gilded palace, platitudes.

It is bizarre to dwell in a country that has made live-for-the-day its CENTRAL policy; its answer to every dire crisis it encounters or creates. And COVID-19 the sole excuse for ineptitude, incompetence and every negative connotation of the word “chutzpah”.

Urgent meetings summoned to discuss this or that crisis end up with more instructions to do nothing. To carry on. To continue to provide goods and services when there is plainly no money to purchase them with. What are we surviving on, exactly?

Because politics takes precedence—the next election, the numbers in parliament, ego, supremacy and one-upmanship. We are all expected to be the adoring aunts and uncles of a political dynasty whose only interest is itself.

Every sane counsel from economists of all schools of thought is ignored. The repeated, now frenzied, call to apply for assistance to the International Monetary Fund, is stubbornly disregarded. Are we restructuring debt? Maybe.

There’s been drama after drama.

Who, then, are the economists that guide the “government”? The public must know. The public pays the price for this. The public must hold all administrations accountable regardless of which party is in power.

“Power” is the keyword, isn’t it? What they hanker after. That is not our business. Our business is to get the entitlements we elected them for. Not to help them line their pockets. Not to make excuses for their obvious lack of interest in the voters who put them there. Not to ensure that their political hangers-on and bootlickers are kept employed, replete with contracts or the promise of politically-orchestrated personal futures. And certainly not to ensure that their dynasties are intact.

If you feel a lack of focus and absence of policymaking, perhaps you’re not wrong. If you feel the “government” has lost its grip, perhaps it has. If you feel their only plan to earn revenue is to extract it from us, perhaps it is. If you can’t understand ISBs, credit lines, currency swaps and what-not, perhaps you’re not supposed to.

If you feel let down and scared, perhaps more people than you imagine feel the same. If you’re worried about securing your child’s future in an environment where nothing makes sense, where chaos and directionlessness overshadow everything else, I am too.

And if you fret that, however much you work, work and work, the money you earn won’t be enough to send your kids the hell out of a country you raised them to love and serve, I do too.

The problem, however, is us. This isn’t the first “government” that treated us with such contempt. The last administration, with its infighting, personality clashes, subterfuge, deal-making, dire inefficiency and corruption, did the same. The dispensations before that were also awful. We have come to accept and tolerate varying degrees of badness.

Do we believe we don’t deserve better? Why are we not demanding more or, today, even the basics?

Surely, the answer isn’t in changing who is in charge? It is in making whoever we elect DO THE JOB.

Our failure to be unrelenting and unyielding in holding them to account for their promises is what got us here. And our willingness to turn a blind eye when they stuff our institutions–our departments, corporations, ministries–with political henchmen that serve the appointing authorities and not the public that pays their salaries.

Whether it’s Gota, Mahinda, Sirisena, Sajith, Anura Kumara or anyone else, unless we demand better–and not negotiate on that–they will all treat us with the disdain we deserve.

No, they were not “extremists”.

I covered the #Mirihana protest while it was still contained at Jubilee Post. I left around 8pm. We soon heard that demonstrators had entered the private lane that President Gotabaya Rajapaksa lives on. There was a sense of dread that it wouldn’t end well.

But the Jubilee Post protest in the one-and-a-half hours that I was there wasn’t like this. The size of it surprised me. And so did the ardour. People were angry. Incandescent. They railed, first, against Gotabaya Rajapaksa and, second, against the #Rajapaksa clan.

It was unlike any other protest I had seen in recent times because it was “ordinary, middle-class folk”.

There were friends. There were young, educated, white-collar workers. People who previously had little to no interest in my journalism. People who thought the “news” was extraneous to them. People who thought that real problems, where you couldn’t afford to eat or had no means to earn a living, happened to others.

They carried placards, flaming torches and shouted for the Gota to go home, for the Rajapaksas to get out and that they’ve had enough. They. Have. Really. Had. Enough.

Passing vehicles from buses, lorries and three-wheelers to motorcycles and vans tooted their horns in support of the protesters. It was loud, boisterous, and very, very fed-up.

I wasn’t at Pangiriwatte to see how the violence erupted. But I know that when the President labels everyone that participated as “extremists”, he is ignorant, misguided and fantastically out of touch. Who are his advisers? Because I have lost confidence–if I ever had any–that he can think or analyse anything independently.

At every protest, there are disruptors. We have seen it repeatedly. They are the types who incite violence. Often, they join from outside the main protest. Add the STF, police and military to the mix, and the outcome is as predictable as it has ever been in this country.

