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Make us say ‘thank you for small mercies’

24 January 2019 12:00 am - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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Major (Rtd) Ajith Niranjan Perera has seen war. He was in the first batch of the Special Forces, set up in 1985 led by Major General (Rtd) G Hettiarachchi, numbering 38 men and two officers. He has fought to ensure the security of the citizenry, safeguard the territorial integrity and continued sovereignty. Naturally, he is not pleased   

We were neighbours growing up and so he is ‘Ajith Ayya’ to me, then and now. I remember Ajith Ayya as a man of action. He didn’t talk much then, and we haven’t talked much in the years that have passed. He called me yesterday (January 22).  

Like most people in this country, he doesn’t harbour illusions about politicians. He knows that rhetoric is easy and that delivery mostly non-existent. Again, like most people, he hasn’t retired hope.

Why should politicians receive vehicle permits? They claim they want our votes to serve us. It’s almost as though they are doing it out of the largeness of their hearts. In any case, they are elected for five years only  

‘If we can get these fellows to agree to four things, I would be happy,’ he said. The nature of his ‘hope’ tells a story about the kind of confidence the people have in their representatives and leaders. In many ways, it was a minimalist wish, although if implemented we could hope for a better calibre of politician in the future simply because they would eliminate incentives for the crooked to enter politics.   

The ‘four things’: 1) No vehicle permits for parliamentarians, 2) No crossing party line, 3) No pensions, and 4) Each member of Parliament will be answerable to a single electorate.   

The last is about electoral reform. It is about making representation meaningful. It is about giving some credence to the notion of participatory democracy. For almost three decades we have had MPs being forced to think of district and not electorate, for ‘electioneering’ begins the day they are elected. Politicians are about elections, need we labor the point?   

This Government vowed to abolish the pernicious electoral system. That was a huge election promise. That’s what the original 20th Amendment was to be about, namely, correcting the flaws of proportional representation (PR). Now, after selling reform that was in fact a further entrenchment of PR and suffering a humiliating drubbing at the local government elections, the ‘yahapalanists’ have all but abandoned the idea. ‘Let’s hold elections under the old system,’ they say, even as they keep postponing provincial council elections. ‘Sure thing,’ the opposition says, knowing (like the ruling party) that if victory is not possible then defeat would not be comprehensive.   

So No. 4 is a tough ask at this point. On the other hand, so are the others. Tough ask. And that’s what will test the government and indeed the entire parliament.  

Why should politicians receive vehicle permits? They claim they want our votes to serve us. It’s almost as though they are doing it out of the largeness of their hearts. In any case, they are elected for five years only. In any case, wherever they go, they have backup vehicles. Wait, they also have official vehicles. Why then can’t they be allocated a decent vehicle for the period they hold office?   

Crossing over has become a remunerative option for politicians, especially given the PR system. No less a personality than President Maithripala Sirisena claimed that the going rate for MPs to cross (or remain!) was Rs 500 million!

Why should anyone be given a pension for life after doing five years of work (if they work, that is — let’s not forget that they do more harm than good!)? That’s plain silly. If politicians are deemed deserving of a pension after being in office for five years, shouldn’t the principle be applied to everyone else as well? We can have teachers, doctors, clerks, peons, SLAS and SLES officers, diplomats, police officers, military personnel etc., ‘retiring’ after five years and enjoying a pension until they die.   

It’s stupid, plain and simple. Pensions for politicians should be done away with immediately. We could have a referendum on the matter and I grant that the marginal benefit would outweigh the marginal cost in the long run. This side of a referendum, perhaps the Census and Statistics Department could be commission to conduct a survey on public sentiment on this issue. It is quite likely that the vast majority would want the pension scheme for parliamentarians scrapped.  

Crossing over has become a remunerative option for politicians, especially given the PR system. No less a personality than President Maithripala Sirisena claimed that the going rate for MPs to cross (or remain!) was Rs 500 million! All this was facilitated by a verdict delivered by Sarath N Silva in the 1990s, preventing political parties from sacking (and thereby unseating) renegades. He determined that the President can, in his or her wisdom, determine that any MP should be given a cabinet portfolio and that in such a situation, the particular party’s power to sack/unseat is rendered ineffective.   

In the best parliamentary traditions, there have been many instances where individual members have taken positions at odds with the party leadership. That’s a conscience-vote. In most cases, the matter is pretty obvious. MPs can vote as they believe fit, regardless of the party’s position. However, in a system where the people first vote for party and then for candidate, the argument can be made that it would be a violation of trust if the particular member went against the party line. That very argument holds against crossing over ‘to the other side’.   

MPs can vote as they believe fit, regardless of the party’s position. However, in a system where the people first vote for party and then for candidate, the argument can be made that it would be a violation of trust if the particular member went against the party line

Once again, the Government could (in the interest of salvaging some pride after four years affirming good governance in its breach) commission a survey. The vast majority of respondents would probably say ‘no way.’  

At the tail end of its term, this parliament which has disgraced itself unlike any other parliament, can give us a few morsels. Small mercies, if you will. Something for which we can say ‘thank you, we appreciate!’ Major (Rtd) Ajith Niranjan Perera is, I believe, speaking for the entire population of voters. Let his voice be heard!  

malindasenevi@gmail.com. 
www.malindawords.blogspot.com

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