Random Notes with Ravi Ladduwahetty
A news report a few days ago, explicitly said that a pregnant woman who was being transported by three-wheeler from the Neluwa Hospital to the Udugama Hospital, both in the Galle District, due to the gravity of her physical condition, had died in the interim. Why? Because the Neluwa Hospital could not transport her to the Udugama Hospital by ambulance. Why? It had no cash for the diesel for the hospital ambulance!
Travel on a rural road in immediate suburban Colombo. It is not far. It is the road leading from Pannipitiya to Rukmale through Poragodella. The gaping knee-deep potholes at virtually 100 yard intervals makes one wonder whether the road has been made for human beings! Repeated cries and protests in the last one and a half years to the Maharagama Municipal Council, the Western Provincial Council Chief Minister, the RDA Chairman and the Highways Ministry, have all fallen on deaf ears. They keep on passing the buck. The UNP Leader in charge of the electorate is a top rung Cabinet Minister. However, on the same road, is a path leading to the residence of a State media boss, completely concreted. Area residents are awaiting political Parties to storm the area to canvass votes at future elections, hoping to reply them with poles and spears! Such is their rancour and acrimony.
Tea, rubber and coconut, three of Sri Lanka's prime export commodities of yore, are doomed. All development projects, which were done by the previous regime, have stopped. There is no commencement of new ones despite all the glib promises. At least the Rs 10,000 monthly increase that was promised to public servants has not been delivered yet. So, it is in this backdrop and social conscience that legislators draw all increased perks at the drop of a hat.
Cabinet Ministers draw a salary of around Rs 90,000 with further additions in terms of allowances for fuel and entertainment and so on, totalling to around Rs 150,000 per mensem or even more with other intangible benefits. It is almost the same for the normal MPs who are not fortunate to be a Cabinet-ranked Minister or a State Minister. He/she also gets a salary of around
Rs 70,000 which is based off the tax payer and in addition, all above allowances. They also get their duty free permits for vehicles, which is also abused. Of late, they are also given Rs 25,000 as a telephone allowance,
Rs 50,000 for housing rent and another Rs 75,000 for renting office space.
What does the public, their paymasters, get in return? Very often, there is no quorum in the House for proceedings. There is also no representation at Select Committee or Consultative Committee meetings, despite the increase in the allowances. MPs are more interested in engaging in their private businesses rather than parliamentary proceedings, for which they are elected. Some ask some oral questions, just to be eligible for live television coverage. When that is over, they depart.
Unlike the days of yore, there are no rich debates now, unlike the days where MPs and ministers, were waiting in the Chamber from start to finish. MPs, then, were fully prepared with their speeches, buttressed with data and statistics from library references. Now, MPs are hardly seen even visiting the Parliament library. What we see now is mudslinging, trading of insults and physical assaults, which is way below the decorum expected of a legislator, hiding under the cover of Parliamentary privilege. They are on most occasions, a monumental embarrassment even to a bevy of schoolgirls in the visitors' gallery to witness proceedings as an educational exercise. What an example!
To think that they are designated as honourable! What is so honourable about a set of people who are elected for a job of work for which they are paid high salaries and perks? What about those who fail in that effort? Are they penalized for that? The answer is a resounding no.
The Opposition also comprises sanctimonious humbugs. They agree at the House Committee level about the increase in the earnings for Members of Parliament, but, oppose it in public which is also meant for public consumption, playing to the gallery.
Sri Lankan civil society is also to blame for this degradation and total impotence. Look at neighbouring India. Increase the price of a Manipuri sari by a few rupees or, simply, a coconut, by a few cents. See the reaction it would trigger.
So, the ethos among today's Parliamentarians and Cabinet Ministers seems to be in consonance with the hoary Sinhala idiom Henda thiyanakan Bedaganna which translated into simple English means: Keep on serving yourself until the spoon is available.