Raj Rajaratnam’s million dollars – A fine starting point

Your lead story last week that Raj Rajaratnam had pledged a million US dollars to help with the rehabilitation of former LTTE combatants would be welcomed in certain circles but would have raised the hackles among the hardliners in the Diaspora and he may be under sever pressure to change his mind. There would also be many in this country who would ask the question as to why we should accept money from any member of the Tamil Diaspora who has given money to the TRO. That was of course during the Ranil Wickremasinghe administration when we had the CFA and the TRO was considered respectable. It was long before the organization was proscribed.

The reaction of the locals would be an understandable reaction considering the harm done to this country by the Tamil Diaspora, to many of whom the war was revenge for Black July in 1983 which resulted in them leaving the country in droves. As for Rajaratnam who, according to the Forbes List is one of the richest men in the world, he has been investing heavily in this country over a long period of time; he is said to hold shares in John Keells Holdings, Hemas and in a number of other institutions in this country. His investments here, according to informed sources, amount to over Rs. 300 million.

Who is this Rajanathan Rajaratnam? he was born in 1957 in Colombo and was educated at S. Thomas’ Mt. Lavinia; he obtained a Bsc Engineering degree from the University of Sussex and followed it up with obtaining an MBA in Finance from the Wharton Business School of the University of Pennsylvania. His personal income today is estimated at between 300 and 400 million US dollars. He began life at the American Investment Bank, Needham and Company, where he worked for 11 years ending as President of the Bank in 1991. In Jan. 1997 he left Needham and established the Galleon Fund. The assets of that Fund is said to be worth five (05) billion US dollars. He is recently reported to have said "At some point you stop working for money, you work for pride and to help others".

There are a few issues here but we cannot forget the invitation extended by the President himself to the Tamil expatriates to return and help the country. Most of the Tamil expatriates who settled in the US, Canada, the UK and Australia were middle class professionals and they have done well, some like Rajaratnam brilliantly; those who went to Germany, France, Switzerland, the Netherlands and some other countries of Europe were of a different class but they all found employment and it could be stated without surprise that they all thought in terms of helping establish a separate state in Sri Lanka and contributed in whatever way they could towards the cause. These groups of Tamil expatriates were organized to support the cause by persons such as Lawrence Thilagar who worked out of Paris where they first established their international headquarters and Anton Ponraj who was in Geneva.

Over a period of time the professional Tamils particularly in the US, Canada, Britain and Australia organized themselves to form the ‘Brains Trust’ of the movement. On the operational side they had the likes of KP and a few others. As we all know now, they collected millions of US dollars with which they bought arms and funded their other activities. The lobbyist they retained in the US was paid USD 30,000 a month!

The reason for setting this out is to draw attention to the funding potential of the Tamil expatriates; The LTTE’s income from its businesses, extortion from Tamils living abroad and from illegal activities was said to amount to around 250 million USD a year! We need to look at this issue without prejudice and in the country’s interest. Whilst many among them would wish to continue to seek their Eelam, the majority have come to terms with the fact that establishing Eelam by military means cannot be realized and are interested in achieving the goal of political empowerment, equality, dignity and prosperity by peaceful means.

In any case every Tamil whilst supporting their campaign for equal rights did not support the use of violence and terrorism to achieve those ends This is why the Tamil expatriate communities must be brought in to assist in the recovery programme of the country. There is certainly no question that they could take a load out of the government’s burden in this regard; the government would have more money to spend on the development of other areas particularly the districts which were directly affected as a consequence of the war.

We are today fortunate that Raj Rajaratnam has set an example which we hope would be followed by other members of the Diaspora to whom, whether they accept it or not, this is also their land; we the people in this country and the government in particular have a duty, as I have stated earlier, to make a reality of the President’s invitation, to make it meaningful by creating conditions that would make the minorities feel they also belong here and could live in dignity, in security and also be a party to deciding on their own destiny and the destiny of the country.

Let us think in the long term and use this opportunity to rebuild our nation. The President himself stated that there are no minorities in this country; let us seek to give substance and meaning to his words Let us reach out to the Tamil expatriates and the countries hostile towards us for various reasons; for instance the Tamil Expatriates have been able, because of the fact that they have become a ‘vote bank’, to get the House of Commons to discuss the situation in Sri Lanka no less than six times. Britain is also leading the pack in the effort to see that we are deprived of the GSP plus concession.

Now if these Tamils of Britain become shareholders in the project to develop the north and east and the livelihoods of the Tamil people living in other parts of the country, it would as stated before be a huge burden lifted off the shoulders of the government. They, becoming stakeholders, would also end their hostilities towards our country. There is indeed much to be gained by making them partners and bringing them in.

On the matter of rehabilitating the former LTTE cadres, I was happy to learn that the IOM is actively engaged as is our private sector; so also the governments of the India, US, Britain and some other countries and of course the Diaspora with the coming in of Raj Rajaratnam. The beneficiaries will be those unfortunate young people who were brainwashed and thought that they were giving up their lives for a worthy cause. Let us now rehabilitate them and the child soldiers who were plucked away from their families and conscripted; let us all be a party to a great punya karma and give them back a new life so that they may become useful citizens for the good of our country.

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