Here we go again! One, two, three and we hear the old familiar sickening refrain. Reminds us old-timers of the popular 60s song belted out by rock singer Johnny Thunder which goes: “Here we go loop de loop. Here we go loop de lie.”
It seems an apt analogy concerning the deceptions of all our recent political administrations, and particularly so when taking in the key words in the lyrics which are ‘loop’ and ‘lie.’ Yes, we are referring to the blatant lies and the misleading way our political leaders wriggle out of niggling constitutional impediments by sneaking through loopholes.
It is also very much an illustration of our particularly sorry times that politics in Sri Lanka is still a club of privileged insiders, many with powerful corporate connections. For it remains clear that in Sri Lanka’s eccentric political whirligig it hardly matters which side you are on, whether with the Government or the Opposition
Take for instance, the size of the gargantuan Cabinet of Ministers which has or will soon swell to 48. Now add to that 19 Ministers of State, 23 Deputy Ministers and what have you got? Totting it all up it has an administration of 90 Ministers which surpasses that of all its predecessors. Now that is all part of the opportunistic horse trading following the September parliamentary election.
The present administration pledged categorically during its election campaign that the Cabinet would be drastically reduced to a handily proportionate number. Indeed, the 19th Amendment to the Constitution that was passed shortly before the parliamentary poll specified that that the Cabinet of Ministers would be pared to 30. Now if this isn’t barefaced deceit, pray tell me what is?
Surely, the majority of the public is aware that our present legislature is clearly overcrowded and should be pared to less than half that number. And the same goes for its mammoth ministerial conclave. This is clearly a kick in the teeth for the taxpaying public who are already weighed down with coughing up the additional prosperous perks for 225 lawmakers. And quite ludicrously the new regime attempted to bloat it to 252.
Unquestionably, our nation could be run far more smoothly and effectively with a much smaller Parliament. Neither do we need an overbalanced top-heavy Cabinet. Besides, our current legislature is disproportionately too flabby for a nation our size with a population of 20 million or so. Take neighbouring India with its population of 1.29 billion has only 23 ministers with Cabinet department portfolios and 21 Ministers of State – bringing the ‘lean’ Cabinet strength to 45 members.In comparison one has to concede the a huge disparity in terms of both population as well as the shameless means employed in gaining political expediency, regardless of the financial costs and public opinion.
Such shenanigans show up the new administration’s desperation to cobble together a coalition by dispensing Cabinet portfolios willy-nilly in greater numbers. Again in the estimation of many analysts such chicanery has clearly been stage-managed through what is tantamount to political bribes, no less.
Again no one seems to care that the cost to the public purse for the ballooning portfolios will be astronomical. Keep in mind that a ministry’s staff includes a Ministry Secretary, Assistant Secretary and a force of at least 50 others in addition to a minister’s personal staff. With the new additions Sri Lanka now maintains its record as the largest Cabinet in South Asia.
But the more perceptive will realise that all is not zeal and enmity in Sri Lankan politics. Quite apart from anything else, there is sufficient reason to believe that there is a cold and calculating streak of opportunism among all our politicians, particularly when it comes to striking accord while voting themselves increased allowances and outrageous perquisites to indulge in their free-loading style of splendid living.
And talking about perks and privileges, some 63 newly-elected members to Sri Lanka Parliament at the August 17 election are eligible to receive duty-free vehicle permits. The government issues vehicle permits to MPs who have not received a vehicle permit for the last five years. The vehicle permits issued to parliamentarians until 2012 were not transferable within five years. However, the present vehicle permits issued to parliamentarians are transferable. Until 2012, the value of the vehicle permit was US$ 30,000 which has now been increased to US$ 50,000.
Imagine a leviathan Cabinet of 45 with the prospect of more being included, with so many of the subjects being virtually duplicated and allied portfolios being mismatched and irrelevantly coming under the purview of other ministries handling totally different assignments.
Complicating the problem further will be the lack of co-ordination in most administrations and the fact that some of the expanded ministries will be working at cross-purposes and doubtless, with many of them continuing with operations that intersect. People have a right to be astonished and angry at the trust reposed in certain elected and appointed individuals with dubitable credentials. As a result, we are now caught up in the new-wave guileful politics that has been ringing with old promises and is replete with social injustices.
History has proved that such lopsided parliamentary and ministerial multitudes will only result in a mishmash of encroaching jurisdictions, with the assurance that too many will be passing the buck and with no one being held accountable.
Minister Lakshman Kiriella demanded last week that the UPFA being the recognised party should be assigned front row seats in the legislature rather than allocating them to leaders of smaller member parties. To the people of this country it is irrelevant where they sit because what the nation needs to know most is where they stand in the political spectrum.
Every government is bound by moral ties to serve its people, no matter what else. It has an obligation and responsibility to ensure that financial and social blunders are not heaped haphazardly on its people. The country’s status as a free democracy has suffered horribly – including the rule of law, transparency, proper accountability and spirited debate from a weak main opposition, which understandably would have to concentrate more on giving priority to its own agenda rather than focusing on broader, burning national issues.
It is also very much an illustration of our particularly sorry times that politics in Sri Lanka is still a club of privileged insiders, many with powerful corporate connections. For it remains clear that in Sri Lanka’s eccentric political whirligig it hardly matters which side you are on, whether with the Government or the Opposition. Because once you are in the House, it is pretty evident that everything is pretty much on the house as well.