By Upatissa Pethiyagoda –
There has been nearly total agreement that our politicians (and politics) are corrupt, inefficient and mostly irrelevant, expensive and disposable. There is thus no point in flogging this dead horse. However, this matter is so central to our life and future, that all of us give must thought to ways of change. This is an attempt to provide some.
1. Quality. It is evident that there is a very urgent need to improve the type of representatives, and the functioning of the assemblies within which they operate. Although many argue for academic achievement to be decisive, this alone is important but not enough.
2. Elective process. Quite often, the electors are blamed for electing the wrong people. This is unfair, when one considers the process. Candidates are nominated or approved by the party leaderships. The criteria are a matter for their discretion. Then, utility becomes more important than quality. One way out might be to make voters aware of the background of the chosen persons (a sort of “Curriculum vitae”). Left to the party leaders as at present, they and not the electors, should shoulder the blame. The electors, under the prevailing system are thereby, compelled to choose the “least worst” option. In our warped thinking, and in the absence of compulsions to require disclosure of Party Funds – both their sources and manner of disposal, huge movements of money go unaccounted. The stories that go around are smelly. What happened to the LTTE’s funds, of which Mr Pathmanathan (KP) who was said to be the custodian of LTTE funding, and whose arrest and eviction from Malaysia was bragged about, and who reportedly trembled before Defence Secretary, Gotabaya fully expecting to be shot, is now a great “social worker” in the North.
Has he possibly, bought his freedom? What about that fugitive Singapore citizen, who it was assured by the PM, would return after some wedding in Singapore? In the circumstances of such patent untruths from on high, is it a wonder that drug kingpins, chain snatchers, Bank Robbers, rapists, murderers, bootleggers, smugglers and other degenerates secure nomination, and become MP’s and even Ministers? They more than any other, have the necessary purchasing power. Failing election, the backdoor of the National List is open. One politico confessed that his electoral expenses were so large, that he had to recover this outlay by whatever means available. How then, integrity and honesty?
3. Profligacy and inequity. Politics remains a rare Trade Union where members fix their own salaries and perks. When their emoluments are raised (ever so silently), unanimity is seen and getting a quorum is no problem. Even a recent “Supplementary Estimate” included millions for the purchase of Bullet Proof vehicles ! What a travesty and abuse of intent. Why then have a “Budget” with a debate, several readings and the attendant ceremonials?
I drew attention (in an earlier “Opinion” letter), to the large number of seemingly usable vehicles, that were crowded into a space near “Mumtaz Mahal”, covered with weeds and creepers, awaiting I believe, disposal into the Sea! We do have a Marine Pollution Prevention Authority!
Apart from its unfairness in comparison to pensions paid to Public Servants, how many know that MP pensions go up monthly in step with inflation? I am led to believe that the self- generosity of our MP’s is a kind of “Death Wish” – apply put in Sinhala as “Yana Yaka Korahath Bindagena Yanne”! I like to suggest a possible remedy. An MP on election, would be entitled to “x” times his last drawn salary. “x” could be anything up to 5, 10 or 20. This would still be economical for the country and go some way to quality improvement of Parliament. Of course, all allowances (electoral 100,000/=, Medical, Attendance, Telephone, Electricity, Postage (recently increased several fold), petrol, personal staff salaries, Air Travel and heaven knows what else, will cease – as also Pensions, that will disappear.
4. The horrible abuse of Duty Free Permits issued to MP’s, could be (if so desired) replaced, by Parliament buying and maintaining the necessary number of a reasonable, hardy and modest model, to be leased (free) to members to use as long as they retain their seats. Even if they are returned as wrecks, for “cannibalizing” or the scrap heap, it would still be much more economic and sensible than the present corrupt system.
5. Pomposity of heirarchy. One cannot but notice that a favourite Parliamentary ploy, is to say that ‘the question is being referred to a Select Committee, The Cabinet or The President, (as the reigning deity)’. This ensures delay in the guise of being authoritative. As someone declared:- “A Committee sits, it strains, a big report follows and the matter is then dropped.”
A Cabinet Agenda may perhaps contain fifty or sixty items (many of which have been “referred to it”), comprising perhaps 100 pages or more, expecting sharp scrutiny and mature judgment. This is an extremely fat hope. Even if there is any person on earth, of intelligence comparable to those of the Cabinet, he would not have been able to handle such a huge load (weekly as well). Not many would have read all, or even any, of them. A very mirthful thing happened the other day, when the Presidential Committee on The (James) Bond issue, (running into well over 1,000 pages), reached Parliament for consideration. A Member (who should have known better), protested that the report presented was only in one language (not Tamil), and The House joyfully agreed to postpone debate until the required 3-language thing was available. Result was that a 5,000 pages, (neatly bound with a red ribbon as for a gift parcel) arrived on Members’ tables. Without a shadow of doubt, every Member would have critically read it in its entirety. This is just one particularly striking case, but not the only one of such unmitigated nonsense.
This dear readers, is admittedly incomplete, a non-specialist’s view, but adequate as a beginning of what could be a deluge of examples of such misdemeanors.