By Ranjith C. Perera –
In most of the developing countries we could see politicians are kept on pedestals like demigods. Sri Lanka is one of those countries. People have seen pictures of people, sometimes high officials, worshiping them as they have seen a religious leader. They forget that those politicians are in those positions because of the votes given by them, in other words the people of the country. As soon as their tenure is over they become normal citizens. So what is the necessity for such humorous behavior from the people? Do people have to call them honorable? According to the play Julius Caesar even his fellow members in the senate called him by his name unlike in our feudal system in which the King was called by many many words in salutation before addressing him, with bowed heads. Not only in front of the the kings even when people meet a local leader they had to remove their turbans bow down their heads in respect and make room for his passage. Still we could see similar subservient feudalistic behavior in front of politicians not only from common people but even from so called educated people in urban areas.
Recently in TV news I saw a press conference in UK where the Health Minister invites a senior Health Official to explain about Covid-19 situation in the country. He started his speech by saying “Thank you Mr. Minister”. In our country it would be not less than “Thank you Honorable Amathithumani”. Sometimes you may remember the picture of President Obama sitting with his officials watching the live video of Bin Laden siege in Afghanistan. In the picture we could see he is seated in a low chair while officials are seated in high chairs. Can we see that type of situation in our country? Here he will be given a special high chair. Sometimes we see the politicians are seated while the monks are standing. We have also seen the pictures of Presidents and Prime Ministers in some European countries travel in public transport with the people in their countries. Our Heads will not go out without motorcades with large number of security guards. That shows closeness of people to Heads in other countries and ours. In other words those instances reflect the place given for the politicians in developed countries and in countries like ours.
Although when they come to power they say we are not masters but servants of the people. It is the other way we see in action. Therefore we have to bring them to the level of practicing what they preach. This situation must be changed. Why? There are several reasons why some are doing everything to find a place at the local or national level politics. (1) To show the supremacy to other people the person could not get otherwise. (2) To amass wealth.(3) To get respect from people. If changes are made for such treatments or opportunities then those who seek power, wealth or respect or glamour by becoming politicians will lose their interest to a great extent. Becoming a member of the parliament or in any other local body must be made unattractive as much as possible. Anyone can bet that over 90% of the voters will support such a change whole heartedly. That way we could pave the way for politicians who really want to serve the people and the country.
It is easier said than done. We cannot expect the governing rulers will introduce changes to that effect. Therefore people must force all the parties to include such changes in their manifestos in future elections. Of course including in the manifesto and bringing that to action are two different things. Normally that does not happen in our country. However if there are campaigns for such changes by civil society organizations then political parties will be forced to include such changes in their manifestos. On the other hand people should be sensitized on the need for such changes. Civil societies could play an important role in that context. Then people will also understand the need for such changes and politicians will be forced to talk about such changes eventually in their election campaigns. Social media would be able to give examples of the past practices of political parties and politicians. Then people would be able to realize which parties are more sincere in the campaign for such changes or who are bluffing.
The civil societies must force the governing party who come to power to bring amendments to constitution or any other regulations to realize the necessary changes for clean politics. They could include items such as What are the basic requirements to become a member in parliament or in Local Government Authorities? What are their rights and obligations in relation to their positions? Should they be the monitors of public funds and not controllers? How they should be addressed after they get elected? As for nomination, age and nationality are the basic requirements needed at present. But to get into the government service from minor servant to the top level administrator or professional, education qualifications together with clean personal record are basic requirements. For some posts police record is also a requirement. But for those who govern or who make laws for the whole country or part of the country those requirements are not considered. How illogical? Looking at the present situation a clean record should be made essential. Which means the nominee has been punished or is pending court cases for serious offences should be made a disqualification to contest in an election. Are educational qualifications not necessary? For want of better criteria it would be appropriate to use education qualifications as in the case of government service. Considering the importance of the positions they are contesting for, it is reasonable to expect higher education qualifications from them. A basic degree from a recognized university should be made. Likewise a basic requirement to be appointed as a Deputy Minister could be a Post Graduate Diploma, and for a Minister a Master’s Degree will not be unreasonable. To become the PM or President PhD from a recognize university (not an honorary Degree) or long term commendable service in a higher position at National or International Level will not be an unreasonable requirement.
From President to local government member the term in office should be limited to two. If they qualify to go up in the ladder improving their qualifications together with performance ( for this suitable measurements should be created by an independent committee.) they may get another two terms in the new position. However as someone said ‘Our cemeteries are full of people who thought they were indispensable.” So limiting the term of office will do no harm to the country.
Like in the past MPs could be given a pass to travel in public transport. As government servants do they could claim the travelling allowance from the bus stand or railway to the official destination they have to reach. From President to Deputy Minister should be provided with one official vehicle. No family member should be appointed as private secretaries. If necessary Public Administration Ministry could call application and appoint such personnel for Ministers, Prime Minister etc. For them also should apply all the rules and regulations applicable to government servants. Those who come from other parts of the country could be given a room in places like Sravasthi or Malabe. If they want to bring their family to Colombo they could rent a house. Rent should be deducted from their salaries. If they want to buy a land or a house, loan facility should be provided as for the government servants. As for salaries only a fixed payment according to position has to be decided, ie. MP, Minister, PM or President. No pensions for politicians. No separate payments for parliament attendance. Like government servants they should be able to apply for casual and medical leave. If they exceed that then no pay leave regulations could be applied.
The most important change should be made to allocation of funds to electorates. It is one of the main attractions for corrupt people to get into politics. At present most of the funds are allocated to MPs. Although there are District Level Development Committees comprising of District Level politicians and officials, it is no secret activities such as allocations, tendering etc. take place on the likes and dislikes of the politicians. This situation should change. There should be a mechanism to allocate funds on the basis of development plans prepared by authorities of various sectors of the economy in consultation with MPs and Civil Organizations of the district concerned and funds for the implementation of the plans should go to an official account of the Government Agent of the area. Controllers of the funds should be the Committee consisting of GA and other top officials of the districts. Politicians should monitor the progress of the plans and allocation disbursements.
With reference to addressing politicians Mr. and Ms. could be used as for the Government Servants. They will be addressed as Mr. or Ms MP, Minister, Prime Minister and President. If politicians wish they could in turn address the citizens as Hon.Citizens, because they are the ones, without any payment, who brought all those Mrs. and Mss to power for a limited period of time..
In short most of the regulations applying to government servants should be applied the elected politicians. Some might say that cannot be done. There were honest high level public servants and professionals who contributed to the development and well being of the country serving under all the above mentioned rules and regulations, very often for several decades. If so why can’t the politicians function under the similar rules and regulations?
Now this is over to Civil Organizations to mobilize people to sensitize people on the need for changes discussed here to keep corrupt politicians away from administration and establish good governance I the country.