Out, out HSBC - in with 'Balu Badda'-- Daily News
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On My watch by Lucien Rajakarunanayake Demonstration: If there ever was man in a hurry in politics we see him in Colombo today. The leader of the UNP is in such a hurry to grab power that his booting out his own constituencies in what can only be seen as a foolhardy thrust that can only lead to regret in the end.
Following close on his letter to the Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation, Barclays Bank and JP Morgan vowing not to repay the US $ 500 million floating bond issue being raised by the present Government of Sri Lanka through these institutions, in the event the UNP is returned to power, the UNP made a huge show of folly when it organized a demonstration outside the HSBC office at Bambalapitiya.
Such a display can hardly be expected from a political party that still has the business community in the country as its main political constituency, and to which the more conservative rightwing intelligentsia looks up to for political leadership.
A few more of such exhibitions of unthinking haste in politics could well see the business community abandoning the Kollupitiya Chinthana in droves, with even the International Democratic Union - the Conservative International as it is also known - raising questions whether the UNP is true to its centre-right, conservative and democratic policies.
In the rush for power the leader of the UNP is obviously ready to resort to any tactic he thinks may work, irrespective of how it would affect the fortunes of his party and the large support base it has built up over many decades.
Whatever the international bankers and investors may be thinking of this Government, they are most unlikely to be impressed by the antics of a rightwing political party, led by a former Prime Minister, that resorts to the tactics of extreme leftwing radicals to push its message, or lack of it, especially targeting the some of the most respected international banking houses. But Mr. Ranil Wickremesinghe will not be kept down by such considerations.
He is obviously not bothered by suspicions that his attack on a prestigious center of international finance in this manner would make his late uncle, and great champion of the private sector and foreign investment turn in his grave, as one political columnist said it last Sunday.
Drive it out
Last Thursday he struck at HSBC again. This time in the UNP's headquarters, much to the concern of senior party members increasingly concerned about the direction the party is being dragged by its leader.
Addressing the Lanka Jathika Govi Peramuna, the UNP's farmers' organisation, at a meeting to mark the party's 61st anniversary, not only did Ranil Wickremesinghe renew his pledge to renege on repaying the loan of $ 500 million if arranged for Sri Lanka by the consortium of banks led by HSBC, he also added that once he comes to power, he would see to it that HSBC's license to operate as a bank in Sri Lanka will be cancelled, and it would be sent packing to Hong Kong.
Such behaviour from the leader of a party that is pledged to support private sector-led development, greater privatisation and a major role for foreign investment for national development is hardly likely to result in much confidence in his party among the international business community, as well as their local counterparts.
What Wickremesinghe fails to understand is that international banks of the ranking of HSBC and its partners in the sovereign bond issue for Sri Lanka, will make their judgments of the suitability of Sri Lanka for such facilitation based on its economic and fiscal record, and future prospects, and not on the ravings of a politician in a great hurry.
What the UNP leader is revealing with his attacks on the HSBC is a fear that the bond would in fact materialize, which could well put paid to his ambitions of a quick ascent to power.
The present behaviour of the UNP leader vis-a-vis the HSBC and the sovereign bond is causing another major concern among intelligent UNPers. The question bothering them just now is, "What if the banks do arrange for this loan to Sri Lanka, just now?"
The answer they see is that with the very thorough intelligence networks that international banks have, the unerring signal is that they have come to a conclusion that apart from whether a future UNP government would repay the loan or not, it is most unlikely that Ranil Wickremesinghe and the UNP will be returned to power any time soon.
That's something well beyond the UNP leader's grasp of political judgment in his destructive haste to grab power.
If the UNP leader's braying against HSBC needs matching it can come from the bureaucrats in the health sector and some of their trusted organisation that are ever so eager to introduce a tax on dogs. The new tax that is being seriously discussed is being presented in what some believe to be attractive packaging called "Responsible Pet Ownership".
Interestingly, a Sinhala FM channel that broke this news last week, having heard of it at a seminar on rabies eradication, very aptly headlined it in its news bulletin saying "Balu Badda nevatha kriyakaariivei" - the Dog Tax will be enforced again.
The "Balu Badda" recalls the uprising of 1848 against the British, when one of the rallying cries of the people against the colonizers was the imposition of a tax on dogs.
There is a song in the film "Veera Puran Appu" that captured well the mood of hatred this tax brought about, with the added fear that the conquerors would next tax the milk in a mother's breast.
But bureaucrats who can never rest till the last dog in Sri Lanka is killed, their NGO backers and the politicians who gladly lend ear to them, seem to be oblivious of the social repercussions such a tax would have today, whether it is dressed up as a move for "Responsible Pet Ownership" or given any other fancy tag.
Far from leading to responsible pet ownership it will drive into denial the people who now feed, look after and care for neighbourhood dogs due to the added financial burden upon them, making it so easy for the dog catcher to be back in action. I asked some "healthy" bureaucrats whether this would not lead to the killing of dogs again, and they all said "No. no. killing is banned today".
Yet, they had no answer as to what they would do with all the dogs they will round up, due to so-called "irresponsible pet ownership". If it is not the gas chamber again, they will use euthanising as a euphemism for brutality.
It is humbug to talk of "Responsible Pet Ownership" in a society where so many of members have no house with a garden or gate, to keep their pets tethered and within.
All this talk of responsibility is a means of hiding one's own irresponsibility in not carrying out the more scientific and humane means of dog population control recommended by President Mahinda Rajapaksa and the WHO, when he ordered a stop to the killing of dogs, just before Buddha Jayanthi 2550 in May 2006. The President reiterated his order in June this year.
The misleading information being pumped into the media about numbers of dogs, the cost of treating dog bite victims, and the unjustified fears about a rise in rabies deaths, all seem to be carefully crafted to bring back the ugly days of "Seize and Kill" of dogs in tune with a colonial practice that has far outlived its use.
One has to beware of these colourfully packaged calls for responsibility in pet ownership, quite out of sync with the realities in our society, especially in the reaction to a "balu badda" heaped on the many burdens the people face today, and the not so hidden move to undo the President's order and bring back the killing of dogs.
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Saturday, September 8, 2007
Out, out HSBC - in with 'Balu Badda'-- Daily News