Mirihana underwent rapid beautification after the President chose to continue living in Pangiriwatte Road. The junction was widened within weeks so he could have a pleasanter drive back and forth. Trees were planted on roadsides. Old buildings gave way to new ones. And plainclothes intelligence officers started crawling everywhere. Perhaps they parroted this tired “extremist” narrative to Mr Rajapaksa who, unable or unwilling to confront his own unpopularity, readily absorbed it.

But let me tell you from our reporting in recent weeks and months that the people who are angry now are not extremists. Everywhere you turn is a tale of utter despair. It is interminable pain. It is difficult to express in words the level of abject scarcity, desperation and hopelessness that people have fallen to.

I’m not going to compare this with the northeast narrative. Because I know that story, too. I reported it. I have cried bitter tears over what I have seen and heard. Even as I write, the similarities are stark. And the south must understand that. However, this truth also needs to be conveyed on its own merits.

I don’t have space to narrate the stories of the men and women who I’ve met over the past few weeks that tell me their sufferings. They are across sectors. Not just the poor, who have been delivered a blow they might never recover from. These are people who built businesses and put away money to provide better lives for their children, only to have years of toil decimated overnight and the value of their savings more than halved.

It is hard, HARD, to watch your perspiring child study by torchlight or candlelight. To register for courses that you cannot attend because there’s no electricity or connectivity.

To eat one meal of rice a day and bread the next two, only to find bread too expensive overnight.

To depend on diesel and petrol to earn a living and spend three days in queues to get a day’s worth.

To not give your baby milk.

To run out of cooking gas and not find any despite standing in line.

To buy firewood as a substitute and find kerosene out of stock.

To have no power to work from home, no fuel to get to work, and deadlines to meet.

To not be able to farm or fish because there’s no diesel for the outboard motor or fertiliser costs too much.

To not be able to sleep in the sweltering heat.

To not be able to afford rice, lentils, fish and vegetables. Or the little “luxuries” you bought for the kids at the weekend. Hell, there was no sugar at one time.

The corporate sector is suffocating. Their costs are spiraling and returns drying up. They need money just to electrify their offices. This is already impacting jobs. People who dreamt of building their lives in this country are desperate to leave. And it’s too expensive even to do that.

All these “sacrifices” might have been worth had there been even a semblance of a plan–and I don’t mean Ajith Nivard Cabraal’s shameless lies.

Because you know what rankles the most?

The denial at the top. The President and his administration denied for more than one year that there was a problem and that swift action had to be taken to avoid the situation we are facing. There were people to help. There still are.

Now, the situation has arrived. And STILL there is denial. Because, you know… the “neon lights”.

In his address to the nation on March 16, this is the one thing President Rajapaksa said that he truly believed: “This crisis was not created by me.”

Oh, but it was. Just by failure of governance, by not reading the signs, not listening to advice–apart from his inner cabal that clearly benefits from whatever this reality is that they created for the rest of us–and acting swiftly enough to cushion the blow. Experts have shouted themselves hoarse offering solutions. None were taken.

Until the money completely ran out and, with it, food, medicines, fuel, electricity, transport, businesses, and everything else. It is unraveling at a breakneck pace.

The second unacceptable truth: That the Rajapaksas blithely continue to enjoy all the benefits that the public granted them by virtue of the vote. Their sons, daughters, extended family and friends flaunt their privilege while an entire nation–minus them–are begging, crying, pleading for solutions to their problems. Their hangers-on, the “positivity brigade” that has direct financial benefit from their blinkered support, are investing in properties and other assets.

For heaven’s sake, who is governing this country? Is it the President, Prime Minister, Finance Minister (all of them Rajapaksas)? Is it PB Jayasundera and S R Attygalle? Is it the Cabinet? Who?

Where is the roadmap? Where are the answers? If there aren’t enough dollars for fuel today, how will we find them tomorrow? If we can’t clear coal shipments, what is the alternative?

We don’t need a government if all it does is continue increasing the number of hours we spend without electricity. And water will be the next to go.

This is why people turned up at Mirihana yesterday. Anybody that says otherwise needs to get his or her head out of the President’s rear end.

Sri Lanka is NOT fifth among world’s worst polluters, but we have a crisis

by Namini Wijedasa

Widely published information that Sri Lanka is the fifth largest polluter of seas is based on an erroneous statistic first released in a World Bank study which was then used by researchers to compile a list of worst offender countries, the Sunday Times found.

Domestic and international media continue to report that Sri Lanka falls only behind China, Indonesia, the Philippines and Vietnam in how much plastics it dumps into the sea. This is drawn from a February 2015 article in the peer-reviewed Science Magazine which states, among other things, that Sri Lanka generates 5.1kg of waste per person, per day; that 1.59 million metric tons of this is mismanaged plastic waste; and that it dumps between 0.24 and 0.64 million metric tons of plastic into the sea each year.

