Let's Test The Bona Fides Of Our Politicians

K.R.Pushparanjan Colombo

Even at this late stage, the time has come to say now or never, for patriotic citizens of our country to look at the past and see for ourselves what our beautiful country was then and what it is now. The litany of socio-political problems we confront today can directly or indirectly be traced back to the existence and growth of corruption.

Criminality, aggravation of extreme poverty, stifling of economic activity have been the main causes for a suffering and stifled democracy which have consequently devastated the ideals of good governance. It could be added that bribery, corruption, extortion, fraud and nepotism have contributed immensely to a wretched phenomenon that progressively deteriorated our beautiful island socially and economically thus ruining its political potential.

Frittering away of public funds by the politicians and the public servants has been the order of the day and can be identified as the main cause for the consequential economic hardships that our country is presently undergoing. With the added effects of the recent global meltdown the situation could get worse but the root causes remain unchanged.

Gone are the days when politicians became poorer and poorer, the longer they stayed in politics. It could be said that our people pay direct and indirect taxes to maintain a set of corrupt politicians and public servants who live in luxury. The average Sri Lankan has always been aware of corruption as being a way of life hence such wrongs will not come as a surprise. If we were to take the law enforcement authorities they too knowing the ground realities mostly make statements condemning corruption - but typically little effective action is taken to remedy a bad situation.

Although in many situations these practices come meticulously clothed in legality, the time has come for patriotic citizens of our country take such matters to court and its happening now. It would be relevant to ask why Sri Lanka has failed to develop an effective anti-corruption system. The time has come for our countrymen to rise against the tyrannical highway robbery of public funds by politicians and public servants. One could say that even though Sri Lanka's failings in this regard were intrinsically linked to inefficiencies in the administration of justice, with the recent rulings given by our judiciary, we can still hope for respectable adjudications. Recent landmark judgments against powerful politicians and public servants reflect the increasing trust that the public are reposing in the judicial system.

I remember that upto 1977, Members of Parliament received a monthly allowance of Rs.600, a 1st Class train pass, a 3rd Class train pass for the Member’s clerk and free telephone calls. I remember as a schoolboy seeing senior Ministers and MPs travelling in buses and trains. We saw them carrying their own files standing in crowded buses and trains with other passengers. That was the time when politics was not a business but an honorary service.

Regrettably the present day scenario is totally different. Politicians do not submit income tax returns on their salaries. The huge allowances, perks and unjustified overseas junkets are paid for with public funds. It is sad to say that this is not the way a good democracy in the world should be run. Most of our politicians pay no taxes or very little on their salaries and perks. In addition they have the use of state vehicles with free fuel, free chauffeurs with free electricity while awarding themselves duty-free car permits which are sold in most instances for millions of Rupees. Moreover, they enjoy pension benefits after being in the parliament for 05 years, not to mention the hundreds of consultants, advisors surrounding them who also are paid fabulous salaries for doing almost nothing. This being over and above the multitude of qualified and experienced Government Officials who are expected to provide guidance in the running of affairs of the country.

It will be a major short coming if nepotism and cronyism that thrive in the present day context are not mentioned. High ranking public servants such as the top brass of the forces, secretaries of ministries etc. pander more to the whims and fancies of the government in power than looking into the best interests of the public, keeping in their minds those plum assignments awaits them once they retire. This is exactly the conduct of some of our public servants whose main interest seem to be securing employment after retirement at state expense, enjoying pay and pension along with official cars, petrol and overseas jaunts. Though it’s unfair to say that able, efficient, experienced, knowledgeable public servants should necessarily be sent home after retirement, governments in power dangle plum appointments in the face of public officials tempting them to be “yes men”. It is sad to see that those who are able to resist such temptations are a few and far between in our country. In local as well as international appointments that were made in the past this defect was prominently displayed, of course at the expense of country’s reputation and public funds.

It could be said that whether it be post-retirement or otherwise, only a few political appointees are up to the task. Therefore, it is no wonder that our public service is going from bad to worse and is highly politicized. Moreover, with a million-plus of the twenty one million population employed by the state, Sri Lanka has one of the world's biggest public payrolls.

Dear politicians, in these volatile circumstances, if you have at least a little love for our country, be honest and sincere. Please set the example to go to that era that was where honesty and decency was a way of life. Come down to earth, give up your luxuries that you enjoy at the expense of the well being of our people, add meaning to your life, your service and to the aspirations of the people that brought you into power. It will be only then Sri Lanka can taste true victory and come out of the mess that our unpatriotic, corrupt and inefficient politicians have put our country into.


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