Junkets wrapped in secrecy
Posted on September 24th, 2017

Editorial Courtesy The Island

Monday, September 25th, 2017

Good governance consists in transparency and accountability among other things. Denial of anyone’s right to information is tantamount to a despicable attempt at throttling good governance, which the present regime has repackaged and is marketing aggressively as yahapalanaya. The Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government has made a mockery of its much-hyped commitment to right to information laws it introduced with much fanfare.

Joint Opposition (JO) MP Udaya Gammanpila complains that he has been trying to have a question answered in Parliament for more than one year but to no avail. He seeks information about President Maithripala Sirisena’s foreign tours, costs thereof etc. The government keeps asking for more time. He repeated the question in Parliament the other day, but got no answer.

Gammanpila’s question is certainly not devoid of politics. He, under the previous regime, did not dare open his mouth even for a tooth extraction, so to speak, let alone raise questions about the then President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s frequent junkets, which cost Citizen Perera an arm and a leg. That government earned notoriety for criminal waste of public funds. Planeloads of ministers and hangers-on of all sorts were taken and accommodated in posh hotels in expensive western capitals whenever President Rajapaksa went overseas. The debt-ridden national carrier had to suffer additional losses as it had to place its aircraft at the disposal of the junketing President. Sri Lanka became a joke internationally thanks to the Rajapaksa government’s profligacy. However, Gammanpila’s question must be answered because people have a right to know how much the current president’s foreign travel costs them.

President Sirisena, credit where credit’s due, has put an end to the practice of the Head of State taking SriLankan aircraft and keeping them idling in faraway countries till his return. But, needless to say his foreign travel also costs the taxpayer a lot. Some government politicians ‘go on pilgrimage’ to other countries to worship foreign gods and seek their blessings at our expense several times a year. Most yahapalana leaders are more airborne than ‘chairborne’ and the country gains little or nothing from their foreign tours. World leaders condescendingly pose for pictures with their developing world counterparts including our self-important politicians and flash 1000-watt smiles, which are made out to be proof of the latter’s international recognition. The total cost of ego-boosting junkets of all government worthies must be made known to the public

Questions raised by Opposition MPs went unanswered under the Rajapaksa government which became notorious for the arrogance of power. Some of its ministers obfuscated issues raised in Parliament by giving yanne-koheda-malle-pol (irrelevant) answers much to the chagrin of their opponents who are currently at the levers of power. The present dispensation which promised to make a difference, too, has manifestly succumbed to the arrogance of power. A long toke on the joint of power makes them take leave of their senses and live in a world of their own far removed from reality. Nay, savouring power is akin to chasing the dragon and a government full of greedy politicians stoop to any level or resort to anything to retain power and does not care a damn about people’s right to know.

Government politicians display a remarkable legerity and provide quick answers when the JVP asks questions in Parliament to embarrass their mutual political enemies in the JO. (These ‘soft-ball’ sessions smack of a kind of collusive relationship between the capitalist and socialist camps.) This kind of high octane performance is sadly lacking on the part of the JVP and the government as regards the need to provide the public with information about yahapalana politicians.

If questions about his overseas visits are not answered in Parliament, the onus is on President Sirisena to get his office to reveal the required information and allay the doubts in the minds of people that the government is all out to hide something from them anent the cost of his foreign travel.

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