The humbug behind SJB’s attack on Port City Commission Bill | Daily News

The humbug behind SJB’s attack on Port City Commission Bill

How Port City Colombo will look after completion
How Port City Colombo will look after completion

The Samagi Jana Balawegaya’s (SJB) Kabir Hashim, a former Minister, has made a peremptory statement criticizing the new Port City Commission Bill for constituting a threat to the sovereignty of this nation. There is no point at which the draft Bill in any way purports to make the Commission an alternative power centre to Parliament, even though MP Hashim says there is such a danger inherent in that piece of legislation.

Kabir Hashim, representing a party that compromised the sovereignty of the country in no uncertain terms by sponsoring a Resolution against this country in Geneva, sees chimeras in the Port City Commission Bill. Hypocritical much?

The former Minister repeats the time-worn SJB clichés about how Sri Lanka should foster better relations with the “international community” for development purposes. Assuming that Hashim’s Government had such excellent ties with the community of nations by which Hashim means mostly Western democracies, it should be asked how such friendships helped us during the tenure of his Government?

Did we have a roaring economy, sweeping industrialization — and the creation of jobs at amazing warp speed? Unless Hashim suffers from some sort of delusional malady, he would remember what the citizens of this country also remember about the Government in which he was a major player. It was a dispensation that limped through the entirety of its tenure, while the economy withered away, and the people suffered from joblessness, and over-taxation which they bore stoically until the first opportunity they got to send that Government home packing.

Crocodile tears

Any SJBer be it Hashim or anyone else talking of sovereignty is a cause for the giggles. But then, crocodiles are known to have tears. What kind of sovereignty was it that compelled such a Government to co-sponsor a UNHRC Resolution that created an Office for Missing Persons (OMP) which had the mandate to continue investigations against Military officers, even when the persons who made the allegations about them had recanted their charges?

Hashim’s erstwhile colleague in the Yahapalana Cabinet from their time in Parliament, Mangala Samaraweera had recently gloated that they were the real patriots as his Government secured GSP Plus concessions due to excellent international relations — but how many soldiers did they have to prosecute and put behind bars to obtain this concession which so far as the people of this country know, did nothing for an economy that underperformed chronically at the time there was no pandemic?

There were scores of issues that questioned the ability of Hashim and his then Yahapalana colleagues to protect the sovereignty of this Nation. There were the disabled military heroes regularly getting the water cannon treatment on our streets. These are the warriors who had sacrificed their future — their limbs and eyes and other body parts — to protect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of this country. How did the marginalization, and the regular street attacks on these folk advance the cause of sovereignty?

Sovereignty my foot. This was an abject client state under Hashim and his lot. We bartered away our collective dignity for a mess of pottage, and were about to barter away the rest of our sovereignty as well through various arrangements such as the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) pact that incidentally made an initial money contribution as a precursor to the main infusion of funds, which on the admission of Kabir Hashim’s own colleagues, funded the party’s then ongoing political campaign.

Enough about sovereignty from a Government that dismantled the entire intelligence apparatus because of its spite against the military, which led to the heinous Easter Sunday attacks on April 21, 2019, which then Hashim’s colleagues had a good belly laugh over. There was a press conference at which they deadpanned, yes, what has happened has happened, and went ho-ho-ho.

Members of that Government are now bleating about sovereignty? On the other hand, how churlish can people get to complain about sovereignty without basis, when the largest single investment ever to be made in the country, has been made with the Port City that has now been provided the legislative framework to bring in those who want to make Colombo a leading financial hub. This is not a ‘GSP’ type concession. This is a solid investment that would flow into the country and cause tangible transformations in terms of financial gain, job opportunities and the accumulation of goodwill. What could Hashim’s UNP bring into the country by contrast in terms of investment? The phantom ‘Volkswagen’ factory? Google looney-tunes?

Territorial integrity

In any event, there is nothing in the Port City Commission Bill that is seen to compromise the territorial integrity or the sovereignty of the Nation. The Commission can make its own rules to run the City, and so when a municipality such as the Colombo Municipal Council (CMC) can pass its own bylaws to run its little niche and maintain the roads and the culverts and raise the taxes, why cannot the Port City do the same?

Exactly how does the Port City Commission Bill compromise the sovereignty of the country? There is no provision in the Bill that does so. It is why Hashim makes a blanket statement that there is such a compromise that is caused by the operation of the Bill, but he never points to a single Clause in it that in fact does raise such red flags.

This is malicious disruption at its worst, and political nitpicking of the most cynical order.

If the SJB wants to make mischief, its leadership should pick its targets without disrupting the single largest investment made in the country that has so much potential that it could transform the country in a way that would affect whole generations to come. It is the future represented by the children of today, that would benefit from an investment of this magnitude — of US$ 15 billion initially, as expected.

When Singapore was being built as a regional financial hub, its opposition figures did not issue statements that undermined the vision of legendary elder statesman Lee Kwan Yew. Besides, the sovereignty complaint is such a wholemeal dud argument that seeks to destroy what the entire Port City project seeks to achieve. Not even the US Ambassador in recent asides about the project makes such a case that seeks to destroy the project even before it properly gets off the ground. To her credit, US Ambassador Alaina B. Teplitz has acknowledged the potential investment that the Port City could attract, and her statement is unequivocal in that regard. She goes on to sound warnings about the possibilities for money laundering, etc., and this could be taken as some friendly advice to be cautious. But she is not so ghoulish as to dismiss the project as “compromising the Nation’s sovereignty” as Kabir Hashim does in his verbal gymnastics that targets the project even before the starting gun has fired.

Old playbook

The SJB is shooting itself in the foot with such inane statements. It is probably trying to use the same playbook that the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) used against the then UNP Government. Yes, the SLPP then in Opposition and now in Government made some bold statements about the sovereignty of the country being compromised by the then Government through the Geneva UNHRC process, and the co-sponsorship of a Resolution against the country. But the critics then pointed to actual clauses in the Resolution that they underscored as raising red flags.

The criticism was solid and substantiated, and not conjured from thin air out of sheer spite, as Hashim does in taking aim at the Port City Commission Bill.

If the Opposition wants to oppose and become relevant, it should try being original but even in trying their darndest to become popular all the SJB seems to have is a monkey-like instinct to blindly “copy” the then Opposition strategy, without trying to assess the stupidity and lack of authenticity in such mimicry. “Those guys said ‘sovereignty’ so we should say it too” seems to be their mantra. For sheer lack of originality and for counterproductive behaviour that would come back to haunt the party due to the sheer cynicism in such takedowns, the SJB should get full marks for making such complete asses of themselves in the face of the country’s most important investment in decades, if not in an entire era.