By Emil van der Poorten –
It seems like, under the motherhood-and-apple-pie cover of devolution, additional incompetence and corruption is going to be visited upon the people of Sri Lanka.
Political office, inclusive of being appointed as “Organiser” for one political agglomeration or another, has become a highway to accumulation of ill-gotten wealth. Ask anyone in the country, particularly rural folk, what their opinion is of politicians supposedly serving them and you’ll be told that public or political office has simply become a licence to steal.
That, when the foregoing is an acknowledged fact, the Yahapalanaya government is seeking to double the number of those who have been plundering the public purse is beyond explanation. At best, it can be interpreted as a simple ploy for those making such decisions to continue their own profligate and crooked ways having bought the support of those in the political tier below them. Given the constant to-and-fro-ing of politicians of every stripe in this country even that is a gamble. A gamble conducted with our money at a time when such essentials as health and education are grossly under-funded even by Third World standards.
Let me give you a simple example.
For several years I had kept up a regular stream of complaint to a man reckoned to be among the most senior politicians serving in the preceding government as well as its successor with regard to the fact, that but for the shramadhana (volunteer) efforts of those of us to whom it was truly a lifeline it would have been totally impassable. A couple of years ago he called me to say that I could stop whining and complaining because he had allocated ten million rupees (Rs. 10,000,000) from his own Ministry’s budget to the local Pradeshiya Sabha (PS) to deal with our desperate predicament. Lo and behold, within a week, the winding paddy field had been transformed into a macademised road!
There is, however, a little twist to this tale, which is why it is appearing under the heading that this article carries.
When I inquired from the contractor how much he’d be paid on completion of the work, he told me that, if it passed the engineers’ close scrutiny, he would receive, at most, 4.8 million rupees, less than half the amount I had been told had been allocated for this work.
I expect that I hardly need the reader to draw his or her own arithmetical conclusions from these facts.
The icing on this particular cake was evident to me on a recent trip to the local petrol station where, in typically overstated Sri Lankan fashion, there was this humungeous signboard proclaiming the appointment, by one of the constituent parties of our national government, of a local individual to carry that party’s flag into the next national election in our constituency.
The hoarding/advertisement, in full colour of course, showed the individual concerned receiving his letter of appointment from the President of Sri Lanka with the earlier-mentioned Cabinet Minister in attendance.
In case the reader has not been joining the dots to the previous part of this narrative, the recipient of the honour bestowed by our President and his senior cabinet minister was…………….guess who? Oh, well, I’ll put you out of your suspense: it was the head of the local body whose arithmetic left something to be desired!
And we want the number of such individuals doubled?
That is simply what this government wants to do in the name of “devolution.”
An individual of very practical bent with a belief in the need for something beyond naked greed in the conduct of government told me the other day that the proposed expansion should be reversed because extending it and expanding it would only serve to worsen an already-unacceptable state of affairs.
Anyone having to deal with the politicians and bureaucracy, one indistinguishable from the other today, will bear witness to the fact that both these tiers are now complicit in the effort to confuse and cheat the public, because the non-delivery of service provides the base from which corrupt practices can be launched more easily. After all, when one is compelled to spend an inordinate amount of time deciphering the small print, it is easy enough for those controlling the public purse to launch their corrupt “initiatives” unnoticed.
What we need is certainly not “more of the same.”
How about employing the services of systems consultants to examine the status quo and simply recommend how service-delivery can be streamlined and, thereby, serve the public from the ongoing grief that has been its lot for far too long?
This isn’t rocket science and the only drawback as far as the movers-and-shakers are concerned would be that it will impede the wholesale robbery of our national wealth that they are currently engaged in.
Let me give you one simple example of what we encounter on a day-to-day basis.
Our local post office, like pretty much any of the kind in rural Sri Lanka, has facilities to register mail.
Simple? Not so when one examines the practical realities of such an exercise.
The receipts are in a book, with a piece of carbon paper to make a duplicate copy.
Since the person seeking the service has to receive acknowledgement of the registration, the postal clerk has to tear off the “original” and give it to him/her. This simple exercise is complicated by the fact that the “tear-off” element, something available even during “colonial days,” no longer exists and a ruler has to be applied to rip off the customer copy without serious damage to the book.
Due to this rigmarole, when I have to send in Employees’ Provident Fund and Employees’ Trust Fund returns in respect of two entities requiring four separate receipts, I end up with only one.
Just in case the reason for the whole exercise is not derailed by all of this, the date stamp is so worn-out that the lettering cannot be deciphered and the clerk has to write, in a corner of the receipt, the date in pen or pencil.
When I informed the post office that I would be only too willing to contact the Ministry of Posts who had, obviously, neglected to replace a very basic piece of equipment, I was implored not to do so because the post office staff would “get into trouble.” I have little doubt that the local staff who deal with their employment realities on a day-to-day basis, knew whereof they spoke and said what they said accordingly.
Corruption and the incompetence that accompanies it have become institutionalized in this country and applying band-aids – a generous assessment – is a total and absolute waste of time.
A while back, I posed the rhetorical question of whether Sri Lanka would accept some brand of the Duterte-ism that the Phillipines is enduring. This was hardly a preferred option to me, but, given the seeming absence of anything resembling a mass movement for reform in this country it appeared that it could well end up being a most unfortunate possibility, particularly given the fact that we have our own Duterte lurking in the not-so-dark shadows with familial connections to the previous regime and not-so-covert protection from the current one. And with white vans at his disposal one could reasonably assume.
I don’t think I’m in a minority of one when I say that we absolutely have to clean up the public services in this country, the bureaucracy as well as its political masters. The logical alternative would, most probably, be another blood bath like those Sri Lanka endured in 1971 and in the late ‘eighties and which, like those two insurrections, will not solve any problems except reverse any alleged over-population in our Emerald Isle!