But the information that Sri Lanka’s per capita waste generation rate is 5.1kg per day is an unsourced, unverifiable statistic first published in the 2012 What a Waste (WaW) report of the World Bank. There is no reference for this calculation; nor is it divulged how it was arrived at.

The World Bank has now confirmed that there was an error in the waste generation number. It was identified only because the Sunday Times called for verification. A spokesperson also said: “As you know, this is a report that came out in 2012 and it is currently in the process of getting reviewed and updated. We will be able to provide you with updated data as soon as the report is available.”

In collecting data for the South Asia region for 2017 WaW, the Bank will use the Comprehensive Integrated Solid Waste Management Plan for Targeted Provinces in Sri Lanka by UNHABITAT and the Data Collection Survey on Solid Waste Management in the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka by Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA). The reports are still being reviewed but per capita generation rates roughly range between 0.46kg and 0.52kg.

The 2012 WaW has depended on two sources for Sri Lanka data. One is a 2009 report from the United Nations Statistics Division which captured waste generation figures from Dehiwala-Mt Lavinia and Moratuwa. The former is 0.73 kg per person, per day and the latter is 0.67 kg per person, per day. There is no national level information cited.

The other is An Overview of the Issue of Solid Waste Management in Sri Lanka authored by K. L. S. Perera for the 2003 Third International Conference on Environment and Health. The Sunday Times accessed it online and also interviewed Mr. Perera, a retired Senior Lecturer at the Siyane National College of Education in Veyangoda. His paper states that Colombo faces a “severe crisis with respect to the disposal of around 1,500 tons of solid waste material per day” but makes no reference to 5.1kg per person, per day.

These shortcomings in WaW went unnoticed. But in 2015, a seven-member research team released an article in the academic journal ‘Science Magazine’ listing Sri Lanka as one of the worst polluters of seas based on WaW data. Headed by Jenna Jambeck, Associate Professor in the College of Engineering at the University of Georgia, the group also estimated the percentage of waste inadequately managed by each country using a “logistic regression model”. Sri Lanka fared miserably.

The Sunday Times contacted Dr. Jambeck, who is a committed environmentalist, as far back as 2015. She said, while the data taken from the World Bank and Sri Lanka estimates had also seemed high to her team, they could not cherry-pick countries to correct. She recommended that localised data from the respective countries be examined to see if waste generation estimates could be refined.

When we reconnected with Dr. Jambeck this year – as Sri Lanka’s worldwide ranking was being publicised again owing to the collapse of the Meethotamulla garbage dump and related issues – she pointed out that the goal of their work had been to create a global number. “We state that in-country data should be confirmed by on-the-ground data and research,” she explained.

Dr. Jambeck said, as she did at a press conference in 2015, that the paper is not about pointing fingers. “The data was provided to be transparent so that exactly what you are doing is possible,” she explained.“We want people to look at the data and refine it over time. We used the best available data at the time.”

But the team also created a list. This is what most media – including local journalists – pounced on; and how Sri Lanka suddenly gained global notoriety based on a statistic nobody can still account for. The list, Dr. Jambeck said, was a means of looking at “influencing factors”. As lead author, she did not single out any country (except USA, where she is from) for discussion. Journalists decided to do that.

“It is a snapshot in time,” she continued, about the list. “Ten years ago, it would be different, and ten years into the future, it would be different.’ The researchers found that middle-income countries with rapidly developing economies, large coastal populations and coastline, and where infrastructure has lagged behind this development, had larger issues with waste.

Sri Lanka fits the bill. Even ten years ago, however, waste generation figures were not as high as cited in the 2016 WaW. The Central Environmental Authority does not have a centralised repository of historic data, said J. M. U. Indrarathne, Deputy Director General (Waste Management).

But the 2003 JICA Study on Improvement of Solid Waste Management in Secondary Cities in Sri Lanka found average waste generation rates in seven study towns to be 0.98kg per person, per day (from 0.88kg in Matale to 1.18kg in Kandy). That the CEA lacks its own data in a country floundering about in waste generation and disposal issues is a matter of discussion.

In the end, however, lists and rankings are immaterial. Sri Lanka has a serious problem with waste generation and disposal. The status quo has not improved for decades. Whether it is fifth or 50th in the global rankings, this country is a serial polluter and successive governments have done nothing to mitigate this.

Waste management study: SL repeatedly failed to fix issues
A 15-year-old Japanese-funded study into waste management exposes how Sri Lanka has repeatedly failed to fix longstanding issues despite expert suggestions for improvement.Environmentalists warn that world rankings – wherever the country may stand in them – are purely academic.

“The fact stands that our seas and land are badly polluted and increasingly so,” said one campaigner, who did not wish to be named. “And our Government is doing precious little, if at all, to mitigate it. I do not care where we rank. Being anywhere on the polluter list is equally bad. The message or objective of that ranking is to shock people into realising we have to change.”

