Vehicle mania of politicians – Further Reflections
Posted on July 26th, 2016

Prof. A.N.I.Ekanayaka Emeritus Professor

In the public interest it is worth continuing to keep the spotlight on the vexed issue of brand new vehicles for politicians. One recalls the furor that erupted some weeks ago following the government’s audacity in seeking a supplementary estimate of around Rs 1175 million to purchase magnificent luxury vehicles for various Ministers. It was some consolation that in response to public pressure the Prime Minister suspended the release of funds for this pending restoration work in Aranayaka and Kosgama. However given the cynical contempt of politicians for public opinion in this country one fears that while this gesture took the heat off for the moment it may only be a matter of time before the dust settles, the issue ceases to be newsworthy, and the vehicle purchases quietly go ahead behind the people’s back. So there is a need for continued civil society vigilance on the vehicle mania of our politicians

We must not forget that this latest extravagance came on the heels of the May 2016 allocation of 100% excise duty free permits to all 225 members of parliament to purchase a luxury vehicle worth up to US$ 62,500 CIF with no restriction on engine capacity. Such shocking extravagance has disillusioned and embarrassed the government’s own supporters. Worse it is good government’s enemies the corrupt and ruthless elements of the previous regime now smoldering in the bitterness of defeat but like wounded snakes, biding their time hoping to turn tables someday and wreck a terrible vengeance on their political foes. Government politicians are never more foolish than when driven by childish vanity and greed for the petty luxuries of high office, they betray the expectations of their friends and play into the hands of their enemies blissfully oblivious to the fact that they are sowing the seeds of their own political downfall.

That politicians who claim to represent the people should acquire new vehicles at all in a time of economic crisis where ordinary people have been burdened with taxes is absurd. It would be utterly untenable even if all they had in mind was a modest MPV like the Toyota Avanza costing about Rs 6 million with which we are told the new Philippines president plans to replace the luxury vehicles of Ministers in that country. That the vehicles earmarked for our ministers are posh limousines costing tens of millions a piece is scandalous.

Some ministers have tried to make shallow excuses for such extravagance. Those of us who have maintained our personal vehicles over a lifetime know better. To grumble that ministers are stuck with old vehicles needing heavy repairs and regularly need new limousines is laughable. Has anybody seen a politician stranded by the roadside hailing a lift because his ricketty old vehicle had broken down ? Indeed repairs would be fewer if government vehicles are not hacked by callous chauffeurs in a hurry to pamper their VIP cargo. Moreover since official vehicles can be used for private trips involving family and friends as well as political work they probably tot up high milages in no time further accelerating the need for repairs. Even so the cost of repairs should be negligible compared to the tens of millions allocated for brand new vehicles. Indeed given the massive pool of serviceable vehicles in government departments what is required is a redistribution and sharing of existing resources rather than investing in new vehicles.

Then there was the hilarious suggestion that ministers need rugged 4 wheel drive vehicles to serve their constituents in remote areas. The reality is that given the way they are elected our MPs and Ministers are accountable to nobody. This latest craving for powerful new vehicles to visit the uttermost parts of the country through rugged terrain contrasts sharply with the experience of ordinary voters whose elected representatives show them a clean pair of heels the moment they are elected and are not see again until the next election comes round. What is more likely is that most of the outstation travel by MPs and Ministers involves cruising down highways for political work, on pleasure trips, and to grace useless ceremonies functions and meetings which offer them good photo opportunities and speaking platforms to boost their political image. That is when they are not enjoying the good life inside parliament, taking it easy in their plush offices, or relishing the exotic pleasures of foreign jaunts while travelling business class and staying in the best of hotels !

Accordingly what the long suffering public expects is not a temporary embargo on new vehicles, but a directive that no more new vehicles will be given to any member of parliament for the entire remaining term of this parliament. Obviously no minister is currently at a standstill without a vehicle and the business of government goes on. So let them continue to manage with what they have for the next four years. After all if they love the country so much they can always use their own private vehicles or if it comes to the crunch travel by bus train and three wheeler like other citizens. That would literally help them come closer to the suffering masses whom they swore to serve at the last election. Moreover as for visiting remote areas, instead of slumbering inside a speeding 4 wheel drive off road monster, there may be unexpected health benefits in trudging up hill and down dale across stream moor field and forest on foot – especially for those MP’s and ministers whose portly girth around the waist is indicative of an all too sedentary lifestyle.

In the end the craving of Sri Lankan politicians for vehicles shows how blind they are to the contempt that ordinary people have for politicians as a privileged class in this country. The distrust of politicians is of course a global trend as recent developments in the UK and USA have shown. In the USA the rise of Donald Trump the controversial rank outsider against the entire US political establishment, and in the UK the people’s vote to leave the EU rejecting the call to remain by an overwhelming majority of British MPs from both major political parties, demonstrates the extent to which people have grown cynical of politicians. It is as if ordinary people are slowly awakening to the bitter realization that underneath the deceptive veneer of constitutional democracy, modern political governance is fundamentally a sophisticated humbug perpetrated by smooth talking professional politicians with their own vested interests, who having beguiled the masses with demagoguery and promises come to power after which ( in collusion with a compliant asinine bureaucracy ) they are only interested in serving themselves.

Sri Lankans have reason to be even more disgusted with their own politicians. The record of disruptive and rowdy behaviour by the so called joint opposition all sycophants of a defeated leader who just won’t go away, reflects the worst features of a parliament the caliber of whose MP’s has progressively deteriorated ever since independence in 1948. Accordingly today most MPs are perceived by the public as being relatively uneducated, basically unintelligent, quite incompetent, rather vain, utterly selfish, mostly insincere and frequently dishonest, with a distinct proclivity for thuggary and violence when provoked. The common impression is that they have taken to politics to enrich themselves and basically don’t care a damn about their electors. The best that can be said for them is that they are full of bravado and have the gift of the gab in abundance, though even that is likely to turn crude and vituperative depending on the circumstances.

The situation lends itself to some interesting philosophical ramifications. The more MPs are pampered with luxury vehicles and other perks and privileges of the good life, the more misfits mercenaries and mediocrities who are unable to make it in life by their own hard work and enterprise will tend to be attracted to politics. It is the same with learned professions like medicine. Gone are the days when students opted to be doctors from a desire to serve the sick and suffering, or even because they were particularly attracted to medicine. Nowadays with many medical consultants probably earning upwards of a million a month one can imagine too many students taking to the health sciences their eyes popping at the prospect of entering a gold mine. The popular assumption that in order to attract the best into the professions we need to make them more lucrative has its downside. Could the opposite be true ? If in theory the life of a MP or minister was a struggle involving hard work and sacrifice with little pay few privileges and no comforts – might not only those with a genuine desire for public service be attracted to politics ? If a doctor’s life was harder and far less lucrative perhaps more students who love medicine for its own sake rather than money might be attracted to it. Such speculation may be simplistic and idealistic. But it does suggest that the way to improve the abysmal quality of our MPs and ministers may be to give them less rather than more. Depriving them of luxurious new vehicles may be a good place to start!

One Response to “Vehicle mania of politicians – Further Reflections”

  1. Nimal Says:

    Very True
    ‘MP’s has progressively deteriorated ever since independence in 1948. Accordingly today most MPs are perceived by the public as ‘……
    Bring the colonial types to sort out our mess.
    Luxury vehicles when the hospitals have no medicines, people can’t afford to feed themselves,etc while the crooked politicians demand luxuary.Truly shameful in our Darmadeepaya.

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