Give unto the public what is theirs

Saturday, 22 October 2016 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

Coalition Governments come with complications. Politicians love to shine in the limelight, but too many use public-funded projects to boost their personal reputation and this disgraceful practice needs to end. The latest pettiness comes from Habaraduwa, with Highways Minister Lakshman Kiriella and State Highways Minister Dilan Perera inaugurating the same road project from two different ends. 

Media reports detail how the foundation laying of roads had also been done by both politicians, even on the same day, and several politicians are fighting to take credit for obtaining funds for the project. This melee comes on the heels of MP Vidura Wickremanayaka attempted to open the Moragahahena bus stand last Thursday even though Megapolis and Western Development Minister Champika Ranawaka had sent out invitations that he would be doing the honours. Media and others who turned up at the venue witnessed a tense situation as Wickremanayaka forcefully attempted to cut the ribbon on the basis that a Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) politician should inaugurate the bus stand.

What was lost in this political circus was the simple fact that public money, collected by hard working taxpayers of the country, paid for the bus stand and not Members of Parliament, whatever their hue. Politicians of yesteryear had their names immortalised on public buildings and projects usually a few years after they died. But the new breed of lesser politicians has surpassed this precedence by competing to open or put their names on public projects, even before they are built. 

Such fervour was taken to a whole new level by former President Mahinda Rajapaksa who insisted on naming most of his projects after himself. Schools, science labs, ports, airports and even a convention centre with his name sprang up, regardless of the fact that the port had few ships, the airport few flights and the convention centre few conferences. Billions of dollars were spent willy-nilly on projects selected with no stakeholder consultations and little transparency but the naming was allowed to continue unabated even after he left government.

Names are typically a sign of distinction, identity or simply ownership. When politicians name projects after themselves it is a way to emblazon themselves into the consciousness of citizens, even a kind of psychological branding if you will, that they hope would keep their names in the eye of the public. But public projects are done with public money, loans are repaid with tax money and politicians do not have the right to put their names to these projects or spend even more public money on opening ceremonies.

Public projects are owned by the people. If politicians as policy makers work to build a worthwhile project that improves the living standards of the people or drives economic growth then the people can reward that by re-electing him during the election cycle. Such evaluation does not need to depend on namesake projects or the number of opening ceremonies they preside over. The public must also move away from this mentality where they unquestioningly accept politicians opening everything from the village fair to highways and demand that their precious public funds be used in as responsible a way as possible and not wasted on ceremonies.

Politicians clamouring for immorality on plaques would do well to remember that even Rajapaksa, with his name arguably on more projects than any other in history, could not prevent his ouster when the people decided it was his time to leave. Great politicians live on in memory, long after their names have faded off signs and walls.