The 2003 JICA Study on Improvement of Solid Waste Management in Secondary Cities in Sri Lanka identified eight leading problems. These are just as current today as they were then. They comprise widespread scattering of waste in towns; the terrible condition of landfill sites; and huge solid waste management expenditure (20 to 30 percent of the budget of local authorities). There is difficulty controlling the many waste collection workers; and a high absentee and turnover rate, ranging from 10-20 percent.

As early as 15 years ago, the study also pointed to little remaining capacity of existing landfill sites. There were many complaints from citizens, it said, but there was also lack of public cooperation. There was also no plan for the future. “Most of these are not technical issues but institutional ones,” the study warned. “Technology alone cannot solve these problems.”

“Good governance is the key,” it stressed. Improvement could be made through institutional and managerial capacity, “without spending much money”. The report also stated plainly that there were two main problems faced by local authorities. One was the rapid increase of waste, which meant they had to collect more and more. Another was that the standard environmental requirements for landfills were becoming stricter.

“Therefore, you cannot simply dump waste anymore,” it warned. “You have to improve landfill operation to reduce the environmental impact.”

Experts identified an insufficient understanding of solid waste management. The sections in charge of solid waste management in local authorities were considered low in status. Organisation was weak owing to poor cost control and planning. There were no future plans. Most authorities dealt with issues using their own staff and equipment without considering citizen involvement.

Exhaustive recommendations were made, covering everything from improving garbage collection efficiency and final disposal to reducing solid waste management costs and increasing public participation.

The 2016 JICA Data Collection Survey on Solid Waste Management in Socialist Democratic Republic of Sri Lanka observes that generation in Sri Lanka has increased from around 6,400 tons per day in 1999 (UNEP, 2001) to 10,786 tons per day since 2009 (University of Moratuwa and NSWMSC, 2013). The reason for this is economic growth after the end of the civil war.

Generation in the Western Province is largest, accounting for 33% of the country’s total. The Uva Province occupies the smallest share at just 5%. Some local authorities operate several disposal sites so the number of final disposal sites was 349 in 2013, exceeding the number of total local authorities which is 335.

Waste generation will keep going up. It will not matter what list Sri Lanka is, or isn’t, on. Experts agree that solutions – many of which have already been offered through research and study – have to be implemented, now.

(This article was published in the Sunday Times)

The Sri Lanka Foreign Ministry’s untenable communications policy

LKI

I would like to start with a caveat. I am not a student of the relationship between foreign policy and media. I am a journalist. So my talk is based on personal experience and my own analysis of situations my colleagues and I have faced during the last two decades, with emphasis on the recent past. The context is Sri Lanka.

I have, for some years, been on the mailing list of the Foreign Ministry. Ninety percent of press releases I receive, with due respect to the compilers, go unopened into the trash. As a journalist, the last thing I look for is how our missions celebrated national festivals. Reports about Sri Lankans wolfing downing “kiribath” at Avurudu or singing “bhakthi gee” at Vesak add no value to my journalism.

I only recently emptied my trash. But I found some stragglers. There was one on Ifthar celebrations at the Doha mission; another on a workshop organised by the Nairobi mission; another on Members of Parliament attending an exchange programme in Washington; some on flood donations.

These media releases achieve nothing outside of pandering to the egos of a few. They are a dire waste of time and resources. They do not push any agenda or direction of Sri Lankan foreign policy. Nor do they provide media with meaningful insight into how our missions are achieving national diplomatic objectives. On a surface reading of what is widely and numerously disseminated as news, we seem to have an expansive network of event planners.

Occasionally, there are newsworthy communiqués. One dated May 26th, which I didn’t trash, for obvious reasons, relates to a joint declaration on enhanced cooperation between Australia and Sri Lanka. The document is attached and conveys information of national import. But these are few and far between.

Having covered the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, I know that officers who head its publicity division are typically educated, capable, savvy men and women. Today, they are reduced to releasing meaningless drivel. I do not know that they can be blamed. They are the implementers, not the drafters of this absurd and futile communications policy. They are often treated as marginal in the Ministry. They are the last to get relevant, useful information. Heads of other divisions consider them a nuisance.

Before we address the role of media in publicizing Sri Lankan foreign policy, therefore, there must be recognition at every level–including by the Minister and Secretary–that such dissemination has value. You cannot promote your foreign policy if your every instinct is to maintain secrecy.  Not only is there a lack of imagination, there is a mental block at the Foreign Ministry as regards the media. They must remember the Right to Information act now supersedes the Official Secrets Act.

