By Ameer Ali –
In September last year in a piece I titled “An Omnibus Cabinet & Outvoted Parliamentarians: Can the Economy Afford to Maintain This Colony of Prodigals?” (Colombo Telegraph, September 7, 2015) I posed a question, “Can anyone tell the people the estimated total cost of this colony of artificially elevated political gentry?”. Ten months have passed since then, and the public auditors should have some rough idea to answer my question.
I raise that question once again in the light of the recent request for 1.1 billion rupees (equivalent to roughly US$ 2.5 million) allocation to import 42 “luxury cars” for some ministers and their deputies. While the government policy of economic liberalism is pushing down the throats of ordinary people the so called programs of austerity what moral right have the rulers to indulge in financial extravagance?
Sri Lanka is sinking in national debt and foreign lenders are having a strangle hold in the economy’s assets. Isn’t there a national need to economise expenditure without hurting the ordinary families? With the decline in oil prices and economic downturn in the Arab countries foreign remittances from Sri Lankan expatriates which tranquilised the economic pain of many families is also disappearing fast. It is time the country look for an alternative economic model to make ends meet and protect its independence. The reform should start at the top with the President, the Prime Minister and their coteries of political functionaries.
It is in this context that I also want to raise the issue of the economic viability of decentralised political administration in Sri Lanka. What is the actual cost of maintaining all those provincial councils, their chief ministers and their officialdom? What useful service are these political parvenus performing to deserve their status? The recent incident about the public behaviour of a provincial chief minister has exposed the danger of having too many petty chiefs consuming too much resources and power with too little knowledge about public decorum and behaviour. The periodical elections conducted to choose these chiefs and their lackeys on top of the cost of conducting national elections to the parliament obviously impose unbearable strain on the public purse with incommensurable return.
Whatever the criticisms that we may level against our former British colonial masters we should be fair to admit that they left us with an efficient public service with rules and regulations of accountability. An efficient Government Agent system with a prudently structured parliamentary cabinet will more than adequately compensate the loss of all provincial councils and their mediocre administration. In the public arena Sri Lanka is recklessly wasting too much precious financial resources for too little return.
Unlike in many developing countries Sri Lanka, thanks to an internationally competitive education system in recent past has produced a politically literate constituency of a substantial size. It has no doubt an enormous capacity and capability to initiate political reforms which will eliminate some of the injustices and economic waste in the current system. The thought provoking contributions by a wide range of talented writers to this journal are just one index of this healthy phenomenon. Unfortunately the system has given prominence to the mediocre at the expense of the talented. It is time for rationalisation of the country’s political structure and administration. Will this constituency come forward to lead the agitation?