Lies or the bitter truth?

June 8, 2006 (LBO) – Some time ago I wrote a column http://www.lankabusinessonline.com/normal-or-peculiar-standard-time/ about changing the time standard: It was a fun piece because I thought the whole thing was a joke or a smokescreen (for something like:http://www.lankabusinessonline.com/sri-lanka-raises-retail-fuel-prices-from-midnight/); and I couldn’t care that much about which way the decision went.

But I am no longer amused. I am angry. Not because of the change, but because of the blatant lies and the contemptuous attitude behind it.

The return to Indian Standard Time (IST) exemplifies the pathology of our polity: politicians lie; officials lie; the government media lie; the real media and the people acquiesce.

What does it matter you may ask. Is it not possible to live in an island of liars, like those found in fables? Is it not possible to function, knowing that every statement is a lie? May be, this is simply our culture.

Japanese culture does not allow one to say no, it is said. Similarly, it may be that our culture does not allow us to utter truths.

But small lies can have large consequences. I think we’re playing in blood for the culture of official, endemic, entrenched lying. I believe the culture of governing by lies has contributed to the start of Eelam War 4.

The small lie

When announcing the intention to change of the time standard the President was quoted as saying that the change was in response to a request by parents who did not want their children to go to school in the dark (http://www.lankabusinessonline.com/sri-lanka-puts-the-clock-back-after-10-years/) .

Tilak Siyambalapitiya and others called the rationale into question; showing that the school times had been adjusted after we changed from IST and that the time between sunrise and start of school of exactly the same as before; saying that if there was a problem it could be resolved much easier by changing school times like in Nuwara Eliya, without raising energy consumption and making Sri Lanka look peculiar.

But the change was made, disregarding dissenting voices, ignoring the evidence that was presented: http://www.scidev.net/content/opinions/eng/science-loses-in-sri-lankas-debate-on-standard-time.cfm

And then, before we had barely finished resetting all our clocks, the other shoe dropped: all the starting times of schools and offices were advanced by 30 minutes. Bus and train timetables were to be adjusted accordingly.

No mention now of school children groping their way in the dark to get to school on time. No mention now that the time between sunrise and start of school is no different from it was before April 13th.

And nobody called them on the lie. Not one question by the media; not one voice raised in Parliament. The Government lied. The government media lied. No one cared. They got away with it. Whoever they were pandering to, mostly likely the troglodyte astrologers, got what they wanted. The people of Sri Lanka were lied to on a matter of minor consequence when the truth would have done just fine.

This is the way government works in Sri Lanka. Politicians lie; officials lie; no one holds them accountable.

I should know: when in government, I tried to give serious deadlines for various actions and even asked journalists to hold me accountable if they were not met. In one instance, when I missed the stated deadline for making the Public Utilities Commission operational by several months, no one held me to account, though I punished myself enough agonizing over the form of my mea culpa.

Large consequences

What does this have to do with Eelam War 4 and the increased sale of coffins?

The trouble with the culture of governing through lies is that it becomes second nature. You lie to your people; you lie to your subordinates; you lie to your friends; you lie to your enemies. After some time it becomes second nature; you don’t even know you’re lying.

So you lie about everything to everyone. You go to Geneva and you lie about disarming paramilitary forces. You come back from Geneva and lie about amending the ceasefire agreement.

There is no bad intent; no mens rea; no violation of the fourth precept.

This is the way things are done in the blessed island in the year of the 2550th Buddha Jayanthi. You have been lied to; you have lied; you will continue to lie to people; they will continue to lie to you.

Problem is that Mr Prabhakaran is not in the mood to play along in this one instance. He actually wants the government to deliver on what was promised in Geneva. He gets mad; he starts dispatching suicide bombers to army headquarters and blowing up claymore mines under troop vehicles.

At some point the international community will get sick of this too. What value are the words of these liars, they will ask. No more co-chairs; no more mediators; no more monitors.

And then we will be forgotten, like Afghanistan before 9/11, like Somalia for the past so many years. The bodies will pile up; the war risk insurance will kick in; those who can leave will leave; we will truly become a failed state.

If only . . . If only our leaders lived by the precepts they so piously recite, sometimes more than once a day . . . .

Musavada veramani sikkhapadam samadiyami.

Shall we start now, at least?