A good attempt was made in 2015 to introduce daily press briefings but this was shelved. There is no recent tradition of providing even background briefings to journalists covering foreign policy. I was made to understand that most junior diplomats in India’s Ministry of External Affairs are assigned to its media wing so they are trained to handle journalists. The official spokesperson of the ministry is an important position with time, access and political sanction to deal with media queries. We do not see that here.

So what do we journalists work with? The speeches of the minister are one way but they are formulaic propaganda and insufficient to provide media practitioners with a deeper understanding of how the wheels turn.

The media forms the crucial channel between foreign policy makers and the public as well as other stakeholders such as the private sector and professional bodies. The breakdown of this relationship is one reason why issues like the Economic and Technology Cooperation Agreement have become so sensitive and warped. These are areas where the media and Foreign Ministry can work together to fix.

While the tendency of governments is to think foreign policy is about engaging with outsiders, there is a component of it, I feel, that involves interacting internally and presenting a unified policy to the world.

If, by chance, that engagement does take place in future, I would hope there is also a crystal clear understanding in the Ministry that foreign policy and media can be uncomfortable bedfellows. There must be a policy of allowing the media its due freedom to report objectively on the pros and cons of Sri Lanka’s engagement in the world. These are the checks and balances needed to ensure that foreign policy brings meaningful returns to Sri Lankans.

When communication with local media is so bad, I do not know what you can say of relations with the foreign media. You only have to look at how India pushes its foreign policy to see where we are going wrong. Has Sri Lanka looked beyond traditional methods? Is there a team at the foreign ministry devising a communications strategy that suits the modern age?  Do diplomats attached to our embassies abroad promote Sri Lanka on the digital space? How many have twitter accounts?

Years ago, I was invited to be part of a group the Foreign Ministry envisaged setting up in order to guide its engagement with foreign media. I turned this down because it is not my job to make Sri Lanka look good with anyone. That is the job of diplomats. Expectations must be realistic. During the ceasefire with the LTTE, we journalists were expected do practice “peace journalism.” During the war, we were expected to practice “war journalism” which required us to put badly defined “national interest” before anything else.

I say, let us practice journalism. You do your diplomacy. But give us the information we need to work with and help us understand what guides your policies. At present, there is next to nothing. And one hopes that this is not a reflection of a certain elitism that seems to guide the thinking of those who form part and parcel of the diplomatic community.

I must also raise a point about internal policies. If a government sticks to democratic principles and proactively promotes democratic institutions, then their reputation becomes incredibly stronger on the world stage, which in turn feeds into their engagement. This is especially important for a small country like Sri Lanka that is heavily dependent on a rules-based international order because we are simply too small to engage with the US, India or China in any other way. I would argue that foreign policy is good internal policy shown off the world. In that, the media will always hold an integral role; one that already exists and does not need to be manufactured.

Having said all of this, I do understand that there are many areas the media must work on to fix. I know that journalists can ask misguided or ill-informed questions. Some do not do their research. Others have agendas. This naturally creates apprehension among diplomats about interacting with media practitioners.

Part of this is due to flagging standards which is reflected across all sectors, not just media. But part of it is because there has been an absence of engagement and information sharing for so long that nobody has any background to work with. When you dumb down your press releases to the extent that you do, why do you expect any better from your target audience?

Regular briefings and meaningful interactions could change that. It could lead to the creation of a press corps that is well versed and capable of understanding the nuances, absorbing and analysing the information and reporting accurately on foreign policy. We see that in other sectors such as education, labour or health. I see no reason why it will not happen here. All this could be supplemented with regular background chats, with the minister, if need be.  Maintaining current levels of communication, however, is unsustainable in the short, medium and long-term.

(This talk was delivered on June 28, 2017, on the second day of a seminar organised by the Lakshman Kadirgamar Institute titled ‘Sri Lanka’s Foreign Policy: Choices in the Changing World’)

A man and his dog

I met G A Leelasiri in Yatagampitiya, at the foot of the Nagahadola landslide in Agalawatta. He was sitting on a log.

I saw him rubbing his head tiredly, shaking it to and fro. His dog sat closely at his feet, occasionally staring at its master’s face and prompting a few words of acknowledgment.

I saw Leelasiri cry. He said he lost two grandchildren when the landslide dammed the river and caused it to overflow with great force. One of them was a 14-day-old baby girl. There’s nothing standing where his sons’ homes were. They don’t know what to do or where to turn.

The graves of Leelasiri’s grandchildren were in the garden. He asked whether we could take a photo of him and his two sons, the fathers of the dead babies, near them.  The clothes of one of the children, salvaged from the water, were hanging nearby.

The dog’s name is Buddy, the old man said. He’s never far away. “He and my five-year-old grandson were always tagging behind me,” he said, making a gesture of hopelessness with his hand. That boy was the other child that died.

