Self-serving politicians

Thursday, 9 June 2016 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

Insensitive politicians always earn the hatred of the people. This hatred is deserving because those in power make self-serving policies and push them through Parliament for their own gains, often turning a blind eye to the suffering of the average man. 

Less than two months ago the Government initiated a mammoth increase of VAT that slapped higher prices on pretty much everything. Suddenly healthcare, education and even a meal out became more expensive as people tried to cling onto their basic standard of life. Contrary to claims by various Ministers, the impact is not on the rich as the Government has sidestepped direct taxes at every turn and to add insult to the VAT injury, hiked up vehicle prices to astronomical levels recently.      

So it was no surprise that a funding proposal to allocate Rs.1.17 billion for vehicle purchases to Ministers was received with howls of rage by the masses. Among the list of ministers, Rs. 70 million will be allocated to Regional Development Minister Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka to purchase a vehicle. Skills Development and Vocational Training Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe’s allocation will also be Rs. 70 million to purchase two vehicles.

Minister of Home Affairs Vajira Abyewardena and the Deputy Minister Nimal Lanza will be allocated Rs. 98 million for two cars, Minister of Telecommunications and Digital Infrastructure Harin Fernando and his Deputy Tharanath Basnayake Rs. 91 million for two cars, Ministers Rauff Hakeem, Dr. Sarath Amunugama, Wijith Vijaumuni Soyza, Ranjith Siyambalapitiya and P. Digambaram will each receive Rs. 35 million to purchase vehicles. The list goes on but it is unfair for several reasons. 

All Members of Parliament, especially Ministers, are given tax-free vehicle permits, which if they were upstanding citizens they could use to purchase vehicles for their use and refrain from burdening the public still further. But of course doing the decent thing is not what Sri Lanka’s politicians are known for, so they will not even introduce a formula that stipulates the make, size and cost Ministers can be entitled to use. 

Many countries around the world, including Singapore, which the Government claims to admire much, have similar formulas in place where Ministers cannot purchase vehicles as they please but have to adhere to guidelines approved by the State. But adopting these progressive policies or reusing vehicles from the previous Government are conveniently overlooked. 

It is also stunning as to why such generous amounts have been allocated to some Ministers. Under current market prices, a SUV of Japanese make would cost about Rs. 20 m, but former Army Commander Sarath Fonseka and Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe, against all logic, have been allocated a whopping Rs.70 million each for a single vehicle. These jaw-dropping amounts come at the cost of public funds and Ministers, as all people know, already hold significant private wealth, which they can use to purchase vehicles. 

Cabinet Minister Dr. Rajith Senaratne received a barrage of questions from the media over the allocation and when backed into a corner admitted he had requested 250 ambulances, which are likely to be delivered only after the luxury vehicles of the Ministers are paid for. These self-serving Ministers and the Government they work for would do well to remember that the public will give as well as they get come election time.