CONCEPTS THAT CANNOT BE RECONCILED
Recently in Kegalle, President Maithripala Sirisena his willingness to totally prohibit tobacco and alcohol sale if not for the fact that his government would be overthrown by the opposition political parties. He reconfirmed his ambition a few days ago by stating growing of tobacco will be completely stopped in Sri Lanka by 2020. By the same token, The President explained how the government could lose in terms of Excise Tax - Rs.60 billion on cigarettes and Rs.55 billion on Arrack and Beer annually. This clearly indicated the vulnerable position the government is in right now.
So this leads to a new predicament as per the Sinhala axiom: Unu nisa bonnath beha, kiri nisa ahakdannath Beha situation. (Can’t throw away because it is milk; can’t drink either as it is too hot)! The regime faces a quandary as Sri Lanka’s total inward foreign remittances are mainly made up of those Sri Lankans who go to West Asian countries as well as from all the other Sri Lankans and professionals elsewhere in the world, which is estimated at a staggering figure of US$6 billion
Talking of alcohol, Scotch Whiskey comes on top as the ‘ gentleman’s drink’ globally. It is classified into three or more forms such as (1) Distilled in Scotland, (2) Casked in Scotland (Aged 3 years and 1 day in Scotland. (4) There is no requirement for a barrel of whiskey that meets these criteria to be bottled in Scotland and 26 brands of Scotch are bottled in India. In other words at one given time some 20 million casks, over 500 million cases, are maturing in warehouses in Scotland and approx. 10 billion bottles of Scotch after bottling are sold in more than 200 markets worldwide which acts as a major foreign exchange owner to the concerned government coffers.
From a different analysis, the Avant Garde Maritime Services issue has turned into a hullabaloo. President Maithripala Sirisena’s contention about the ‘ floating armoury run by the private company to hand it over to the Sri Lanka Navy finally evoked all arrangements with Avant Garde Maritimes Services (including handing over of a vessel and the armoury they held) to the Navy explaining it was illegal. In doing so it was it was handed over to the Navy to operate under a private company owned by the Sri Lanka Navy according to a strategic plan.
SL Navy’s responsibilities in this area are to receive, hold and issue of weapons, ammunition and equipment that belong to foreign and local teams on board and performing security services. According to a Naval Spokesman’s statistics, quoted recently in the media, a total of 652 moves were executed in Galle and Colombo Harbour during the past month with a recorded staggering sum of earnings ( US$1.55 million (Rs. 220 m) within one month from 13 November to 12 December 2015 for providing safety and security measures to merchant ships carrying weapons, ammunitions and associated equipment to vessels crossing between the High Risk areas.
History of the floating armouries in the international waters became prominent in 2005 with the collapse of Somalian government and its economy. Out of desperation Somalians started to resort to illegal and criminal activities of hi-jacking ships and took vessels and the crew to Somalia where they held the crew as hostages and demanded substantial amounts of money as ransoms. Sea piracy has ever since become severe with Somalians becoming boisterous in the Indian Ocean where 2/3 of the ships proceeding towards Atlantic or Pacific Oceans sail through the Indian Ocean.
According to the Law of the Sea such protection to commercial ships could be provided only by private contractors as no naval or any other state military are allowed on ships; it is illegal for a ship to employ armed security personnel directly.
It may be the reason why President Sirisena took a rigid stance to take over the operation from Avant Guard Maritime Services and handing over to the Navy whereby in turn the Navy could delegate the responsibility to any private firm in the open market including Maritime Services too on open tender.
Anyone authorised to handle arms and ammunition in any emergency situation means giving an open licence to kill! Cynics claim that President Sirisena being a Theravada Buddhist, who is so concerned with maintaining the country’s old traditions and culture and permitting consumption of alcohol (even partly as a means of generating money for the State) or sanctioning the issue of guns is against the very religious principles he espouses in Sri Lanka, primarily known as a Buddhist country! Whichever way one tries to analyse this issue (whether it is against Buddhism or not) another school of thought underlines the fact that Buddhism does not accept it as a sin to take up guns in a life threatening situation .
Whatever said and done, many seem to think President Maithripala Sirisena’s popularity has diminished over a period of one year to such a level where no other previous Prime Minister or a President had been subjected to before! His latest comments on Enrique Iglesias show in Colombo has gone viral in the internet as much as in the international press where he pronounced that the organisers of such a show should be “whipped with toxic stingray tails” because it was “uncivilised.”
In a retaliatory message President Sirisena made no bones about it by stating “ Some people criticise me but these people are attacking our proud culture and traditions when we reach out to global platforms”. He always maintains that during the yahapalanaya such criticism can take place where the media and journalists are given a free hand only in a democratic atmosphere. However, arguments for and against the moral governance seem to continue by the day, as the human being is someone who cannot be satisfied in whatever circumstances.