You see a lot of pain in this job. But you never get used to it.

 

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Paying the price for development

 

 

 

15. Castle Hotel 2,The Castle Hotel at sunset, January 2014, Majidul Jamiah Rd, Slave Island(Pictures used with permission from Abdul-Halik Azeez)

 

A heritage building in Colombo has been pulled down to construct a US$ 400 million township by Tata Housing.

The Castle Hotel in Masjidul Jamiah Road, Kompanna Veediya, is at least 140 years old. Nothing stands at this address today. This beautiful building, erected in British colonial style, was demolished on an approval granted by the Archaeology Dept in May.

Put up by the great philanthropist Charles Henry de Soysa, Castle Hotel was tenanted to various entrepreneurs through the years. The last of them was Mahinda Perera. He (like his father, Douglas Jestus, before him) ran a working class bar there and let out the rooms upstairs.

The deeds to this property and the adjoining De Soysa Building are held by the descendants of Charles: his great-grandchildren Ranil, Malathie and the late Geethal and Jayalath. The family had once wanted to start their own development project on the site. In the ’90s, Ranil even found an American investor for it. “We could have had the first Sri Lankan twin towers there,” he said, wistfully.

But the proposals were abandoned because the authorities repeatedly told them the building could not be touched. The tenants were once instructed in writing not to colour-wash the facade in various tones or to change the structure of Castle Hotel as it was of historical value. Only restorations could be permitted.

So, Ranil dreamed up a plan to convert the beautiful edifice into a “nice, decent wine bar plus British-type pub”. Granted, the building needed work. And the tenant would have had to be evicted. But it never came to that.

In 2012, President Mahinda Rajapaksa issued an order under the Urban Development Projects (Special Provisions) Act to acquire the whole lot. Further steps were taken under the law to gain possession of the land. Not only did Mr Perera have to wind up his bar operation, the de Soysas lost their property. They have not, to this day, received a cent in compensation.

Deborah Philip, an Assistant Lecturer at the History Dept of the University of Colombo, was concerned about what would become of Castle Hotel after the takeover. The area was earmarked for a US$ 400 million mixed development project by Tata Housing. The company had already cleared adjoining lands to erect housing for families evicted to make way for the township.In February 2016, she wrote to the Archaeology Dept, retracing the history of Castle Hotel. Local knowledge has it that, the building was first associated with Cave & Co., a well-known Colombo enterprise founded by H.W. Cave who arrived in Ceylon from England in 1872. “The present tenants have, however, verified they transformed the building into a hotel in 1875, which would mean the building is at least 141-years-old,” she pointed out.

In February 2016, she wrote to the Archaeology Dept, retracing the history of Castle Hotel. Local knowledge has it that the building was first associated with Cave & Co., a well-known Colombo enterprise founded by H.W. Cave who arrived in Ceylon from England in 1872. “The present tenants have, however, verified they transformed the building into a hotel in 1875, which would mean the building is at least 141-years-old,” she pointed out.

Ms Philip confessed in her letter that efforts to find out what would become of Castle Hotel had proved futile. There was talk that Tata Housing will use it as an office space for employees. This would require them to carry out extensive renovations to make it more habitable.“The present tenants informed me that, in the past, the Dept of Archaeology has visited Castle Hotel and given them specific instructions as to what kind of repairs they could or, could not do, due to the archaeological and historic value of the building,”

“The present tenants informed me that, in the past, the Dept of Archaeology has visited Castle Hotel and given them specific instructions as to what kind of repairs they could or, could not do, due to the archaeological and historic value of the building,” Ms Philip told the Dept.In response to her appeal it

In response to her appeal that it be listed under the Antiquities Act, the Archaeology Dept sent a team to inspect the building. In June 2016, Director General Senerath Dissanayake wrote to the Urban Development Authority (UDA)–the agency overseeing the Tata Housing project–saying his officers have determined that the 141-year-old Castle Hotel must be preserved.“Its architectural style appears to belong to the British colonial era,”

“Its architectural style appears to belong to the British colonial era,” Dr Dissanayake told the UDA. “As such, when this building is being developed by the Tata project, I request that instructions be given to the relevant institution not to make any alterations that would damage its historic and architectural value.”But, in May 2017–amidst torrential rains,

But in May 2017–amidst torrential rains, floods and landslides–the Castle Hotel was taken down. This week, the UDA said the Archaeology Dept had issued written permission for the edifice to be demolished. The latter confirmed it. Between June 2016 and May 2017, the Dept took no steps to gazette Castle Hotel as a protected monument. So there was nothing standing in the way of it being razed to the ground.

