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How lawmakers prosper with taxpayers’ money

18 December 2018 12:10 am - 1     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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  • With the events that followed since October 26, Parliament was convened on eight days and on some days it was only for a few minutes. Therefore, Rs. 64 million  have been spent as a result of the political crisis

 

One of the easiest ways to earn thumping amounts of money is to become a politician in Sri Lanka. That too with no prior qualification or meeting an eligibility criteria. With all due respect to educated politicians such as Lalith Athulathmudali, Lakshman Kadirgamar among others, today’s political culture doesn’t honour educational qualifications. Hence you would find that those who haven’t even passed their O/L examination calling the shots in Parliament. But on the contrary they earn more than any public official in the country who needs to meet the criteria before being recruited to office. Legally, politicians are given vehicle permits, an official residence, a personal staff and various other perks and benefits. But what’s questionable is how they have more houses, more vehicles, more staffs and other sources of income? Recently, all Sri Lankan citizens and even the international community saw how Members of Parliament (MPs) – those officials elected by people to the highest institution in the country -abused public property and ‘efficiently’ wasted taxpayers’ money.


In such a backdrop, the Daily Mirror sheds light on how the taxpayers’ money is wasted in front of their own eyes and why they should critically voice out for injustice at this hour. 


Vehicle imports 


In March alone, Rs. 361 million – Rs. 494 million was allocated to bring down vehicles for ministers. 


A supplementary estimate of Rs. 24, 165,500 was allocated for three ministers and the Finance Ministry to import more vehicles.


Rs. 10,000/= is paid per month to meet the traveling expenses of four personal staff to office. (Rs. 2,500/= each)


Records as at October 2018 show that at least 7,000 vehicles had been imported so far this year by public servants paying an average Rs. 3.6 million less than the actual duty payable on those vehicles.


Several other categories such as members of Parliament, returning Sri Lankan diplomats, retiring ministry secretaries and military top brass this year have also imported fully duty-free vehicles.


Most of these fully duty-free permits are sold for amounts reaching a staggering Rs. 23 million each and underscores the huge loss of revenue to the state.


Repairing official residences


The Daily Mirror also learned that staggering amounts of money have also been allocated to repair official residences. As such a sum of Rs. 171, 002,000 was allocated for three ministers and a Governor earlier this year. 


Postage allowance


Stamps amounting to Rs. 175,000/= are issued to each MP annually. (Rs. 43,750/= quarterly) In addition to that a Provincial Councillor was given Rs. 24,000 as postage allowance. But this wasn’t enough for the ministers and in January this year, this sum was doubled. Hence, it is now raised to Rs. 350,000 while a Provincial Councillor would receive Rs. 48,000. 


Fuel allowance 


Fuel allowances are paid based on the distance from Parliament to the electoral district which each MP was elected and the approved market price of one litre of diesel on the first day of every month. (e.g.: Colombo 283.94 litres while Gampaha and Kalutara is estimated to be 355.58 litres.) A minister from Western Province is given Rs. 50,000 as fuel allowance for petrol vehicles. For diesel vehicles, the allowance is Rs. 20,000. The fuel allowance for a deputy minister is Rs. 40,000 (petrol) and Rs. 20,000 (diesel). Ministers in other provinces are given Rs. 75,000 and Rs. 30,000 as fuel allowance for petrol and diesel vehicles respectively. 


Daily expenditure in the House 


The Daily Mirror also learned that the cost of one Parliament sitting day is Rs. 8 million. With the events that followed since October 26, Parliament was convened on eight days and on some days it was only for a few minutes. Therefore, Rs. 64 million have been spent as a result of the political crisis. 


Pension scheme for ministers 


Any person who has served as a member of the legislature of Sri Lanka after July, 1931 and who is a citizen of Sri Lanka at the time of coming into operation of this Law and the widow and children of such persons are entitled to the Parliamentary Pensions Law. With the dissolution of Parliament 58 ministers were exempt from their pensions. These include 36 UNP MPs and 16 MPs in the SLFP. The following pensions are given to MPs and ministers and they vary depending on their post. 
The PPL introduced in 1977 was amended in 1982 so that the widows of MPs could be entitled to these pension schemes following the demise of an MP. They are entitled to it for their lifetime unless they remarry. If married, they are exempted from the pension scheme. The Law was once again amended in 1990 so that pension could be shared among children in the family. 


Criteria for other public officials 


But it is also important to note that any other public official has to complete 20 years in office to be entitled to a pension. If a public official has an on-going disciplinary inquiry his pension will be temporarily halted. In addition to that any other public official has to meet the specified criteria to be eligible to serve office. There are instances when they get job placements as a result of high end contacts. But none of this is required to become a politician and a member of Parliament is paid more than any other public official. 


RTI Commission orders release of RW’s Asset Declaration


In a landmark decision delivered on December 4, the Right to Information Commission (RTIC) directed the Presidential Secretariat to disclose the declaration of assets and liabilities of ousted Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe for the year 2015 – 2016. The order was made pursuant to the initial request filed by Transparency International Sri Lanka (TISL) on February 3, 2017. 


However, on TISL’s request for the access to the asset declaration of President Maithripala Sirisena for 2015/ 2016, the RTIC held that the Declaration of Assets and Liabilities Law does include the position of the President. “Whilst as the Secretary or Head of a party, he may have an obligation to do so, but not as the President of the country,” said TISL Executive Director Asoka Obeysekere at a recent press conference. “Therefore they highlighted the fact that there was a gap in the law there and suggested that the necessary legal reforms should take place to fill that gap. However they felt that the PM’s asset declaration must be released.”


