Politics as organised crime (over heard dinner conversations)


Six months ago I had the privilege of eavesdropping on conversations among well connected people. People who swam with the big fish in the inner circle of political power. It chills me to have watched fragments of those conversations played out in the months that followed. The most interesting is the rare window I had to the world of the Kotte courtier. However I haven’t felt “comfortable” enough to write about it till now.

It was Cerno’s first and so far only high society social event. I’m not that closely linked to Sri Lanka’s Nomenklatura to get such invitations. So I had no idea why I was hauled along by a close relative who “knew some people”. I presumed my role was to hold my drink (Elephant house ginger beer), look smart and say little.

The gathering was very private. An discreet function room in a 5 star. The duty manager fussing about to make sure everyone was comfy. The dress – “smart” casual. Which meant I had to polish my shoes that afternoon. We got there early and I was privy to the “hulo much-chung”s as the others trooped in. Everyone brought their own drinks. A lot of heavy crystal bottles with amber fluids. The hotel provided equally fancy glasses. The ice bucket was relatively untouched.

The conversation that flowed was mainly insider talk. Not necessarily gossip but reminiscences. The juiciest bits were on excesses of parliamentary life -absurdities familiar to most gather in the room. The MASSIVE alcoholic consumption of big name politicians. The craving for the 10 car convoys and other trappings that makes so-and-so willing to do anything. The list of government waste and looting was staggering, depressing and so deeply mired in procedure that it would be hard to prove in court even if I had been suicidal enough to record the conversation. The colossal sums wasted instead of providing basics for the military. Estimates (in U.S dollars) of the amount of ammo pumped into the sky during the LTTE air raids.

The most disquieting part of the talk had nothing to do with the war but of the blurring of politics and crime.

Interestingly the crimes that the politicians are involved in are rather unsophisticated. Things like using influence to permit developments in lands reserved for rain fall drainage. Or protecting gangs who demand you sell your land at cut rate prices (or they kill you).

Then there are the extortion rackets that bleed the economic life out of certain towns. People shot on the streets. Houses burnt. The contract killings over land disputes. The police and the courts unwilling or unable to do anything. Familiar stuff we might see in the TV over dinner. The sufferings of “small” rural people which most likely we might not encounter.

In these tales the heroes are the underpaid low ranking police inspectors who eventually manage (after much procedural gyrations) to lock out crooked superiors and nab the bad guy. It all ends with the bad guy conveniently getting killed “while resisting arrest” in a bloody shoot out.

Names of gangsters like “Nawala Nihal” and “Prince Colum” pepper the conversation. Particularly in stories about friends who have had to deal with these vicious people on behalf of their political masters. The details of luxury and casual cruelty were too insane for even the cheesiest Bollywood flick or the goriest Hollywood gangster movies. I’m not sure how much of it was the very fine Scotch that was talking though I doubt alcohol can make anyone so creative. Specially in the consistent detail department. Chatted in a bantering tone used to discuss the antics of squirrels or the drama of rainy weather traffic.

I had a weird feeling listening to this river of details – besides the fact that they were sickening. Even when some of the horrors happened to people who did nasty things.

I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised. Cruelty and greed define the eternal slobbery French kiss between the criminal underworld and politics (specially in a “democracy”). Its nothing new in human history in general and the third world in particular.

In Sri Lanka the blame falls on no specific political party or person but on all the pig fucks who have and will rule us. However it is easy to argue these points endlessly to defend your political patron. The powerful, the connected, the favoured are always above the law and are a feature of most societies. They keep that power only as long as they are connected and favoured which tends not to be too long. Yet there will always be someone in the role of the almighty thug and its best avoid them at restaurants 😉

It was getting late and we adjourned to one of the 5 star’s many restaurants. The talk slid smoothly onto lighter fun topics. I washed away the unpleasantness of the previous conversations with another Ginger beer (Elephant house). The food was fabulously expensive and tasted good – specially since I wasn’t paying for it.

I started writing this 6 months ago but something in me didn’t want to complete it so typing the end of this post is a bloody relief. I refuse to apologise for the lack of details. I’m not powerful, idealistic, brave or smart enough to deal with the consequences.

All the time I didn’t understand why I was invited for that dinner. I now know but that is another post.

