25 November, 2020

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Should There Be A Retirement Age For Politicians? 

By Upatissa Pethiyagoda

Dr. Upatissa Pethiyagoda

All Public Service appointees have a retirement age (50, 55 or 60) years. Politicians do not. This is anomalous and leads to several negative consequences. With the recent doubling of the numbers elected to Local Bodies from 4,000 to 8,000, along with 225 in the Parliament and heavy increases in emoluments and perks, together constitute a massive drain on the national exchequer. It also has other implications.

Why is there a retirement age? 

The biological reason is clear. With advancing age, a person’s capacity, efficiency and cognitive ability declines – the “best before” date is a valid reality. Since a politician has more impact than that of a Clerk, it is reasonable to expect the former to have a lower retirement age than a clerk, driver or peon. The assumption that experience offsets the decline with age is demonstrably false. What is true for the Politician must also be so for the clerk or driver.

A retirement benefit represents gratitude for services rendered and provision for sustenance at an appropriate level. The present vast differences between retirement benefits for politicians against others, is reason for widespread envy and anger. Politicians qualify for lifelong pensions after just five years of service (equal to a single term), while the corresponding requirement for others is some thirty or twenty (?) years. One must remember that stringent qualifications for entry into public service contrast with none for those entering politics at any level. This is plainly iniquitous.

Tenacity

It is seen that from the date of entry, the great objective in the politician’s mind is to retain this most rewarded and the least demanding, of vocations. Obviously, (with few exceptions), it is natural that the urge to retain position is the paramount instinct. As a friend once remarked, our “Nation can be compared to a milch cow. Each politician gets hold of a teat and sucks vigorously. There is nobody to feed and bathe the cow”. Such an animal steadily declines and suffers a painful death!   

Much is said about the much delayed elections to Provincial councils. This is touted as a serious denial of the People’s Franchise. To me, it illustrates that the country seems to fare as well without them, as it does with them. Almost every News Bulletin on TV shows neglected roads, ill-maintained irrigation channels, lack of water and toilet facilities, dilapidated bridges, ill-equipped schools and hospitals, garbage heaps, illicit tree-fellings, sand mining and many such other factors that were the very significant issues that were cited as the justification for the creation of these local level political bodies.  Apart from increasing the parasitic load, what have these grand symbols of devolution, decentralization and subsidiarity done for us?

Choice as Democracy

It is claimed that “Policy Differences” justify the existence of many parties. Can any example  be offered of such glaring differences between the major ones – the UNP and the SLFP, that justify their identities? If there were, how do these seamless and commonplace cross-overs occur?

As long as Selection Committees (or Party Chiefs) determine candidacies, and the Party Whip operates, there can be no true choice for the voters. Exhortations to pick only quality candidates to represent them, is nothing more than a cruel joke. What is the point of choosing the best, when all they have to do is to raise their hands on party command? True democracy should at least permit a secret ballot. Parliamentary debate should not be a ritual but should provide help in reaching informed decisions. If not, what is the point? 

A Cycle of Evil

There is near unanimity that political office has become an expensive carbuncle. The causal circle is as follows: the rewards of politics are absurdly high and do not offer comparison with output, integrity or societal value. When this is so, there is irresistible desire to get elected. The least principled, most wealthy and criminally inclined (drug lords, bootleggers and thugs) will be attracted as a means of avoiding prosecution and concealing ill-gotten wealth. Morals, merit and integrity become irrelevant. Brutal violence and even murder of potential rivals become real. As nomination is in the hands of a few Party Officials, every effort is made to influence them. This being the reality, it is cruel cynicism that the blame is placed at the door of the electors of such undesirables. They truly have no choice but perhaps to select the “least worse” from the poor options open to them. Progressive deterioration of quality and useful talent is snuffed out. The only avenue for quality material through the “Nominated Members” is grossly abused. Thus, the electoral process and the Party Whip precludes the true exercise of the peoples’ franchise.     

