18 August, 2022


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.


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

  • 2

    Yes, definitely and besides the age limit there should be a condition laid down for those contesting parliamentary elections. They should be highly qualified and of standing.

    The successful governments electing candidates who lost the elections to parliament against the peoples wishes must be stopped.

    • 0


  • 4

    Dear Dr. Upatisa Petiyagoda,
    For some extent you are right that there should be an age limit for politicians but it is not only the age that contributes to the mess in our country. There are number of factors that contribute to the poor quality of politics in our country. First of all, the power given to politicians and accountability. Politicians have the power to transfer, remove from their post if an officer do not accept their personal request. Do we have a system that limits the power of the politicians? No.
    We have seen recently that the current President & fomer Presidents try to bribe (or bribed) MPs from other party. What power we have to take actions against these crimes. These are a few examples.

  • 1

    Age Limiting will put a deadline to the greed to get corrupted much earlier than later. If a person’s capacity, efficiency and cognitive ability decline as they get older is true, how come people are more satisfied attending to a retired medical doctor’s private consulting? Technically, a politician’s job is nowhere near as complex as a doctor’s job. If a politician is honest that is what is the best ability he can have
    Issue we have is, our political culture, 2 main political party’s cultures, general public’s toleration or acceptance to these cultures by deliberation or by ignorance or due to lack of choices.

    • 0

      Tnk u for u re thinking, It is greed, jealousy+ all human selfish(extreme) that makes these requests. If a person is Fit all round ,he /she need not retire.It is relative .all humans should be treated irrespective of age ,if the are fit ( may be a few) it depend U should NOT impose rules on other people We must develop Maturity good ,conduct, behavior, discipline, and character comes first.

  • 0

    I agree the retirement age should be 65 or less for everyone.

    With age, there is a certain kind of selfless perspective comes to life. I’m not talking about the rotten politicians and their friends. But if we somehow manage to get the learned and the wise to become politicians, then we can use their age to our advantage.

    Usually in Lanka, the peak of success is 55 years of age. If only we can get these people to back their country, we will be able to give sound direction to our nation.

  • 0

    Should There Be A Retirement Age For Politicians

    People like Mahathir mohammed why did people elect him This timehe says I have to do more work than the first time toppled the corruption no one is like that in sri lanka as soon as he came he charged the worng doers whithin one month see the dollar rate, in sri lanka and dual minister all are handling public funds
    and it is visible to all.

  • 0

    Dr Upatissa Pethiyagoda asks, “Should There Be A Retirement Age For Politicians?”
    In every country, this question is raised off and on.
    In Lankan context, if one considers the recent ‘happenings’, the answer is a firm ‘No’.
    As things unfold, we find that an explosively violent situation has been averted. This is because our leaders had not allowed emotion to overtake. We are lucky.
    Had the younger generation been in charge?
    Our scourge is the culture of corruption/nepotism/impunity. Will the younger leaders like for example Wimal, SB Dissanayake, Namal, Mahindananda Aluthgamage, Wasantha Senanayake, Prof SMM Ismail, Douglas Devananda, succeed in curbing the culture?

  • 0

    There is a country has the retirement age even for the king

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