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14 thoughts on “Politics as organised crime (over heard dinner conversations)

  1. Welcoem dear boy to the Banana Republic, what you have seen is the true reality.

    The problem starts with the elctoral system, which has built incentives for corruption; namely:
    1. No limits on election spending
    2. No trabnsparency in election fundraising.

    This is compounded by:
    1. The incredibly stupid preferential voting” system, where each and every MP needs to run a campaign, not only againt the opposition but also againt fellow candidates from his own party.
    2. The system whereby parlaiment can be dissolved on the whim of the president leading to elections every 2 years on average.
    3. The proportional reprentation system which does not produce clear winners (unlike the first-past the post system) leaving hung parliaments and much post election horse trading – parties cross over for perks & priviledges (the CWC is the best example – they have been in every government SLFP or UNP and sell their seats to the highest bidder at taxpayer expense)

    The problem with election funding is that with no controls and frequent elections, parties keep trying to outspend each other, often wastefully. A presidential election candidate can spend Rs.1,000m to Rs.2,000m according estimate srecieved by me a parliamentary candidate is reputed to have spent Rs.50m for a campaign.

    The question is:
    1. who funds the campaign?
    2. who provides the manpower?

    the answer in both cases is the underworld. there are relatively small donations made by regular, legal businesses but the bulk is made by the underworld.

    The underworld thus controls the politicos, which is why we have crime increasing. Cops concentrate on drunk driving, and harrassing clubs for selling liquor while the big fish go free.

    Now it is coming to the stage where the underworld will actually have their people in parliament.

    This is the classic banana republic case that has been repeated all over Central America and Africa.

    The government keeps these things hidden by stamping down on its opponents in the name of terrorism, patriotism and other bogus causes.

    There were certain sea changes in the level of corruption – the first with JRJ, the second with CBK and teh third with MR.

    This is why I, If I had my way, I would like this country to return to as a colony of Britain – we would be much better off in the long term that be subject to the jackboot of the criminal underworld.

    Read about Kenya, Hondurus, Colombia, Zimbabwe, Burma, Nigeria and look for the parallels.

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  2. Jack Point: 😀 you are definitely spot on. One of the things I over heard in that conversation was how the voting system removed a clear link of accountability between the voters of an electorate and the people they supposedly voted for. Anyway accountability and avoiding the consequences of one’s action is a common thing shared by politicians and criminals

    Its all a looting system now I suppose..

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  3. Every time I go by the Parliament, I curse myself for not having the expertise, the ability or the guts to strap some explosives onto myself and go blow myself up when the parliament is in full session.
    I then console myself thinking that was I to do that far worse Politicos would turn up and start infesting that damned place!

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  4. Very depressing yet so true. 😦 I have heard the stories of how important the links with the underworld are for aspiring politicians. Sigh.
    I don’t know how you managed on the EGB. I would have needed a healthy dosage of Old Reserve.
    The food would have had to have been spectacular!

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  5. tinylittlefascist: Actually most of the people at the party were those who got out of politics when they realised just how bad it was and that there wasn’t much you could do to make a difference in that world.

    Plus I’ve long ceased to be depressed by corruption – saw the basics of it in school observing the prefects 😉

    So it wasn’t too depressing. Good food + witty conversation will get me over most things..

    Anyway I don’t consume alcohol and EGB is tha best 😀

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  6. “I have heard the stories of how important the links with the underworld are for aspiring politicians. Sigh.”

    tinylittlefascist, I dont want to name names in a public forum, but just look at the newspapers.

    What are the ‘hot’ stories ? Who is making the news? Who are the people ‘above’ the law?

    These are the true rulers; the bankrollers of politicians, the power behind the throne.

    There are many others who keep a low profile but the few public examples give a good flavour of those lurking below the surface.

    The underworld does not just have links to politicos, they are the ones who call the shots.

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  7. Times Eye: Which should of course make sure that the same old nasties don’t come back and take over like they are doing in the current system. But the sad fact is that no political system is immune from abuse. It is the tendency of people in power to acquire more (supposedly for the sake of the great good) and be corrupted by it. Its one of the constants of political power. Unless there is a rather advanced culture to keep the rulers in check. I don’t see such a culture forming in this country. Not in my life time anyway…

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