Brian Klass , an Associate Professor of global politics in Britain, says that the corrupt nature of Sri Lanka’s politics is demonstrated even by trivial incidents. After the fleeing of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa on the 13th, this Professor, who added his experiences to his Twitter handle , described his meeting with the son of a former president of Sri Lanka as follows.
“As Sri Lanka’s president flees and the country’s economy is in tatters, let me share a story in which I had breakfast with the former president’s son—because it shows how little, seemingly insignificant details can reveal so much about elites in highly corrupt countries.
A few years ago, I got a message out of the blue, requesting a meeting. I agreed and booked a breakfast table at a posh cafe in London, near the LSE, where I worked. I had cereal at home, because I knew the cafe was expensive. Then, the president’s son arrived.
We chatted. He asked me about democracy and authoritarianism (which intrigued me; why was he asking?). We each had one coffee and one croissant. After an hour, the bill arrived. It was for over £100 (about $140 at the time). I knew immediately that it was the wrong bill.
But before I said anything, the president’s son opened his wallet, took out £120 in cash, and plonked it down on the table. I was astonished, but quickly explained it was a mistake, got the waiter’s attention, and got the right bill (it was for around £15). We paid; he left.
He had traveled widely previously—and had lived in the UK—so he knew the value of the pound. It was a window into how elites behave in a deeply corrupt country where the average person earns about $3,000 per year.
I don’t study Sri Lanka, so that was the extent of my interaction with him, but I couldn’t help think of it this week as protesters stormed the most recent president’s palace (his uncle) and swam in their swimming pool. (FWIW, the son I met is now hoping to become president).