According to news reports, the President has suspended the recent supplementary estimate for the purchase of vehicles for politicians apparently to rectify the bad timing of the proposal in the face of the flood catastrophe. If it is only a postponement of the issue, we urge policymakers to make use of the recess to install a transparent and effective mechanism to rationalise the purchase and usage of vehicles for politicians and Government officials in the long run.
The writer in his previous submissions has repeatedly drawn the attention of the authorities to the fact that with the advent of decentralised Provincial Councils and Pradeshiya Sabahs in 1987, the role and responsibilities of Central Government MPs should be redefined in order to make them only lawmakers or legislators confined to the centre. Therefore, effective steps should be taken at least now to clearly redefine job roles of Central Parliamentarians, Provincial Councillors and Local Government members. Also, usage of pool vehicles at the ministries should be maximised to cater to the demands of Parliamentarians. These measures will no doubt reduce the official travel of Central Parliamentarians to the periphery using luxury vehicles.
It is pertinent to mention that the absence of clearly defined roles was quite evident in the recent school re-opening mess-up as well as in the seemingly lukewarm role played by provincial and local government politicians during the flood disaster. The media culture on the other hand too needs to be changed to shift the limelight from central parliamentarians to their peripheral counterparts so that the public can assess and justify the presence and effectiveness of politicians in the periphery.
Furthermore, it is an accepted fact that the wasteful Preferential Voting system has acted as an obstacle to implementing an effective decentralised political administration system as central parliamentarians are compelled to travel to their constituencies regularly to safeguard their preference vote. Therefore, it needs to be abolished with the forthcoming electoral reforms.
Being an optional system, why can’t it be repealed by a simple amendment to the relevant laws? However, it should not be reinstalled in the guise of a mixed voting system applicable to General and Provincial Council elections where again the candidates would be compelled to canvass for votes under a First-past-the post system, thereby reinventing the wheels of violence, bribery and corruption.
I now take the liberty to enlist below a few direct measures to rationalise vehicle usage by political and government officials.
1) All official vehicles should be inventoried under the respective ministries and departments and fuel and maintenance will be their responsibility.
2) Vehicle purchases (except ceremonial) should be purpose-driven and not luxurious.
3) All officers including politicians should apply for the use of vehicles through vehicle application forms providing details of official purpose, route to destination and return, time of departure and arrival, etc. to prevent abuse. Fuel usage registers should be properly maintained. Even if a system is already in place it doesn’t appear to be robustly adopted, judging from the files before the FCID. Although every rule has an exception, in Sri Lanka the exception seems to be the rule!
4) For private travel they should use the vehicle given to them on a duty free basis or concessionary terms.
5) The discarding of vehicles should be handled by an independent technical committee. Looking at the scores of so-called ‘Condemned Vehicles’ in the backyards of ministries and departments, we cannot surmise that such committees are in place!
6) Regular vehicle auctions should be held to dispose of used vehicles so that idle assets can be minimised.
We still hold the hope that only a Government committed to good governance can rationalise and institute cost-effective and productive political machinery in Sri Lanka and accelerate the developmental process of our country.
Thus, we urge civil society and concerned organisations to guide the Yahapalana Government to the correct path.