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Public interest

Comments / {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}} Views / Tuesday, 14 August 2018 00:00


People vote for politicians, but rarely like them. Recently politicians at both Government and Provincial level have become the target of public censure for mishandling public funds. They have been heavily criticised for discussing a possible salary increase, being paid Rs. 200,000 as a transport allowance to monitor development projects, and attempting to import 125 chairs, each costing Rs. 640,000, for the new Western Provincial Council building. 

Public disgust over all three instances has been prolific but there has been little attempt to understand and calculate the expenditure made on behalf of public representatives. An irate public clearly feel that politicians have not earned the perks and privileges they already have and surely do not deserve more but keeping track of how public funds are used is extremely difficult because the information is often fragmented and comes to the attention of the public sporadically. 

In the latest issue of the chairs, even after much public censure, the import of the chairs has only been temporarily stopped. The hefty allowances given to Government Parliamentarians for monitoring development projects appear superfluous when the latest Finance Ministry report on Government expenditure shows almost half of development projects and programs managed under 47 line ministries have not reached even 50% of their targets in the first three months of the year. 

According to the report that was submitted to Cabinet this month, the Government has allocated a colossal Rs. 700,686 million for 1,354 projects and programs to be implemented through the line ministries. However, 444 have not achieved even 25% of the first quarter agreed physical target. Out of these, 148 large-scale projects have only recorded 35% of the target for the period. The sluggishness of these projects holds a key to public frustration and diminishing confidence in the Government. 

Despite public outcry Western Province Chief Minister Isura Devapriya was reported to have justified the expensive chairs by insisting that as the Western Province is the most affluent region in Sri Lanka it was not an unsuitable expense. The Chief Minister seems to have conveniently forgotten that regardless of its apparent prosperity the province also has a large income disparity, thousands of underserved settlements and significant problems with infrastructure such as traffic congestion and garbage disposal challenges that directly affect its residents. These are the problems that the provincial council should be focused on and engaging with the public on. 

Each time public representatives are seen to be working against public interest the victim is public trust. When politicians are perceived to be working for their interests above the public’s wellbeing then the masses naturally lose faith in their representatives. This link is devastating to the fundamental operations of a democracy and frustrated voters usually express their displeasure at the polling booth.

Politicians at different levels of governance may act individually but ultimately they are judged the same for their actions by the public. Repeated instances of disregard for public funds and public interest eventually reflect on a government as a whole, whether they be perpetrated at Parliament, Provincial, Divisional or Local Government level. Governance and public interest cannot be separated but politicians and power can be.

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