The past few weeks demonstrate the total depravity of our Parliamentary system. The obsession with the “numbers game” illustrates the total substitution of the pretext of concerns and hopes of the people by naked and disgraceful personal ambitions. The chatter about the inducements (often claimed to be in the hundreds of millions), destroys any semblance of respect for our “honourable” representatives. No sense of hope and dignity can obscure the revulsion and disgust at the departure from decency that we seem destined to suffer. We are a failure in the “Good Governance” slogan so often and so loudly touted.                                                                                                                                         

Responsibility overload

While lamenting the paucity of talent in the elected assemblies, the responsibilities are unrealistic. Witness the number of matters that are “referred to Cabinet or Cabinet Sub-Committees” and the huge piles of documents that are presented to each of these bodies. It would be a miracle to expect them to pay close and critical attention. It is probable that this simply cannot happen. Tabling is no guarantee of critical evaluation, leaving aside even being read. The study of the voluminous (more than one thousand pages) of the Presidential Commission to study the “Bond Scam” was laughably and typically  delayed until the Tamil and Sinhala translations were made available to all Members of Parliament ! One can be assured that thousands of pages were not even thumbed through. The tonnage of paper used in these formal procedures would be enlightening.

A toxic contagion

Hardly a day passes without disclosure of a new scandal. Some are so well known that they cause no surprise. What troubles one is the element of betrayal, when those in whom one reposed much confidence and expected much better, stand accused. Hopefully not “Unuth ekai, Munuth ekai” 

What can be done?

In a serious insult to our collective intelligence, it has been argued that Bribery and Rip-offs by elected members can be reduced by lavish rewards. This is palpably false. Quite apart from reducing criminal acquisition of wealth, it has merely whetted the appetite of the venal. Absurd allowances, permitted abuse of vehicle permits, bribes and commissions, false expenditure claims and abuse of privileges such as limitless foreign jaunts are silently tolerated. We are told that electioneering is so expensive that means of recouping the outlay, by means fair or foul are inevitable! Simple means of compelling disclosure of electoral expenses, of assets and other indicators of graft will never be done.  Small wonder that persons of integrity or talent, will never desire to enter what has become a corrupt conglomerate. Thus, reduction of the spoils of office is paramount. Means of doing so will occur to the meanest intellect.  

Political rewards for services rendered are indefensible. Evil will continue to feed on evil. Poor attention to duty is commonplace. Frequent lack of Parliamentary quorum is explained by “When the Minister returns from abroad” suggesting that our Legislators are busy devoting their talents to address other peoples’ problems, neglecting our own. Respectable Agencies committed to rationalizing official travel, requires every traveler on overseas missions to provide a “Back to station Report” sufficient to justify the expenses incurred. It is absolutely vital to reduce useless or inessential travel, Parliament may consider installing a well-appointed “Flight Simulator” with free Liquor, Meals and Hostess service to economize on less than useful air travel. 

One could expand the list with many more absurdities – but Editorial restraints and “Reader Fatigue” compels me to end here.

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Latest comments

  • 9
    0

    Dr. UpaTissa Pethiyagoda

    Yes. In addition, there should be additional qualification tests.

    1. Age limit
    2. Physical Fitness Test
    3.Health Test
    4. Intelligence Test
    5. Character Test
    6. Crook Test
    7. Sex maniac Test
    8. Drug addiction test
    Any other appropriate test Govt Depts, Universities, and others routinely carry out.

    • 2
      0

      This comment was removed by a moderator because it didn’t abide by our Comment policy.For more detail see our Comment policy https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/comments-policy-2

      • 2
        0

        All those who reach the age of retirement (65) and those who are interested in politics should be sent to a pool. If and when necessary they may be consulted on matters/ subjects in which they are familiar with and their advice obtained according to their experience. They may be paid an honorarium if their advice is put to use.. Other than that they should keep off from contesting elections or appointed as MP’s.

