The dividends of war and peace



The first budget presented after the war has brought no dividend to the people - UNP

The Peace Dividend is a much talked of topic today. There are many who expect this dividend to be in the form of reconciliation and restoration of mutual trust among the people of Sri Lanka.

There are others abroad who expect the Peace Dividend to be the continued opportunity for those who were trying to throw a life-line to the LTTE in the last stages of the battle against terror, to continue their pressurising of Sri Lanka and interference in our internal affairs.

But the UNP has a different expectation of the Peace Dividend, to judge by the comments by several of its key members on the Budget 2010 presented earlier this week. Their lament led by Tissa Attanayake and Ravi Karunanayake is that although the war is over the people have received no dividend from it - in relation to a budget, this can only mean a dividend in terms of money, like the dividends from the profits of a company.

It is not surprising that those whose main interest is in the accumulation of private profit, usually at public expense, are so vocal about this apparent lack of cash dividends to help line the pockets of those who are eager for such profit. But, it will be hard for these people to go to any village that sent its youth to fight in the battle against terror, and announce there of the absence of any dividend from the end of the war.

It will not take long for them to be reminded that the biggest dividend that has come to the people, all people of Sri Lanka, is the absence of any more deaths in the battle for or against terror in the country. This is a dividend that cuts across all barriers of ethnicity, religion, caste and whatever other differences we continue to have in our country. But this can hardly impress those who mistook Elephant Pass or Alimankada for Pamankade and Kilinochchiya for Medawachchiya at the height of the confrontation with the LTTE, and also dismissed Thoppigala as a mere barren and rocky place with no strategic or military value.

Of course one has to admit that the end of the war has not brought any dividends similar to what a leading figure in the UNP, who is very vocal about Human Rights, earned from the signing of the Ceasefire Agreement between Ranil Wickremesinghe and Velupillai Prabhakaran, brokered by Norway. That special dividend was the contract for building part of the A9 Highway in the North, being hastily given to a company owned by the sister of the jumbo member concerned.

It must also be recorded that the end of the war against LTTE terror, has not brought the dividends that persons such as Ravi Karunanayake must have earned, in whatever manner they were disbursed, by the sale leading to the final closure of the CWE, to the hurrah-boys in the UNP’s funding machinery. Some calculations put this dividend at Rs 600 million or even more. Some of those dividends must be still lining the pockets of those who carried out this major fraud in the corporate history of Sri Lanka.

The end of the war also did not bring the dividends in cash and kind that many who were in power at the time, and those who were close to them, earned from the war, in permitting the LTTE to import arms into the country, through the "Nothing To Declare" passage at the International Airport, after peace talks abroad that did not bring us any closer to peace.

The peace that now prevails, whether one considers it as providing dividends or not, certainly does not provide the opportunity for those in the UNP, as well as officials of very high rank close to it, to benefit from the dividends of allowing the LTTE to import high powered radio transmitters duty free, on diplomatic clearance, and have them transported all the way to the North, with orders for them not to be checked at any military barrier on the way.

Looking at what the loss of such massive profit and dividends of war must be meaning to those who are now singing Jeremiads about the absence of any peace or post-war dividend to the people, what must be really missing appears to be the war itself, which was such a good profit venture for those of the Ravi Hora-aliya group among the Green Elephant Corps.

Scoring points in parliamentary debates of a lesser class and giving the expected sound-bites to one’s favourite TV or FM channel apart, those who are really looking for the dividends of peace need only to look at the traffic that is moving on the A9 highway, and ask Sri Lankans - Tamils, Sinhalese and Muslims alike (but mostly Tamils) - whether they have not benefited tangibly and financially from the end of the war, and more importantly from the feeling of safety and security they travel in.

The comfort of the Chamber of Parliament is certainly not the place to learn of the new dividends that the fishermen of the North are reaping through the open season for fishing in the sea around them, and also for those Sinhalese fishermen who are now free to sail to any part of the Sri Lankan seas and make a profitable catch each day.

If such dividends of peace that reach the larger population of this country are not felt by those suffering in the political isolation they have pushed themselves into, and are struggling in an endless battle for leadership, with cut-throatism even on caste coming to the fore (e.g.: Pathirana at Matara), it is best for them to retire to the offices of their favourite stock brokers and reap the dividends earned by people daily through the constantly rising indices at the Colombo Stock Exchange. Those are the dividends that Green Jumbos are more used to, than the dividends of peace that cannot come easily to those who were used to living on the dividends of war.



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