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Responsible politicians, irresponsible politicians and irresponsible Government servants

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By S.P. Upali S. Wickramasinghe

I listened to the discussion that Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka had with the press after his appointment as the Minister in charge of Wildlife.

He dealt with the killings of innocent, poor villagers in remote areas by the elephants and the destruction of their only asset – their house and the crop.

I was also very impressed by his response to the problem – not shoving it under a carpet and leaving the problem to a measly lower-end Government servant to handle it. 

Laying the blame on the lower-rung Government servants had become the fashion today and it had been so over the past 30 years or so, since the death of President Premadasa.

In fact this country faces many problems that affect the poor villager in remote areas, the citizen with no finances or influence in the metropolitan areas, which are left to be solved by the lowly Government servant without any positive input from the more experienced at the centre.

The problem had been compounded by the creation of the Provincial Councils run by Chief Ministers with no administrative experience or imagination or even the intelligence. The appointment of chief ministers who are, as late Gamini Dissanayake said, professional politicians. Politicians whose only objective seems to make some money either by legal means – month-end stipend or by illegal means seem to be the crux of their necessity to remain in politics.

Even the higher up in the Government service seems to be immune, blind and do not care about the problems faced by the tax-paying citizen of this country, the people who pay their salaries. 

The failure of the so-called State-Owned Enterprises, easily labelled as white elephants, is not the archaic nature of the technology used, but the lack of interest, imagination and the push to get them to operate successfully.

Recently an economist, a regular writer to the press, called the Salawa Complex a white elephant. It was never so. There were problems which nobody cared to correct and which could have been corrected and because of their lack of interest, it failed.

One thing, all the critics forget is that these factories, most of them at least, came to us with no expenditure as capital costs. Our only, expense if at all they were met, were freight and insurance. The technology may have been archaic but could have been corrected with the monies earned since going into operation. Now to come to the chief ministers. I had a very illustrative experience about 16 years ago. I was at an eatery which was patronised by the middle class to which I too belong. 

In walked the Mayor of Colombo. He came in the vehicle provided by the office, driven by the driver also provided by the office. The vehicle was stopped near the public drain, which was full of municipal solid waste – garbage. It was emanating a putrid smell.

He got down from the vehicle, nearly falling into the public drain, walked into the eatery, purchased a cake – this place is very popular for their cakes, walked away. He got into his vehicle and was driven away, may be to his residence.

I watched him carefully. If I was in his position and had the powers of the mayor, I would have contacted the Municipal Engineer and the Medical Officer of Health and the Public Health Inspector responsible for the area, and requested/ordered them to clean the place by nightfall and proceeded to inspect such neglect in the rest of the areas under the Colombo Municipality.

I made it my purpose to visit the place few days later, not to purchase cakes but to eat few cut pieces. What did I notice? The drain was in the same condition, as on the day the Mayor of Colombo came visiting.

Nobody cares, no bloody body cares.

What the incident indicated to me was that neither the Mayor, nor the members of the Municipal Council, were interested in performing the duties they promised to perform, when they sought the vote. Coming back to the Local Government institutions, the elections were held few months ago. They were enthroned about a month ago. They are to be paid a salary, they get other facilities both financial and non-financial. What have they done to get drains cleaned in their respective areas? I walk past a residence of such an elected and find that the drain in front of his house is clogged with debris and during the floods of 20 May, the roads went under water because the rain water had to flow along the road. The drains could not accommodate the rain water.

What had the chief ministers done to educate the newly-elected about their duties and responsibilities and the authority over the officials of the Local Government?

A lot of money was spent on cleaning and making Colombo beautiful. Walk along the pavement adjoining the BOC building at Fort and observe the condition of the pavements, the conditions under which food is being served in kiosks. 

This problem is repeated en-masse in all Government offices, State-owned institutions, etc. Another place I notice such irresponsibility is the Agrarian Services Department. This nonsense had been going on too long. It is high time that the elected President, Prime Minister, Ministers and Members of Parliament recognise their responsibilities and perform; alternatively, please do go home.

(The writer can be reached via spupalisw@yahoo.com.)

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