Posted on May 25th, 2019

The people are living in fear of being blown to smithereens following the Easter terror attacks though it is being claimed in some quarters that the country is now safe. Nothing is of graver concern to the public, at this juncture, than national security, which is in peril. The situation is so bad that the government has had to extend Emergency. But the members of parliament don’t seem to give a tinker’s cuss about national security.

We reported, yesterday, that as many as 194 out of 225 MPs had been absent when the TNA called for a division on the extension of democracy, on Friday. Where had all those MPs gone?

The parliament website mentions only the number of days of absence under each MP’s name. This, we believe, is not enough. The number of hours he or she spends in the chamber should also be mentioned, for most MPs leave Parliament immediately after entering the Chamber and bowing to the chair, or waste time in restaurants or elsewhere to the neglect of their legislative duties. This, they do despite enjoying all perks such as duty free vehicle permits with massive soft loans to go with them and receiving attractive salaries and allowances which would make even their counterparts in the developed countries turn green with envy.

Some ministries have flying squads to nab errant public officers in institutions under them, and those who leave their workplaces without permission have to face disciplinary inquiries. But the MPs enjoy the freedom of the wild ass.

The MPs are in a mighty hurry, especially on the days when Parliament meets. Other road users have to make room for those worthies, whose motorcades zing. Where they go so fast is an enormous question in that Parliament is often virtually empty.

All these years, MPs, under successive governments, have made a strong case for a smaller Parliament, albeit unwittingly. If a half-empty House can manage the legislative affairs of the country, why should the public be made to cough up so much money to maintain as many as 225 MPs?

The House, more often than not, lacks a quorum, even when matters of national importances are taken up, and sittings have to be adjourned as a result. Public funds to the tune of billions of rupees spent on maintaining Parliament go down the gurgler every year owing to MPs’ absenteeism. The Speaker often expresses his concern and urges the MPs to mend their ways, but the situation remains the same

Perhaps, there is no other country in the world with so many elected representatives sponging off the public. It is jokingly said that if one kicks a wayside bush in this country at least a dozen people’s representatives jump out. Many a true word is said to be spoken in jest. (There are about 9,000 representatives in Parliament, Provincial Councils and local government institutions!) India has a 543-member Parliament for a population of about 1.3 billion and Sri Lanka with a population of about 21.6 million has 225 MPs!

The country is burdened with nine provincial councils which has about 450 councillors including 45 ministers. All of them, save one, stand dissolved and their Governors have been running them for a long time. The government, which is campaigning for devolving more power to the provinces, has proved that the country can do without province-based devolution, by postponing the provincial council polls indefinitely, on some pretext or the other, for fear of losing them. It is only natural that there have been calls for scrapping the provincial council system and saving colossal amounts of public funds spent thereon. Either these calls should be heeded or the provincial councils have to be revitalised to be of some use to the pubic while the number of MPs is reduced drastically.

The blame for MPs’ absenteeism should be apportioned to all party leaders, who have failed to corral the members of their parliamentary groups.

We often hear MPs thunder in Parliament, tearing into public officials for inefficiency and irresponsibility. These grandees should be urged to put their own house in order before flaying others. A fish is said to rot from the head down.

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