    • 5
      0

      What about knowledge in politics; geopolitics; leadership skills ..
      Limit the terms by two alone in life time;
      No family rule ,
      Impose some academic qualifications;.
      Ethical and moral test not to have any racial or discrimination on basis of religion; race; language and region.
      Let Tamil or Muslim be president of Sri Lanka..
      If they have skills to do so.
      Why Sinhalese people are narrow minded .
      Look india; US; Singapore. Or many other countries.
      Share and care others

    • 0
      0

      Amarasiri,

      “Sorry, no results found in politicians database. Please modify your search criteria and try again”

  • 7
    0

    In the civilised world politicians too, like others, when they get old, they say it day, and volanterily retire and giving room for the young but our God cursed shameless politicians , – the blood sucking leeches and parasites – want to hang on to it until their death. In their years of staying in the public offices, most of them hardly done anything worthwhile to the people or the country but they do a fine lives on the back of the people – five star meals in parliament, luxury accommodations, permits to import super luxury vehicles, free petrol and phone allowances, numerous other allowances to boot etc. It’s high time people should agitate to put a full stop all these nonsenses. They too are like any other public servant, and elected by the people to serve them, and once they get elected, they behave as if they are the master of all. This dirty culture too should be stopped for good.

  • 2
    0

    Dear Upatissa without any doubt your ideas are correct.’WHAT CAN WE DO NOW?”
    In brief there are two approaches.
    1. Short term approach. Find remedies for the current ailments. We have to play the game with the players available. In the short run we can put pressure on criticising the failure of present government and the misconducts of each politician. Convince the politician to abolish the presidency. This will eliminate the political unrest for certain extent and save millions of money. Educate the voters in whatever means to take rational decisions, keep can-versing to bring the political culprits to the court. Logical comparison among political parties ,their leaders and their candidates. Use media and other possible means to reveal all political malpractices and put on more pressure to get the maximum out of the politicians.
    2.Long term approach. Find reasons for the failure in good governance. Treat the reasons with logical solutions.I will concise this to two . One is constitutional adjustments. What can we include?
    Age limitation,close monitoring of MP”s commitment to the assigned job/behaviour/expenses, education level, no place in parliament for convicted and give priority to legal proceeding against MPs and finish their cases with top urgent, law and order should be equal to all MPs as for normal people that mean they can be arrested any time under court orders and they should respect the police, parliament proceeding should not be adjourned due to misconduct of MPs, how much people’s money spend per day for parliament activities, anyone who misbehave in parliament should be punished as break of law and refer them to court, no MPs through list, no cross over, no early elections, elections can be held on public holidays, voting should be compulsory , you can add many more

  • 0
    0

    It is absolutely vital to reduce useless or inessential travel, Parliament may consider installing a well-appointed “Flight Simulator”///

    Your business remain Competitive Old and outdated technology is likely to be slow and waste valuable time and money. If your office tech is affecting your productivity, it may be time to replace it. Updating your existing one Streamline processes and increase operational flexibility.
    1. Group Conference within office / world wide / business meeting / Office to Office

  • 3
    0

    Dr Pethiyagoda; Thank You for your well laid out case for politicians to be treated like the rest of us. Please do not give excuses like “Reader Fatigue”, WE want more of the good sense you write. I hope that a Sinhalese/Tamil translation is available for the rest of the media to copy.

    I have for sometime opined that our politicians should stop thinking they are indispensable, and irreplaceable. What incentive is there for decent capable young people to come into politics if there only hope is to step into the shoes of dead men.

    The problem is that too many of our politicians treat election to serve the people as a licence to loot the national treasury, or treat serving as a family/dynastic business.

    Give the Americans credit, even their Commander-in-Chief only gets two terms and then is expected to retire gracefully,

    • 1
      0

      Spring Koha

      Old chap, I do not understand as to why you have an excessive desire for decent things?

    • 8
      0

      Dear Spring Koha,
      .
      As you’ve said, “the Americans [give] their Commander-in-Chief only gets two terms”.
      .
      I guess you know that it was put into their statute books only after F.D. Roosevelt got elected four times. The reason/excuse was the Second World War.
      .
      Before that, it was only a convention which was respected.
      .
      Obama is young and active enough to take on another job. UN?
      .
      Oh, I’m aware enough of criticisms of him; can any politician ever get through his work without some of his actions later being seen as blunders. Bringing hind-sight to bear is always a bit unfair.

