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Lifting standards


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Political entitlement is a reprehensible part of Sri Lanka’s political culture. The incident of a group of Parliamentarians being stuck in an elevator is a prime example of this entitlement. Just weeks after they complained of what in reality was short-lived discomfort to the Speaker, Parliament allocated Rs. 100 million to replace all the lifts in Parliament. 

Since the widely publicised event memes have been doing the rounds on social media, comparing the conditions that the Parliamentarians faced for all of 20 minutes with the endless hours spent by people on crowded buses and trains. The state of Sri Lanka’s public transport system is disgraceful, and despite many decades having lapsed, no government has provided adequate solutions. Even the latest effort to set up a light rail system is questionable given the $ 2 billion price tag and disregard for methods such as a bus rapid transit system that would have been far cheaper. Even this will only reduce congestion in selected parts of Colombo and the suburbs. Transport elsewhere is likely to remain substandard and time-consuming.  

The fact that Rs. 100 million was promptly allocated without even considering the point that the lifts will likely operate well if they are serviced is staggering. Alternatively, Parliamentarians could also use the stairs or lose a few kilos and save the country Rs. 100 million. It is the taxpayers who bear these costs, not Parliamentarians who already enjoy high levels of perks and payments for holding office, an office they are elected to by the votes of the public. 

Political entitlement is displayed in many other ways as well. These same Parliamentarians who were so upset to be stuck in a lift were also guilty of throwing chili powder and misbehaving in Parliament during the recent Constitutional crisis. Yet they found fault with being questioned by the police, referring to the investigation of their conduct as a breach of parliamentary privileges, disregarding their reprehensible behaviour. 

From forcing teachers to kneel to tying public servants to trees, Sri Lankan politicians have a long track record of putting themselves first. Even their reluctance to hold politicians accountable for corruption can be seen as an extension of this sense of entitlement. The law can be prevented from applying to them. The public have long noticed a very clear differentiation between the politically entitled and the average citizen, and it is also this gap that fuels anger towards politicians. This has also given rise to a movement that wants governance to be handed over to non-politicians. Both in Sri Lanka and elsewhere powerful campaigns are waged against the corruption, inefficiency and mismanagement. Whether the slogan is ‘drain the swamp’ or something more innocuous, the message is the same. 

Entitlement orchestrates different roles across society, and even the most robust democracies see these interplays. But there is a clear preference amongst people to gravitate towards countries where civil liberties are protected so that entitlement is controlled. It is not a coincidence that most people, including Sri Lankans, wish to migrate to countries where entitlement is kept in check, at least in some aspects of political and economic spheres. For others though, reaching Parliament is one of the best ways to become entitled, usually at the expense of other citizens. 


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