Rethink your rep in parliament
Posted on December 8th, 2016

By Kusal Perera Courtesy The Daily Mirror

MPs are usually invited to weddings in their constituencies. They attend funerals as well. The proposed allowance is to be used for giving wedding gifts and making donations for funerals, Prime Minister told Parliament on Monday 28 November proposing an allowance of Rs.100,000 per month for Parliamentarians.
He stressed that this allowance was not an increase on their take home pay. But this would help the people in their constituencies.

It is not only MPs who are invited to weddings and have to attend funerals in the area. Even Provincial Council Members and elected LG body representatives are invited for weddings and attend funerals. So do school principals and teachers. Even Divisional Secretaries and other provincial and local public officers go through the same cultural practices. On the same argument put forward by the PM, why not pay these public officials also the allowance of Rs.100,000? In fact their monthly income and privileges are far less than that of a MP and they deserve such top ups” more.
That said, let me now clearly say, MPs are not elected for any of it. Nor are they elected to Parliament under coercion or threat by the people. They are elected only because they step forward voluntarily to work for the good of the people and the country” as they keep saying. Over the past decades, they get elected on the millions they spend to convince the voter they are capable of representing the people best. Does such volunteerism” require tax payers’ money to attend parliament? Their promise to attend Parliament on the strength of big money spent lavishly from where ever they get those bags full?

These MPs are not voted to Parliament to attend weddings and funerals. If they wish to attend weddings and funerals, that then is their private decision to do so, like all other citizens do. They are also not elected to declare open buildings, bridges and cemeteries. They are not elected to dole out jobs and contracts. Nor are they elected to supervise projects even if decided by a ministry and funded by the government. They are not elected to fund local projects with public money. These are all work outside the responsibility of an elected Member of Parliament. Or even that of the appointed PM and the elected President.

This society, especially the larger Sinhala component of this Sri Lankan society carries an awfully distorted image of elected representation as their ideal” representatives. That miserably vulgarized and accepted role of a MP is what the voter seeks for in crossing their preference” on the ballot paper. It leaves out politics and policy. It leaves out the necessity of a national development programme discussed at length. Instead it includes many other personal qualifications to be ticked off for suitability. Family connections that extend up to caste affiliations, religion, language, village and provincial proximity are common factors that decide preference votes”. Thus all major political parties pick candidates to fit into all those common qualifications. That then brings in other competitive advantages of a candidate for preference”. His or her money and his or her public relations, counted on the easy availability for personal and private events of the voter and easy accessibility to get personal and family wants attended to become important in deciding the preference vote.
That is why we see election hoardings and full page advertisements of candidates carrying children, smiling with the elderly and waving at voters. Why posters come up with crude slogans trying to tell the voter they stand with the people, respect people, serve people and the lot, that’s all rot. Most created through professional advertising experts who help sell consumer products.

All of it runs counter to what an MP is elected for.
Elections in a democracy are not held to vote for elected representatives to waste money and time on individual voter needs. Elections are held to elect representatives” of the people. Elect representatives as the whole citizenry in millions cannot sit as a Parliament for direct participation in governance as in ancient Athens.
That being the concept of democracy with elected representation, we keep forgetting our democratic governance structure is three tiered. Powers are adequately demarcated into parliament, provincial councils and LG bodies with representatives elected accordingly.
For the provinces we elect Provincial Councils and for urban and rural areas we have local government bodies elected to take care of local issues. With the 13 Amendment, the responsibility of planning development for the provinces and their implementation was taken away from the elected Parliament and was given over to elected PCs. Parliament was left with everything national including security and all things related to foreign relations.
Thus with 13A we should have reduced elected representation to Parliament by at least half. But we did not even discuss that necessity.
India has a similarly structured governance system. Thus in a State like Haryana with 21 districts and a population of 22 million that’s almost equal to Sri Lanka, the State assembly is made up of 90 elected MLAs. All provincial issues including development, law and order and local administration is the responsibility of the elected  Haryana State legislative assembly. People of Haryana therefore don’t need a large number of MPs in the Lok Sabha to take care of their national interests. The 22 million Haryana population elects only 10 MPs to the Lok Sabha that has 530 elected MPs out of 552 to represent a population of 1.3 billion. This in contrast to our 225 MPs for our population that is only 1.6% of the Indian polity.

Our Parliament thus suffers from elephantitis”. We have given too much importance and too large prominence to MPs and allowed powers outside the mandate they are elected upon. Though the constitution retains overlapping powers, politically and ethically they don’t have a right to interfere in any of the responsibilities given over to the PCs and LG bodies. Once elected to parliament, the legislature, MPs are held responsible for governing the country and not run an electorate or a district. They should not be allowed to get involved in district and local development activities the PCs and LG bodies have to be held responsible for. The whole argument that MPs have to travel around to take regular stock of development” is thus wholly illogical, unnecessary and unwanted too.
As such, it is time people start asking why they should fund MPs for responsibilities they are not voted in for. Today the public cost of maintaining an MP over a period of one month totals around Rs. 170,000 rupees at a minimum that includes a salary of 54,285, a peculiar duality of fuel and transport allowances, entertainment, mobile and fixed line phone allowances and an allowance of Rs.5,00 for Parliament sittings plus an allowance for select committee sittings as well. Added are other perks and privileges like heavily subsidised meals in parliament, a Rs.200,000 health insurance, a 05 member personal staff and office equipment funded by public money and a duty free vehicle, the permit of which is said to be over 20 million in the market as at present.

It is on top of all that the PM is promising another addition, a gift and donation allowance of Rs.100,000 and also to increase the allowance for parliamentary sitting to Rs.2,500. At a minimum the Parliament sits 08 days every month and this allowance would then total Rs.20,000 per month. This money the public pays becomes a horrendous total when there are 47 cabinet ministers, 20 State Ministers and 25 deputies out of 225 in parliament.
We do know the quality of these MPs when they participate in parliamentary debates and discussions. Of course it was we who elected them. It is far below what late Madam Bandaranaike said almost three decades ago in 1989 that MPs should remember schoolchildren too are in the public gallery, when they participate in debates.
MPs have to be decent and honourable even if they are not intellectual debaters, is what she meant. The present intolerable was apart, how absurd it is to pay allowances for parliamentary sittings, when it is they who wanted to go to Parliament to represent the people?
How ethical is it for MPs to keep increasing their allowances and perks for what they are not expected to get involved in? They never asked the people how much they would be paid, for the work they would have to attend to, when they canvassed for votes.
It is therefore time for voters to re define who their MPs should be. Understand as legislators MPs don’t have to be paid for what they should not get involved in. In short, those elected to Parliament should not be allowed to decide what they do and how much they should pay themselves. It is people who elect them and people whose money is spent on them, who should decide their worth.

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