Sauce for political goose …
Posted on December 27th, 2016

Editorial The Island

The stage is now set for the implementation of a contributory pension scheme for the state employees to be recruited, we are told. Old habits die hard! The UNP-led UNF government (2001-2004) introduced it as part of the much-touted Regaining Sri Lanka project. It was, however, abolished by the SLFP-led UPFA government, which restored the non-contributory pension scheme.

The incumbent government suffers from what one may call the economic bipolar disorder. It claims to be cash-strapped, pinches and scrapes as regards social welfare and development and tries to regain Sri Lanka at the expense of the working class. But, it has no such pecuniary worries—in fact, it goes on spending sprees as if there were no tomorrow—when politicians’ nests have to be feathered.

Public sector workers, lured by the incumbent government’s pre-election promise of a pay hike, helped defeat the previous regime which could not match the offer. Middle and low income groups, especially state employees, had a respite after the change of government last year. A pay hike was given to the state employees and the prices of some commodities including fuel were reduced. But, less than two years on the prices of all essential commodities have gone through the roof owing to fiscal mismanagement and unconscionable tax and tariff increases which have taken a heavy toll on Citizen Perera’s real income. So, it has been a case of swings and roundabouts for the public sector employees who received a salary increase in 2016; the private sector workers have been plunged from the frying pan into the fire, so to speak. They have to pay more for the same goods and services while their income remains static.

Adding insult to injury, the government has increased the pocket money for MPs, who now receives Rs. 100,000 each per month. They are also allowed to sell their duty free vehicle permits and pocket the proceeds, which are exempted from taxes! It was only a few weeks ago that a supplementary estimate was presented to parliament seeking as much as … for a fleet of super luxury vehicles for government MPs and ministers.

Leaders of the ruling coalition are more airborne than chair-borne so much so that the Sri Lankan government is said to be in the air! True, nobody takes SriLankan aircraft fully loaded with hangers-on and keeps them waiting in faraway lands until his return. But, large amounts of public funds continue to be wasted on VVIPs’ foreign junkets which don’t seem to benefit the country, which is without loans or foreign investment. The loss incurring Mihin Air may be able to turn itself around if it operates daily flights from Colombo to famous Indian shrines, given the sheer number of Sri Lankan political leaders who rush to those places, seeking divine interventions to sort out their domestic problems. Aren’t local deities good enough for them?

If the government cuts down on its mindless waste of public funds, it may not have to resort to drastic action such as the abolition of the non-contributory pension scheme and slashing subsidies. Where are the public sector trade union big guns who were felicitated by the ruling politicians after last year’s general election for their contribution to the incumbent regime’s victory? Having promised the working class a better deal, they owe an explanation to the public sector workers protesting against the abolishment of the non-contributory pension scheme.

If the government really believes that the new pension scheme is good for state employees and the country then let it be extended to parliamentarians as well. MPs at present become eligible to retirement benefits after completing only five years in Parliament. They must be made to share the woes of the public. After all, they say they are even prepared to lay down their lives for the people, don’t they? There must be no discrimination against the state employees. Sauce for the political goose is sauce for the public sector gander.

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