Former Minister Mervyn Silva has often stirred controversy if not scandal by saying or doing something outrageous such as tying up an official to a tree. But last Sunday, in announcing he was forming a new party, he made an exhortation which every political party should follow. Mr. Silva said anyone wanting to make money would not be admitted to the party. There may be big question marks over whether it will be implemented and what progress the party will make, but the call to keep business out of politics is valid.
When the new Government took office in January 2015, President Maithripala Sirisena announced he would be the chief servant leader of the people. He also pledged he would live in a simple and humble way, avoiding wasteful expenditure, luxuries and extravagance. While vowing that tough and effective action would be taken against former leaders who had allegedly plundered millions of dollars from the people’s resources, the President pledged he would not allow any frauds or corruption by National Unity Government Ministers or MPs, Provincial or Local Council members and officials.
To what extent that has been implemented is another major question. Weekend Newspaper reports indicated there would be a Cabinet reshuffle of Ministers of the United National Party (UNP) and the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) which have come together to form a National Unity Government. The report said the reshuffle of portfolios would involve Ministers who had not performed well or against whom there were allegations of bribery or corruption.
Responding to widespread public criticism of the slow pace in investigating allegations against former political leaders and top officials, the President said he had ordered that investigations be expedited. We hope that would be done by the Financial Crimes Investigations Division (FCID), the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) and the Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption (CIABOC).
In addition we hope the President and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe would advise politicians and officials to change their attitudes and grow in their awareness that they are servants of the people. The two leaders need to also ensure that no one is allowed to do business in politics. Anyone wanting to do business could do it elsewhere -- not in Parliament, Provincial or Local Councils and in the public service.
As for wasteful expenditure, we would urge the National Government to reconsider the supplementary estimate of Rs.371 million to buy luxury vehicles for parliamentarians including ministers and deputies. At a time when millions of people are suffering on or below the poverty line there is no justification to give more privileges such as luxury vehicles for ministers, deputies and MPs, most of whom are already wealthy. If the main political parties and especially their leaders do not set an example through a simple and humble lifestyle they cannot expect the people to practice what the sanctimonious humbugs only preach.
Another issue that needs to be dealt with is the justifiable claim that some groups, backed by vested interest, are abusing the freedom obtained after the January 2015 election. During the past few months we have seen massive street demonstrations regularly on issues ranging from SAITM to the alleged leasing of state lands to foreign companies. Peaceful demonstration is a basic right. But if demonstrators choose to protest at peak times and on main city highways, they disrupt the life and work of millions of people including schoolchildren. These demonstrators, mainly by university students, are known to be influenced by old Marxist ideologies which are attractive to the youth but have little relevance to today’s globalised world of modern digital technology. As we have said regularly before rights are linked to responsibilities and if we fail in our public responsibilities we forfeit our rights. The government and other parties need to bring some discipline in to society especially among university students and trade unions including the Government Medical Officers Association (GMOA). Recently the GMOA staged a sudden 24-hour strike and claimed it was a 100 per cent success that means it was 100 per cent suffering for mostly poor people who come from long distances. Therefore there appears to be a need to link rights with responsibilities and have some restrictions or limitations on when and where trade unions or politically-driven students are allowed to protest and create havoc among people.