  • 9
    0

    The Malaysian Prime Minister is in his 90’s and doing a better job than those younger than him !!!

    • 6
      0

      His is an exeception for entire asia, perhaps, for the world.
      :
      Mr Mahathir is unique among any other leaders in asia and entire world.

    • 8
      1

      Dear Steve, as you say, Dr Mahathir Mohamad is 93 years, 199 days old. He and his wife (almost as old) are Doctors of Medicine. He has recently confessed that he feels his age now, and must hand over to someone younger in a couple of years. He came in, this time around, to clean up the corruption in the country.
      .
      He is an exception, but we must not have rules so rigid that we get caught up in difficulties. Chandra Jayaratne has made the point here:

      https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/if-the-new-regime-fails-in-upholding-democratic-good-governance-society-will-bark-loud-bite/

      He has suggested, about the cabinet, that “75% of them must be below 65 years of age and capable of assuring a line of succession into the future;
      .
      The same applies to Educational qualifications, knowledge of languages, wealth, health etc. I think that we should have quotas for women, but certainly not for ethnicity, religion etc. There should be a lower age limit for some positions, but not an upper age limit, although we could have “Jayaratne clauses” encouraging youth and women. We must not make laws which become an embarrassment later. There should be no bar to a person who has served in certain capacities (e.g. The Presidency) later coming into Parliament.

    • 6
      0

      PART TWO
      .
      Two weeks ago, there was this unnecessary comment:
      .
      http://www.sundaytimes.lk/190113/columns/kilinochchis-special-vice-squad-disbanded-smokescreens-from-police-spokesman-and-sumanthiran-330128.html
      .
      Like Mahinda, Nasheed is to contest Maldivian parliamentary poll.
      .
      “Former Maldivian President Mohamed Nasheed, following in the footsteps of his Sri Lankan counterpart, Mahinda Rajapaksa, is preparing to contest parliamentary elections in the island nation in April this year.”
      .
      If a man is modest enough to serve in a humbler capacity than earlier, we should admire him for that. However, I think that the two-term limit for an Executive President is healthy. I wonder if I should write a full article about the Maldives, myself, since I have a reasonable grasp of the politics there. President Ibu Solih is to grace our Independence Day celebrations ten days from now. He’s a bit of an innocent; I wonder if he knows just how bad things are in Sri Lanka.
      .
      It was up to the people of Kurunegala to refrain from electing Rajapaksa, but we knew that such sagacity could not be expected from our electorate. We have to respect the deficiencies of democracy; to try to make rules disallowing certain persons would subvert democracy.

  • 2
    0

    First of all all political jobs should be made NON- pensionable;
    They should not be able to drain the National Coffers.
    Expenses by them should be carefully Audited.
    Age limit is not necessary as long as they’re not corrupt and Mentally sound. Pending criminal cases & convicted persons should be prevented from seeking parliamentary seats.

  • 1
    0

    Our problem Dr Upatissa Pethiyagoda, is corruption at all levels and strata.
    We are trapped into having to choose between corrupt elites.
    Setting an age limit to politicians will do nothing to bridle this.
    In fact, the culture of corruption might get worse in the regime of younger leaders.

  • 1
    0

    Constitution suitably amended to ensure strict adherence.

    Let the members of parliament debarred from being appointed as Ministers like in USA and many other countries around the world. Age limit is not necessary.
    Let the professionals and technocrats take over as ministers on a fixed term contract and the payments to them performance based.
    Declaration of assets made compulsory, periodic, and transparent. All citizens to have access to the declaration.
    Members of Parliament legislate and oversee the ministers and the bureaucrats. The oversight committees to have teeth and the President and the Prime Minister have to be answerable to the oversight committees.function ..

  • 1
    0

    This is a well thought out article. However, the majority of voters want these old crooks to continue until their death bed. Why? . Old pensioners and others over 65 years are not even respected by their own families and children because they want to make their own decisions. Why cannot this same principle and culture be adhered to in regard to politicians.