Under the law, any monument constructed before March 2, 1815, is automatically protected. Something erected after that date needs to be gazetted by the relevant minister. Despite its initial assessment that Castle Hotel deserved to be preserved, the Archaeology Dept reversed its decision.Tata Housing, meanwhile, absolved itself of responsibility. A spokesman said the project was still in a planning state and the company has not started any work on the site. This is correct. The mixed development part of the Slave Island initiative falls under Phase II, which is yet to receive the necessary approvals for construction.

Tata Housing, meanwhile, absolved itself of responsibility. A spokesman said the project was still in a planning state and the company has not started any work on the site. This is correct. The mixed development part of the Slave Island initiative falls under Phase II, which is yet to receive the necessary approvals for construction.

The UDA says the paperwork is on the verge of being completed. It claimed that the first two floors of whatever Tata erects on the Castle Hotel plot will possess the same facade and aesthetics of the old building. Every line and angle was measured and recorded before it was torn down, insisted Prasad Ranaweera, UDA Director (Project Management). The new designs were made in close consultation with the Archaeology Dept.

Mr Ranaweera also said the Castle Hotel was “decayed and about to tumble down”. “It was like a hellhole inside,” he maintained. “It was not maintained for years by the tenants. There was nothing even to salvage. It would have collapsed.”

The Sunday Times could not obtain independent verification that the building was structurally weak. But an independent source did confirm that “There is a proposal in the new development to accommodate the same architecture and facades.”

Curiously, Mr Ranaweera said he never received Dr Dissanayake’s letter instructing the UDA of the historic and architectural value of Castle Hotel. He only got communication saying the demolition could go ahead as the relevant building was not a listed monument.

(A version of this article appeared in the Sunday Times)

AIA requirement: None ordered, none doneSri Lanka’s law requires that an Archaeological Impact Assessment (AIA) be done in respect of every development project to be carried out on land exceeding 0.25 hectares in extent. The Tata Housing project in Slave Island clearly qualifies–but no AIA was ordered or, done.

These surveys are carried out to determine whether there are antiquities on the land, to gauge the impact of the project on these antiquities and to recommend alternatives. These provisions are contained in the orders made by the Minister of Cultural and Religious Affairs under the Antiquities Ordinance and gazetted in April 2000. They are cited as Project Procedure Orders No 1 of 2000.

The written permission of the Archaeology Dept should be taken before any project over 0.25 hectares is implemented. The development of transport systems and construction of housing complexes is included. But the UDA official in charge of the Tata Housing project said this week that, he was not aware of such a requirement.

Prasad Ranaweera, Director (Project Management) said all approvals had been obtained in keeping with UDA guidelines for Phase I of the project. It was the responsibility of the Legal division to inform him if an AIA was required–and that was not done.
There is concern now about other heritage edifices falling within the boundaries of the Tata and other proposed development initiatives. The historic De Soysa Building is in line for destruction next, under a planned road widening.
The Archaeology Dept now says a list of historic buildings in the Fort area will be gazetted in the near future. (The De Soysa Building, however, falls within the street line). “I recently assigned a separate officer to oversee this,” said Mahinda Karunatilleke, Acting Assistant Director (Western). “We are listing a large number of buildings. We started doing it because of this problem, and will expedite it.”

Among those to be gazetted are protected monuments such as the Accident Ward of the Colombo National Hospital and the Rajya Osu Sala in Town Hall. But, not all buildings that are over 100 years qualify automatically to be protected monuments, clarified Prof P.B. Mandawala, the new Director General of Archaeology.

The edifices in Slave Island and Fort will be surveyed, Prof Mandawala vowed. But it was too early for him to give a full account of what had been done in the past. If an AIA had not been carried out as regards the Tata project, however, the Archaeology Dept would be within its rights to file legal action, after determining the facts of the case.

Not your everyday ride, this!

 

Some of the happier images that emerged from our coverage of natural disaster in the Kalutara district were of novice monks having fun on the armoured personnel carriers (APMs) deployed to reach marooned families and distribute aid.

On June 1, the Kalutara district was still in the throes of natural disaster. Heavy showers that pelted down remorselessly over a period of a few hours caused floods and landslides. People were devastated and fearful.

The government called out the military. Among them was the armoured regiment of the Sri Lanka army which deployed its APMs in the Matara, Rantapura and Kalutara districts. Some of these were stationed in a plot belonging to the historic Kekulandara Raja Maha Vihara in Agalawatta. Like many other Buddhist monks, the chief priest there had worked day and night to help those hit by disaster.

The temple has a school for novice monks. For these small people, having the APMs parked in their backyard was the best thing since sliced bread. As the floods receded and the roads were cleared, the APMs were needed less and less; so men and machinery spent a lot more time at the temple.

