Waste not want not

Saturday, 27 June 2015 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

SRI LANKA is undergoing one of its most historically significant periods with regime changes and sweeping amendments to its Constitution being debated and implemented. The historic 19th and 20th Amendments will potentially transform Sri Lanka’s political landscape and General Elections loom large. A renewed drive towards good governance has become a central talking point and politicians are being subject to more scrutiny than was deemed advisable in the past decade. But within this atmosphere of transformation, elements of the previous regime as well as the current, find time to squabble over trivial and superficial subjects as members of the Opposition raised in Parliament the extremely pertinent question of which house former President Mahinda Rajapaksa would occupy.

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe told Parliament that plans had been made to assign the Wijerama Mawatha residence to the former President. The residence is currently being occupied by President Maithripala Sirisena and may be assigned to the former President as his official residence. The Prime Minister also stated that the former President would be moved into a different house if there were any delays in the process.

This issue was taken up in Parliament after MEP Leader Dinesh Gunawardena brought to the Prime Minister’s attention that the former President was not being afforded his rights in terms of an official residence and sufficient security. He stated that, according to the law, former Heads of State were entitled to two official residences. Despite the perceived lack of a need for two more residences, this is not an issue that will be allowed to die easily. What’s fair is fair, after all.

It is also an interesting grievance to be taken up on behalf of President Mahinda Rajapaksa, during whose time former President Chandrika Bandaranaike struggled to obtain similar benefits. In 2007, during the height of the war, former President Bandaranaike was forced to seek Supreme Court intervention to receive adequate security even though she had been a target of an LTTE attack previously. Calls to slash her 168-strong security team to just seven rang out from the highest echelons of the police force. This point was raised by the Cabinet Spokesman, Minister Rajitha Senaratne, back in March in response to allegations that Rajapaksa was not granted adequate security.

According to the Minister, Rajapaksa had been provided with a security team of 213 officers and 21 vehicles. This included 105 police officers and 108 armed forces personnel as well as a retinue of vehicles which included a car, three Defenders, three Land Cruisers, two double cabs, three single cabs, four trucks, two buses and three motorbikes.

The Prime Minister, meanwhile, expressed that providing security for the ex-President was a matter being taken very seriously by the Government, even promising to strengthen it during the elections if the need arises. Rajapaksa may lose these privileges however if he is elected to Parliament in the General Election.

It is certainly amusing to see that even though several issues of significant importance to the country have been discussed at length in Parliament over the last few months, the Parliament has not lost its flair for the utterly ridiculous. Far more worrying is that this seemingly unjustified use of public funds is being so nonchalantly discussed without examining the need for such extravagance during a time when the country is seeking far-reaching changes and is looking to stamp out wastage and disparity.