  • 2
    0

    When there is no qualification whatsoever to become a politician, on what ground can we insist for a retirement age. What is more surprising that the salaries of these unqualified politicians are higher than the qualified public servants. Even the Inland Revenue Department and the Police Force fear for these unqualified politicians. For instance, there was also an incident where Rishard Badurdeen who have no engineering skills at all, had threatened a Tamil engineer to comply with his demand contrary to the contrary to the engineering technicalities and the engineer was eventually assaulted for complying with his engineering skills. There are many such instances. The unqualified will even say they are the descendants of the mythical king Ravana.

  • 0
    0

    Many propose many things. but, Politicians have changed the whole system to suit them. Now even foreign politiciasn say we are active in Sri lanka that includes writing of the constitution. Bit. no one can expect solutions from politicans. They are playing musical chairs and we vote for that. Only change will come when and, if the country goes bankrupt. That will come when the middle east goes to austerity measures.

  • 0
    5

    My dear Sinhala_Man

    Realistically you are a Tamil man aren’t you?

    Bandarawela born ………………

    • 7
      0

      Yes, Shiromani; now what is your problem? My problem right now is that I, Panini Edirisinhe, don’t understand what on earth you are asking.
      .
      A person is labelled a Tamil in Sri Lanka if Tamil is his mother-tongue. In my case, my knowledge of Tamil is close to zero as far as comprehending the spoken word is concerned. It may be that I can utter about twenty Tamil words. I don’t recognise a single letter of their alphabet – like it is with Chinese or with Hindi. I know the Greek alphabet a little better because of its use for Scientific Purposes.
      .
      My Sinhalese is O.K. Writing is not great, because of our obsession with this “thuppahi” language, English. My English is considered good, all round, by most people.
      .
      Yes, I was born in Bandarawela to parents who were both from the Galle District, from the area near the Gin Ganga. That is how my surname has no “g” in it. That eccentricity was cultivated, I think by those who had something to do with Richmond College. My father, David Nicholas Ediirisinhe, studied there. His father had an even worse spelling: He was David de Alwis Edrisinha. My maternal great-grandfather, Charles Edward Wikramanayake, taught at Richmond for 49 years – at least so said my mother who passed away only in 2007.
      .
      You are only one of many persons who seem to hate me. Why?
      .
      There are others who hate me who have said many adverse things about me in response to this article of mine. From it, you could go back to two others. They give reasons for hating me: not one of them calls me a Tamil.
      .
      https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/the-thomian-pharisees-are-unrepentant-why-this-matters-to-all-sri-lankans/
      .
      Please respond to what I have written here.

      • 2
        0

        I’m sorry; that comment from my phone. This too.
        .
        Since the focus was on spelling, let me spell my father’s name correctly; two “i”s don’t occur together.
        .
        “David Nicholas de Alwis Edirisinhe “
        .
        He was not happy with the meaning of the name; it means hostile lion. He had changed the Sinhalese spelling of mine to “lion going in front”. My birth was registered in Sinhalese as “Idirisinhe”. He passed away when I was 14. It was ten years later that I discovered the mistake, but I’ve been able to persuade all officials so far to ignore that initial letter with only my NIC, in Sinhalese, having the “i” in initial position.
        .
        My Wikramanayake relatives don’t use “c” as the third letter. I’m not
        sure about the “a”s and the “e”. Tiresome isn’t it? I fear that 150 years ago, people bothered a lot about caste.
        .
        It’s best we don’t bother with all this. It was Shiromani Manage who made me go off at a tangent. Let’s think of ourselves as just human beings who still have a Babel of languages.