Journalists also raised questions as to why only the President is exempt from declaring his assets while all other members of Parliament including the Prime Minister is entitled to it. In response, the TISL said that the RTIC has considered the legal provisions coming under the Law. “Hence a declaration of assets takes place according to this Law. The request to declare assets were turned down on two occasions and therefore the TISL appealed to the RTIC. 

 

Citizens can now use Facebook as a tool to voice out against corruption. They can use the Right to Information Act rather effectively and find information about ministers’ incomes


Countries that demand for asset declarations of public officials


An ever-growing number of countries have adopted ethics and anti-corruption laws that require public officials to declare their assets and income and, increasingly, the assets and income of their spouses and dependent children. The officials who are required to declare, and the amount of detail required, vary significantly from country to country. Several countries with detailed disclosure requirements, such as Latvia have experienced a decline in corruption. Among other benefits, asset disclosure programmes enhance the legitimacy of government in the eyes of the public and stimulate foreign direct investment. 


In neighbouring Indian politicians who contest elections to Parliament or a state legislature are subject to a more rigorous regime. A 2002 Supreme Court judgment requires all electoral candidates to submit on oath, details of movable and immovable assets owned by them, their spouses and their dependents, including liabilities like loans from public sector banks and unpaid bills for public utilities such as electricity, water and telephone connections. 


Upon winning an election, every Member of Parliament is required to submit an annual statement of assets owned by him/her and his/her dependents to the presiding officer of the house (The Members of the Lok Sabha Declaration of Assets Rules 2004, Rule 3). The same applies to the newly elected Members of the State Legislator (The Members of the Rajya Sabha Declaration of Assets Rules 2004, Rule 3). 

 

 


Drafting a new constitution with no perks and benefits for politicians : Kodituwakku

“People who are occupying office in the legislature and executive are required to hold public office for public good,” said Nagananda Kodituwakku, Attorney-at-Law and public litigation activist. 


“Therefore nobody is expected to rob. Sri Lanka is a representative democracy. After October 26 it is very clear that all 225 representatives have robbed the nation with absolute impunity. When the Rs. 100,000 additional allowance was given, nobody refused it except for Ranjan Ramanayake. Even the members of the People’s Liberation Front (JVP) accepted it.” 


Speaking further about the abuse of public funds Kodituwakku pointed out that when a minister takes office, his staff comprise entirely of family members. 
“Then they get the car permit and allowances for petrol, diesel etc. Car permits come under Excise Duty (Special Provisions) Act Section 3 (c ). 


These are tax-free car permits and such tax exemptions are given for economic development. Therefore it cannot be abused for the import of vehicles. This has become a lawless land.  They obtain permits to sell and abuse public funds. There are ministers who sell permits for millions of rupees simply because there’s no rule of law. Some of them don’t even know that selling a vehicle permit is unlawful.”

 

This has become a lawless land. They obtain permits to sell and abuse public funds. There are ministers who sell permits for millions of rupees simply because there’s no rule of law. Some of them don’t even know that selling a vehicle permit is unlawful.”


In his run-up to be the Presidential Candidate in 2020, Kodituwakku said he is in the process of drafting a new Constitution where there are no pensions, perks or benefits for politicians. 


“We want people to attend Parliament to save the nation and not to rob public money. In fact all these unlawful events take place because the citizens are not concerned about their own rights.” 

 


SL has a Rs. 10.5 trillion debt thanks to corrupt politicians : Ramanayake 

 

Known to be the only Member of Parliament to have rejected an allowance, an official residence or vehicles, UNP Parliamentarian Ranjan Ramanayake has certainly set an example. “The salary is a very small aspect of their income,” he said airing his views about the exorbitant salaries of ministers and abuse of public funds. “They have ways and means of getting more income. Many of them have liquor and licences for sand mining and other businesses. Some have choppers, ships and houses overseas. Most of them are those who entered politics on a very low profile. As per the asset declaration rules, public servants in other countries such as USA are required to show their assets to the public. We had two cases against Duminda Silva and Sarana Gunawardana because both of them hid their assets. But in the end they paid a fine of Rs. 2000 and Rs. 3000 respectively and got away. This shows that nobody cares about what they do. 

 

 

Many of them have liquor and soil licences and other businesses. Some have choppers, ships and houses overseas. Most of them are those who entered politics on a very low profile. 


“People who advice corrupt politicians to escape from such frauds are those who have been employed in private tax companies,” he continued. “So they know how to find loopholes in the process and eventually escape. In order to change these trends, the public need to be more conscious. Sri Lanka was not indebted to any country when we gained independence, but right now we have a Rs. 10.5 trillion debt to cover. All this is because of corrupt politicians. During 2004-2006 Sri Lanka received a lot of funds in aid of the tsunami. Those funds were enough to repay our loans, but what happened in the end? Nobody even knows where half of that money went to. I believe that those keep silent are the people who destroy the country. Therefore the citizens need to be more active.” he said.


Ramanayake further said that citizens can now use Facebook as a tool to voice out against corruption. “They can use the Right to Information Act rather effectively and find information about ministers’ incomes. In the end they are the tax payers and they need to know where their money is going. In countries like China the people are very active and they don’t allow politicians to rob the country. So we need to get the citizens involved as much as possible,” he said. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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  Comments - 1

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  • bo Wednesday, 19 December 2018 04:53 PM

    Our law makers are chronic rogues, period!


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