Sunday Observer Online


Sunday, 26 June 2016





Marriage Proposals
Government Gazette

Re-exporting narcotics to the world

Even as the country comes to grips with the sheer enormity of the ruin that has beset this island in the recent decade, we wake up to a fresh horror: not only has the corrupting of institutions enabled narcotics smuggling, but the lack of controls has resulted, seemingly, in a booming narcotics re-export!

For long, Sri Lankans have taken pride in the success of Colombo as the key transshipment port for the South Asian Sub-continent, especially to mighty India just across the Palk Straits. Geography also locates our island ports as transhipment points for much of the world’s trade between the vast markets to the east and west of us. All this bodes well for us as long as we do not try to play off one big power against another.

But transhipment of legal cargo is not all. The internal war taught us the possibilities of large-scale arms smuggling into the country. The corrupt governance that accompanied the most crude and brutal ending of the secessionist insurgency also enabled a new, somewhat shadowy, industry: re-hiring of the weaponry that had been bought lavishly for the purpose of counter-insurgency.

At the same time, the country also began to hear about the mounting detections of illegal narcotics being smuggled in. Even as small boats are seen as the traditional means of sea smuggling – literally from time immemorial – more recently, modern containerised shipping has also emerged as a major means of smuggling of illegal narcotics.

Fingers of suspicion continue to point to the politically powerful or influential as major actors in enabling the massive and legitimate industry of container shipping to be used conveniently for the smuggling of narcotic drugs. Various big names in the political and business world are often touted as ‘king-pins’ or ‘godfathers’ of this large-scale narcotics trade.

Detections of imported narcotics in recent years have now indicated a more frightening reality: the smuggling of narcotics is not, merely, to serve our own market but also for transhipment to bigger and far more lucrative markets across the globe. The sheer scale of the detections indicates that this volume cannot be simply to meet the relatively small local market. Literally hundreds of kilogrammes of heroin have been detected. While the exact modus operandi of the smugglers and trans-shippers is yet to be identified, it is clear that our ports and airports are being used to trans-ship heroin that is produced in Central Asia.

Then, just two weeks ago, came a shocker: a massive detection of cocaine, a narcotic that is not produced in our region but far away in the Americas; and, shipped by container. Indeed, the police apparently suspect that several more containers carrying cocaine loads have slipped through the net.

The Customs Officers’ Union is, once more, protesting that powerful levers have been used to enable the containers to slip through the net. In the past, a young Customs investigator was assassinated for his persistence in probing the trail of power that supports smuggling.

To their credit, the law authorities now formally acknowledge that today, Sri Lanka is no more simply a victim of drug abuse. Last week, after the billion-rupee cocaine bust, the authorities are ringing the alarm bells: we are a re-exporter of narcotics to the world.

The authorities need to identify the markets to which the cocaine – and any other drugs – is being re-exported. We also need to root out the rogues in our corridors of power – in politics and in administration – who enable this massive illegal trade. This has to be seen as part of the National Unity government’s ‘repair job’ alongside the financial crimes and arms deals that are being investigated.

Brexit: politics of nostalgia

Some 52 percent of those who voted in last week’s historic referendum in the United Kingdom have opted for the UK to leave the European Union. The numerous repercussions – especially to Sri Lanka - of the breakaway from the EU is discussed in other sections of today’s newspaper.

The vast bulk of the ‘Leave’ vote came from the countryside and small towns. The ‘Leave’ vote is primarily that of the English and their closest ethnic kin, the Welsh. The weight of the ‘Leave’ vote came from the less formally educated and the older generations.

Election watchers in the United States have already noted the parallels in voter demography in the on-going US presidential election process. Political analysts in Sri Lanka may note the marked political differentiation between the urban and the rural, with the rural vote favouring a harking back to the past.

When the framework of livelihood creates uncertainty over economic futures, the resultant sense of insecurity naturally predicates a search for certainty, if not in an unknown future, then in a, presumably, ‘known’ future based on a re-construction of the past.

In the UK, it is an attempt to ‘get back’ to a future of a Britain that is not tied to the EU – the imagined Britain of the pre-EU period. In the US, one presidential candidate depends on an appeal to “make America great again”. The ‘again’ is the harking back to a past that can only be imagined since no one actually lives it today. Based on our reservoir of historical records, the past is far easier to imagine than is the future.

Simply because the future derives from a real-life present that is unstable, and is, therefore, worrying, we cannot and should not attempt to re-create the ‘past’ on the basis that it is already ‘known’ and secure. Doing politics on the basis of unbridled nostalgia does not set us on any ‘certain’ course.

As our various faiths teach us, it is the here-and-now that is the most ‘real’ and brings us intimately to divine guidance. And, in good faith, we can only move into an uncertain future and not the imagined past.


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