With Sri Lanka’s financial status wavering around bankruptcy and millions of families struggling for survival largely because of a soaring cost of living, the Daily Mirror in its Editorials has reiterated that a lasting solution needs to be found mainly in two ways - bringing about social justice and austerity.
Austerity essentially means substantially reducing unnecessary or non-essential expenses and learning to manage with basic needs instead of wants and desires. This leads to a simple and humble lifestyle or alpechcha thavaya which for thousands of years has been a hallowed as a part of our culture and civilisation.
The Daily Mirror has stressed that if the middle path of austerity is to be accepted and practised by the people, the example must come from the top – especially the politicians who in principle have been elected to serve the people or even be the servants of the people and be good stewards of the country’s wealth and resources.
Sadly the Rajapaksa regime appears to be deaf and dumb to the appeals and needs of the people. Instead of cutting down on the expenditure to maintain the Government – about Rs. 20 million a day is spent on maintaining the office of the executive presidency alone – the Rajapaksa regime on Thursday appointed nine new deputy ministers to add to perhaps what is the world’s biggest Cabinet. When most people say enough is enough, the regime appears to be scornfully reacting by saying “if you say enough, we will appoint more”. It is not just a matter of higher salaries for the nine new deputy ministers, but a multitude of perks and privileges and a licence to indulge in super-luxuries and extravagance at a cost of hundreds of millions of rupees in public funds.
Many independent political analysts see Thursday’s move as an act of reckless arrogance and a symptom of the vanity of vanities. Instead of a stitch in time to save all nine, the regime has added more to a giant if not monstrous Cabinet, to the extent that more than three fourths of the MPs of the United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) Government now have some Cabinet rank, making Parliament more like a Cabinet room with only the disunited and angrily- quarrelling opposition members remaining as MPs.
With the opposition not doing even a fraction of what it needs to do to maintain checks and balances, accountability and transparency, the regime appears to be saying with morbid stubbornness and pride, “you can have your say but we will have our way”. Some analysts believe a presidential election may be held next year and the President is trying to consolidate his position by giving posts, perks and privileges to the faithful flock of his patch-work coalition. Even before such an election is announced, public funds are being abused and the king even appears to be playing the role of joker in this game of political cards by appointing a one-time super star in sports as the Deputy Post Minister. Some observers thought it was a printer’s devil- sports instead of post – but it was some other devil and the master blaster can hit more political sixes now.
Jokes, kings and jokers apart, religious leaders at least need to now give effective leadership to the people to stop this blatant abuse of public funds and the mockery or devaluation of democracy and good governance.
History is full of instances where emperors or kings – who suffered from the delusion that power is permanent – built a human fortress around them by giving posts and privileges to their supporters even if some of them were pseudo-patriots seeking personal gain or glory. History has shown the fate that befell such leaders and Sri Lankan leaders need to learn the right lessons from history before it is too late, and history puts them among the pages of the Hitlers and the Mugabes.