    • 3
      0

      Shiromani Manage,
      .
      Why you harass Mr Sinhala Man this way, thinking that calling him a tamil would be an insult to him ? We the CT readers ( good hearted ones) would not mind us being TAMILS, SINHALA, Muslims or others. What matters to us to be honest, is to treat one another with respect and dignity.
      :
      What I got bothered your above comment -is that sounded somehow similar to that of that disgusting septagenarian Egal Eye. He comes one behind the others calling TAMILS as Demalu and Thambiyo for the muslims and Lansio for Burgher srilankens. The kind of men not tohave grasphed the basics, while passing their later day life is even more curseful to this nation.
      :
      Sinhala Man is one of the few commenters, that keep on adding highly sensitive posts to CT platform. So, I don tthim he should repeat his details one behind the others, just because of malicious women and men of your nature would always feel to attack anyone stand for SRILANKENs to be attacked. That is unfortunately common to you many in our home country. Once we marginalize the kind fo thought bearers only we can even think of abetter future in this country/for this nation.

  • 0
    1

    Dr. Upatissa Pethiyagoda,

    “With advancing age, a person’s capacity, efficiency and cognitive ability declines” – You too sir, please stay away from racists, otherwise, people will think you fall in that category

    • 3
      0

      Dear Amila W.,
      .
      I know nothing about you, or about this Dr Pethiyagoda. I have made four responses to what I have read in this article.
      .
      Your comment is ambiguous or worse, totally meaningless because you have not told us where in this article or responses there are manifestations of racism. If it is anything said or implied by me, please pin-point and I shall clear up any misunderstanding.
      .
      One reason why we can’t progress is that people in our country love to make vague insinuations of the sort that you have. Please have the courage to first identify yourself, and then to make only responsible statements.

      • 2
        0

        Exactly,
        .
        These people seem to have no comphrehension skills. I too dont read them from top to the bottom. But i dont add anything to harm the writer, if i am not sure of it.
        :
        Sinhala Man, we always love your comments. I now have become a fan of yours having read your comments. If at least 100 of yours would have been part of our mission, things could surely improve in our island. Unfortunately, many in your age groups would either not want to express them self or stay indifferent as whole lot of people would do.
        I always encourage you to add more posts/even articles, since that can help whole lot of people in this rotten island.
        May LB Bless you and keep you !

  • 1
    0

    Dear Desperate Sinhalaya,
    .
    Thank you very much for the nice things said about me. Yes, I think that many of us, Sinhalese Buddhist is another, are trying to say almost the same thing, consistently, using our handles that assert our identity.
    .
    I notice one good thing in these comments; I have told the plain truth. It would have been good had I learnt at least a modest amount of Tamil. The fact is that, sadly, I haven’t. It is not an easy task to learn a language, except as a child below the age of five. However, after that age, upto roughly puberty it is still possible for children to learn languages without too much effort.
    .
    https://www.researchgate.net/post/how_many_language_should_a_child_learn_at_one_time
    .
    That’s a blog where the same question as raised in this digression has been discussed. It depends on children being fortunate enough to grow up in multi-lingual circumstances. Dear DS, we can hypothesize about such circumstances, but what is said in this article remains true:
    .
    http://thebiggerpicture2015g5t4.myblog.arts.ac.uk/2015/11/23/inequality-and-the-tadpole-philosophy/
    .
    We should be humbled by our realisation of the advantages that we received.
    .
    We are all human beings who have been born into a certain culture. That, by itself, does not make us either superior or inferior to others.
    .
    When one thinks of the terrible state of the social order that prevails today, I must confess that I begin to despair. So, your words are welcome. However, what is very necessary is that we demonstrate to our non-English-speaking compatriots that we have all got to start acting as thinking adults. It ‘s not always possible to make comments that are interesting, but we can at least desist from being unnecessarily offensive.

  • 1
    0

    Dr. Pethiyagoda’s article has an appropriate message best suited for the present times. Only thing I noticed is that his comments has only a passing remarks on the no of politicos Parliamentary, PCs and LAs appointed to serve the 20 mln of the populations. Actually this is the factor that should be drastically reduced in parallel with most of the countries in the region and universally. I could still remember the words uttered by Snr. Thondaman (MP,Minister) in his short speech made, after replacing his son Jnr.. Thondaman and installing Mr. Sathasivam (MP) as the Minister of Education and LG of Central Provincial Council. He told the members of PCs could serve the people better as they are more closer to them, but for that the Members of Parliament should be reduced to 95, as it was when he entered first time.

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