Surfer in Hikkaduwa. Photo by Will Master.
This is my column in today’s Nation
The Southern Expressway Bus is empty these days, so I’ve been taking it. Ended up in Hikkaduwa at a restaurant with a photo of Mahinda on the wall. The owner was railing against the government.
“After two years the goverment will be changing,’ he said. I almost laughed. The owner firmed his face and said, “Not think so. Going to happen.”
“Nothing to do with the President and his family. It’s the small (people)” he went on. Refering to the local catchers and thugs.
This man’s main problem is that tourists demand alcohol (everybody wants a beer on the beach) and he can’t legally sell. But every restaurant on the strip is selling. Yet only certain people are getting busted by the cops. Those without political connections.
“They catch me and the other guy,” he said. “That guy is political, he’s released in front of me. Only catching a few people. Have to treat everybody the same.”
That, essentially, is the problem. I personally think that the problem stems from Mahinda and his family as much as from the catchers below him, but inequality (of opportunity) is the problem.
For years the issue has been inequality between Tamil and Sinhalese, but inequality really slices in multiple ways (including race). The biggest inequality that people see today is those who are connected vs those who are not, loku miniya vs podi miniya, he said.
You can see it in the protests on the street. Ministers still have their vehicles. Mihin Lanka still has gas in the tank. Yet average people are suffering.
Now these people are like, what about me? Thus you get the bus drivers on strike, the fishermen on strike, all wanting in.
Then you get the teachers on strike, the nurses, the government servants. They want in too. Because the Sri Lankan people are not dumb and this isn’t a dictatorship. It’s their country and they want in.
As much as most people respect Mahinda for ending the war, they’re really not too happy with the way stuff is being handled now. It was OK for the catchers and cronies to make their money while the tide was rising, but now that it’s gone out, we can see who’s swimming naked.
In this Hikkaduwa case, the owner wants to sell booze and he thinks the current policy is unrealistic and implemented selectively. This leads to corruption in the police and courts and ultimately hurts the local economy. He wants a level playing field for tourism, which the government is so proud to support.
Around the country, people want a level field for education, for jobs, for salaries, ultimately for opportunity. Mahinda did a very good job of holding Parliament together, holding the military together, and holding the country together in the end. Now, however, he’s got to balance the demands of a lot of people knocking on the door to their own house, wanting in.