“The world is a fine place, and worth fighting for.”
The kokis eaten on our traditional New Year didn’t have much time to digest when the news broke that luxury vehicle permits worth US $ 62500 were issued to all 225 Members of Parliament of Sri Lanka, which they can sell for close to Rs.20 million each permit.
What is the change we voted for? Is this the culture we want to take forward? According to the Daily News editorial on November 25, 2015, “Finance Minister Ravi Karunanayake mentioned during his long budget speech that the government would abolish all kinds of vehicle permits, including those given to Members of Parliament.”
There was not much of noise for permits as I assume everyone has accepted and probably already taken home. Apart from this, each minister will receive Rs.35 million for a ministry vehicle and a deputy minister Rs.28 million. This is the grand New Year gift for the common people of our nation. In contrast to the political elite, the office assistant in the government gets paid only Rs.28,000 with close to 100 hours overtime payment as the monthly salary and has to look after his children, family and buy presents for the family to celebrate the New Year with the rising cost of living. The situation has not changed much for the forgotten assistant for the last 10 years.
With this exorbitant spending, we are going with a begging bowl to the International Monitory Fund (IMF) asking for financial assistance to solve our financial crisis. In the next few weeks, Sri Lanka is requesting financial assistance of around US $ 1 billion to US $ 2 billion from the IMF to sail over the current economic tide. To create a Cabinet close to 100 ministers was not the struggle the public or this author joined during the last election supporting the central theme good governance. The Sunday Times on April 17 carried that around Rs.5 million a month is the cost to maintain one individual minister. While the politicians are asking the public to support their policies, they are robbing the public in daylight.
The cost of many products will rise with the increase of value-added tax (VAT) to 15 percent from May 2 and again the common man has to add this addition burden to his lifestyle. According to economists, the main conditions for the loan from the IMF are to reduce the nation’s budget deficit, raise revenues and bolster its foreign exchange reserves. If the country is facing such an economic situation, why is it that the politicians are accepting luxury permits and getting separate permits for ministries?
Ideally, the state should be reducing permits and some members should not accept or go for affordable electric vehicles as pledged by President Sirisena in COP21, to create a better environment to reduce carbon footprint. Many speak of these good values but implementation is not evident in our society. According to the Central Bank reports, by 2020, Sri Lanka aims to reach a per capita of US $ 7000, which is in another four years. Now we are at US $ 3500 and such unfruitful lavish financial spending one should question the direction of the country’s leader’s actions.
The media should educate the people on these shortcomings and support the public to create a better culture and environment. The minister who does not accept or brings an electric car should be on the front page for others to follow. There was a reason some journalists gave their lives in the past to report the truth; they reported with unbowed and unbiased slogan. This has to be at the forefront in good governance pointing out the errors before it leads to a total mess.
I can only refer to George Orwell’s 1945 political satire ‘Animal Farm’, which is a good example of today’s political climate. When the animals decided to rebel against and restore a new and better order, they eventually understand nothing much had changed - just the name tag. The initial commandments for a better order had to be secretly revised to clear themselves of accusations of law-breaking. After animals take over, they eventually get into a bigger mess and start missing the old ways. The farm, which was called Manor Farm, was renamed as Animal Farm, which couldn’t sustain. Eventually, it was renamed back again as Manor Farm.
Hope still exists that the new government will rectify these issues and stick to the promises they made. The country we live is a fine place and worth fighting for. The state must restore a better order, and at the end, it’s worth fighting because “there is a calling that is yet above high office, fame, lucre and security. It is the call of conscience,” said one of the greatest journalists we ever had in this island.