By P. Soma Palan –
I refer to the Front Page headlined news Report in the Daily Mirror of 13th August that the Government is to pay a Transport Allowance of Rs. 200,000 per month to 55 Members of Parliament, both from the Government and the Opposition, to facilitate monitoring Implementation of Government Projects and activities. This amounts to an aggregate amount of Rs. 11 million per month. Relative to the National Revenue of the country, this payment may be a pittance. But relative to the earned salaries of a middle class person, it is a huge amount paid out of Public Funds. Therefore, as concerned citizens, the informed Public would want to know that this money will actually be put into productive use. The Government’s public declaration, that the country is facing a financial burden, resulting from a colossal Debt, and loan repayments and interest, will not be eased by the spendthrift payment of such a big Transport Allowance per person.
Transport Allowance of Rs.200,000/-
There is ambiguity and lack of clarity as to whether this payment is a fixed, absolute, recurrent monthly payment or a variable Allowance on a pro-rata basis as per actual Transport trips done to the District and Divisional Project areas, in a full month of 25 working days. As a rule, Transport Allowances are paid relative to actual Travel done, unless a full month travel is mandated. If it is paid irrespective of Transport is involved or not, then, it is a fixed salary payment under the guise of a euphemism called Transport Allowance. If it is the former, a deceptive salary increase to select group of MPs is partial and unfair by the rest of the MPs
Who will Monitor the Monitors of the Projects?
Members of Parliament are well known for not attending Parliamentary sessions in the first place. Often times, Parliamentary deliberations are crippled for want of a quorum. Therefore, what guarantee is there that these MPs would attend Coordinating Committees at District and Divisional levels, unless there is a structured Reporting system is in place, to ensure that the Monitoring MPs will actually do the job they are assigned with.
Projects Implementation Coordinating Committees at District and Divisional levels
It is said that these MPs will be assigned positions in the Project Implementation Coordinating Committees at District and Divisional levels. I believe that the aforesaid Committees consists of Technical Professionals on Project Management who are more qualified and equipped to report to the relevant Line Minister on the status of Projects than half-baked politicians, who are just members of Parliament. Further, isn’t it the responsibility and duty of the Ministry top Officials to follow through and monitor the Projects undertaken by the Ministry and ensure their implementation ,and report to the Minister concerned about their status, constraints faced, progress and what is done and remains to be done ,and projected period of completion ? Sri Lankan top Officials are habitual seat warmers in their closeted air conditioned rooms, and hardly venture out on field inspections and monitoring.
Maximizing of people and Minimizing Productivity
It is the inbuilt nature of the Government Service to increase the number of people, for a job of work than increasing the productivity of the existing cadre. No wonder the Government Service has a bloated workforce, with one third being passengers with little or no productivity. To pay Rs.200,000/-per head for 55 MPs, is a case in point. Implementation of Projects is the function of the Executive, the Minister concerned and his Ministry Officials. It is not the responsibility of the elected Members of Parliament to do the executive function, as their primary function is to represent their constituents in Parliament and attending to their needs, and voicing Public grievances and participation in the legislative process. I have no idea of the total number of Projects the Government have on its hands. This is crucial to know why 55 MPs are required to monitor Projects implementation. Whether they will be monitoring individually or in groups is not known. On the assumption there are a large number of Projects to monitor, then the 55 MPs, most of their time ,will be on the roads than in Parliament. There are Implementation Coordinating Committees at District and Divisional levels and top of it there is now a Parliamentary Monitoring Group of 55 MPs. By maximizing the number of people on the same job, there is a minimization of productivity of human resource. This is a negation of sound Management sense and principles.
Social Responsibility and Principle of Equity
Isn’t this Transport Allowance of Rs. 200,000/- doled out to 55 MPs, in addition to their regular salaries, and various Perks of monetary value, duty-free vehicles, subsidized food at Parliament restaurant etc is nothing but the Government self-serving itself from Public Funds, whereas the people are oppressed with a high cost of living and taxes. Where is social responsibility and equity? In this situation, strikes by Trade Unions of White or Blue colour variety, for salary increase seems more than justified. These employees are doing identifiable and measureable productive work than MPs’ vocal output. The payment of Rs. 200000/-to 55 MPs, seems a devious one, with an ulterior motive.
The rationale for the Transport Allowance
The explanation for the Transport Allowance of Rs. 200000/- to a selective group of MPs, as stated by the Minister of Lands & Parliamentary Affairs, Mr. Gayantha Karunatileke, is that “the previous Government also did the same through the Economic Development Ministry. Even special vehicles were provided at that time”. Following Precedents is good. But one cannot blindly follow them without discrimination between a good and a bad precedent. An action taken must be judged on its own merit and not because it was also done by another, previously. The truth of the matter is that the incumbent Government is faithfully following the previous Government, in buying MPs by such devices as a contrived Transport Allowance, a monetary incentive, which in other words is a bribe, to win over and retain those whose allegiance is suspect, in view of the Presidential and General elections ahead. It is expediency and Party politics overriding national interests.