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State monies and shadow missions


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My wife earns more than I do. I sometimes feel a worm on account of it. And other times I rationalise the income disparity. To each their own. We all make choices in life. Political, social, economic. One opts to work full-time in the formal economy. The other freelances and manages on a meagre income so that the peanuts I’m paid as a part-time teacher and newspaper columnist compensate me adequately for the pains – and pleasures – of speaking truth to power.

But when public husbands compare themselves with their wives’ pay packets earned in private out of the media’s glare, one suspects there’s more to humbling confessions than meets the eye at first glance. When the prime minister of a middle-income nation professes that he earns less than his professorial spouse, one is scarce constrained to express an opinion. (“When I want your opinion,” as the premier probably did not remark, “I’ll give it to you.”) But even though comparisons are odious, the man – no worm, him – has had the courage to come out with the truth. We have all been made to feel entitled to his opinion that this matter is, not to put too fine a point on it, a pointed matter.

23-02When public husbands compare themselves with their wives’ pay packets earned in private out of the media’s glare, one suspects there’s more to humbling confessions than meets the eye at first glance



Of course Wickremesinghe is not one to indulge himself – or others – in games of one-upmanship for the mere exercise of making a point. It would be pointless to parade his pay packet in public, or (in the case of the remuneration of the first lady) academic. He the stalwart as always has a larger agenda to drive as much as a vested interest to further. 

In the national interest, not being a member of parliament so long as to be corrupted by its baser cupidity, but a sterling statesman in the making for whom money matters are of little consequence until and unless they impinge on his sense of well-being. No doubt such sea-green incorruptibles say what they mean and mean what they say about state finances. It is when comparisons between pay packets leads to conclusions about buth packets – or further free lunches for less sterling members of parliament than our Olympian – that one baulks at the prospect of pay rises.

 

"Forgive me, my lord, for striking such an embittered posture and adopting such a cynical tone. But nothing that we’ve seen so far under the watch of you more gentlemanly leaders who now wear the purple has gone any significant length to persuade us that there has been a sea-change. Au contraire, the performance turned in by many common or garden MPs – and their lordly political masters as much as beady-eyed bureaucrats and other mandarins of state – has convinced us (well, me, at least) that this democratic-republicanism is now something rich and strange. Perhaps the greatest irony that Robespierre among other true patriots will take to their graves is that the more things change, the more they seem to stay the same… And now, like before, the public is being asked to fork out further funds for the privilege to maintain these parasites (all right, some of them) in clover"



The vexed issue of continuing and increasing pay rises for parliamentarians is by no means a foregone conclusion. Even though the parties of the third part – for once or a nonce – are in silent agreement and collusion over the matter. For not a man-jack among them disagrees that serving oneself, I mean serving one’s nation, is a costly business. It costs time, energy, and money – usually that of other people. Gone are the days when moneyed classes sought public office and funded their principles with their private purses. Today unprincipled lackeys of the powers that be seek the gratuity of the public purse to finance their private enterprises. untitled-2139

It is with some measure of shock, then, that we private citizens who contribute so much to state coffers through a burgeoning tax regimen discover that the de facto First Lord of the Treasury (the Minister merely his vassal) wants to hike MPs’ salaries with something like immediate effect. Of course such supplementary estimates being tabled at a time when sundry governments are girding up their loins for local government elections comes as no surprise to the discerning but disillusioned taxpayer. 

Under a previous authoritarian antidemocratic regime, the support of MPs partisan to cult figures was allegedly bought through hefty bribes that are yet to be disclosed much less prosecuted. Unless the present dispensation forbears to offer such similar largesse to its potential patrons for their future services, one is very much afraid that a less than charitable interpretation could be placed on the Prime Minister’s modest proposal. 

Forgive me for venturing to essay a dissenting opinion, sir. But not even far more handsome remuneration than at present, for the calibre of elected representatives who adorn their seats in the august assembly – when they are not missing in action as regards their respective electorates – can vouchsafe the following:

 

  • That MPs would become workers, and not shirkers, overnight
  • That an honest day’s work would be done, in and out of the House
  • That dishonest means of earning extra cash or a fast buck would not be entertained by these princes of the people with cash to burn
  • That corruption among elected representatives would suddenly become a thing of the past because parliamentarians are now flush
  • That the much vaunted new political culture will emerge like a butterfly out of its chrysalis and eschew the pupa of its dead self… forever, from now on



Forgive me, my lord, for striking such an embittered posture and adopting such a cynical tone. But nothing that we’ve seen so far under the watch of you more gentlemanly leaders who now wear the purple has gone any significant length to persuade us that there has been a sea-change. Au contraire, the performance turned in by many common or garden MPs – and their lordly political masters as much as beady-eyed bureaucrats and other mandarins of state – has convinced us (well, me, at least) that this democratic-republicanism is now something rich and strange. 

Perhaps the greatest irony that Robespierre among other true patriots will take to their graves is that the more things change, the more they seem to stay the same… And now, like before, the public is being asked to fork out further funds for the privilege to maintain these parasites (all right, some of them) in clover.

Don’t get me wrong. The Prime Minister is arguably right in principle – as he almost always is, with perhaps a few glaring exceptions that could prove some recondite rule as far as his opponents are concerned. (In the room, the gossips come and go / Talking about that scam of a fiasco.) But in practice, the brilliance of his technocratic (they say) thinking might well be gainsaid again by human nature. It won’t be the first time that lofty ideals in Platonic thought have been trumped by Promethean adventurers stealing sacred fire to keep themselves warm, while the poor huddled masses contend against the cold of a winter that the Prime Minister and his cohorts suspect is coming sooner than later. Ergo, the hikes and the handouts – when what is demonstrably required is a good whipping (not a quick whip-round) for parliamentarians whose temper and calibre require a tangible crackdown.

Be that as it may, let us not throw the baby out with the bathwater. MPs, too, are human – or so we have it on good authority. Let us pass the largesse of the state around their way once in a while, too. Thus take the tuck free of charge or almost so at the parliament canteen; help yourselves to the perks and privileges that come with your lonely calling to serve the people at great cost to yourselves; keep those luxury car keys handy for self and family at state expense; take those all expenses paid overseas trips for even junkets such as yours can do our beleaguered little island lately emerging from the mists of prehistoric chauvinism and war a world of good…

But for heaven’s sake, mind the state coffers! There’s plenty to go around if you’re not greedy, you grimy opportunists! Helps to know, though, what your pre-political career assets were? how they compare now? who supported you in cash and kind on the campaign trail? what donations or subscriptions you have since accepted? who pays your ferrymen today? what business interests you might foster and keep safe from public view, etc. It is part of the package. Treat it as good-governance.


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