Every day, after lessons and lunch, the young monks bounded over to where the hardware was parked. They clambered up with incredible nimbleness. And they did not leave till around 6pm, the latest deadline set by their superiors.

Twice, they badgered the commanding officer to give them a ride through the narrow roads. This was a well-organised operation. They lay in wait till he returned from fieldwork and surrounded him. Then they pleaded, cajoled, bargained and nagged. There was quite a racket. And there was no giving up till he agreed.

Off they went atop the APMs, the cynosure of many eyes.They looked self-satisfied and slightly smug, but who could blame them. It isn’t everyday that little monks get chauffeured through the streets of Agalawatta on APMs, chaperoned by uniformed soldiers.

 

My rights are an entitlement, not a favour.

You know what, I’m not comfortable with the yardstick used by some to measure the performance of this government. I’m not happy with being asked to appreciate and be grateful for regaining some of my most basic rights, such as the freedom to express myself freely.

I am entitled, as much as anyone is, to my rights. Just because one government deprived me of them does not mean another is granting me a favour by allowing me to exercise them. I was born with certain privileges and they are enshrined in the constitution. Having them honoured is not a matter for praise. It’s a question of prerogative.

And, yes, I know firsthand that I did not have that under the Rajapaksa regime. I have visits from state intelligence to prove it. But I’m not willing to settle when it comes to this government or any future governments.

I joined journalism in 1994, when Chandrika Kumaratunga had just assumed the presidency. I know some journalists had issues with her. But I came into my own. I discovered my strengths. I even dabbled in political satire.

Then came that awful Rajapaksa tenure when you didn’t know where the threat would come from and for what. What a slap in the face. It was a time of abject self-censorship, though we still wrote. Yes, we still wrote. And some of our articles were quoted on political stages and talk shows by the opposition during election campaigns.

In my darkest moments, I would ask a trusted mentor how to survive; when this would end; when we would be free again. And he would tell me–completely unmoved–that if I had lived and worked under Premadasa, I can live and work under anyone.

Premadasa had been worse. Does that mean Rajapaksa deserved my gratitude and appreciation for having been better than him? How could I even contemplate that?

Do we really want to go down the path of comparing one government against another and settling for the least bad or slightly better? Shouldn’t each government be judged on its own merits and demerits? And how long must one keep harking to a past that was worse with the objective of adding some shine to the present?

I called a political contact today to ask about some irregular appointments. He gave me a familiar refrain: “We’re not like the Rajapaksas. We are not doing what they did. Don’t you remember what it was under them?” Sure, I remember. But to be proffered this to deflect criticism of the present government is repugnant.

The presidential, then government, change was no ordinary one. It was hard won and there was a lot at stake. Much was promised. Lofty, lofty pledges to eradicate corruption, bring wrongdoers to justice, and to not tread down the same path again. Yes, crucially, to NOT TREAD DOWN THE SAME PATH AGAIN.

It was a promise. I expect–and I have taught my children–that promises are meant to be kept. Pledges are meant to be honoured. I’m not willing to settle for anything less. And to be told that I should be eternally beholden towards the politicians that promised me this in exchange for my valuable vote is, frankly, bullshit.

For a while, yes, I was grateful. I enjoyed the freedom in the air, the feeling of not being afraid, of democracy–or some form of it–returning. But I believe this has an expiry date. I cannot be expected to indefinitely compare the present with the horrible immediate past and accept the morsels that are thrown at me.

So if the COPE report came out today and it held a protege of the prime minister to account, it’s no less than what I expect and will continue to expect from our elected representatives. I’m not going to sit on my haunches and say, phew, what an admirable and praiseworthy development it is that we, the voting public, have one mechanism among many others that actually worked for us.

And let’s not forget how we got here. The UNP faction of the government did everything it could to avoid this result. Everything.

I investigate. That’s my job. And let me tell you that new deal-makers have entered the scene. They are every bit as bad as the old ones. The tenders are being fixed, the prices are being inflated and it will only get worse. Look at the reaction of the police and the relevant minister to the shooting of students in Jaffna. Happy with it? Better than before? Grateful?

Even the bond scam: The prime minister and the opposition tried to cover it up and to exonerate their man. I’m not saying he is guilty. I would need to see the evidence to arrive at that conclusion. But from the very start, it was warned that Arjuna Mahendran should not be the governor of the Central Bank because of an obvious conflict of interest. This went unheeded.

Either way, the bond scam is not the point. I’m no longer willing to compromise on the highest ideals of democracy. I no longer desire to have the wool pulled over my eyes. I will neither be co-opted nor enlisted to campaign or make excuses for this or any government. I acknowledge the advances and the positive developments–but from a position of entitlement, not indebtedness.

If I settle, my readers would also be led down that path . And that is unacceptable.