By Gaston de Rosayro - The Nation
Some people say stupid things. Others with a measure of public prominence believe their position gives them the right to say incredibly stupid things and get away with it. Welcome to the Hall of Shame, peopled largely by a number of our nit-wit legislators.
The fact that a bunch of them has been spewing out such inconsequential irrationality should not be a surprise. They are, after all, politicians. That is why Sri Lankan political theatre has become welcome grist for the humorist mill. It makes life so much easier for us satire writers and analysts. Meaning their larking around has our work cut out for us. All one has to do is to observe the antics of many elected jokers and report the facts. And while the free media are not wrong in focusing on the shock-value side of these elected officials’ asinine propounding and transgressions, the most relevant question to the public is left hanging in the air: Are these politicians, just too daft to be good at their jobs and govern our nation?
Hardly surprising then that in Sri Lankan politics an absurdity is not a handicap. Of late we have witnessed certain politicians, Cabinet Ministers no less, come up with the most mind-numbing brainless quotes that would make George Bush seem a genius in comparison.
Many of them, of late have taken a firm and permanent step into either being simply stupid or insanely arrogant in proffering their own bizarre suppositions. They are so far out of touch with reality while living in their own wealthy world of profligate privileged perks and power.
For instance there is Joint Opposition MP Bandula Gunawardena who has earned himself the dubious distinction of propounding the most illogical political and economic theories imaginable. Last week he defended the right of lawmakers to receive massive duty exemptions on luxury vehicles as well as the recently introduced Rs 100,000 special allowance despite the national economy being in desperate straits.
In December last year Parliament passed a Resolution to pay all Parliamentarians a monthly allowance of Rs. 100,000 to cover the expenses of maintaining an office and also to increase the allowance of Rs. 500 for attending Parliament sittings up to Rs 2,500. All Parliamentarians are entitled to the increased allowances from January 1, 2017.
MP Gunawardena underscored the point that lawmakers shouldn’t be deprived of their legitimate perks and privileges endorsed by Parliament. The UPFA MP was responding to a query at a media briefing on whether lawmakers representing various political parties weren’t embarrassed to benefit from duty free exemptions ranging from Rs 30 to 44 million to procure luxury vehicles and obtaining special allowances in addition to pay and a range of other payments at a time the country was heading towards a financial crunch. MP Gunawardena maintained that he wasn’t ashamed. And more to this effect, his answer was uttered in the heated language of righteous indignation that he would gladly accept even higher perks and allowances. He asserted that the crisis in the national economy couldn’t be addressed by lawmakers depriving themselves of what they were entitled to. One of the nation’s most respected and outspoken economists Dr. W. A. Wijewardena strongly disagrees, contending that tangible measures were urgently needed to restrict taxpayers’ money being spent on members of Parliament. Dr. Wijewardena, a former Deputy Central Bank Governor, responding to Bandula Gunawardena’s declaration that lawmakers couldn’t be deprived of perks and privileges in spite of the prevailing economic crisis claimed that a recent study by him had revealed that the cost of maintaining a cabinet minister amounted to Rs 8.5 million a month.
Dr. Wijewardena has been highlighting such deficiencies for quite some time and has been playing the apolitical ‘Lone Ranger’ with admirable efficiency and forthrightness. No one in his right mind could ever doubt his integrity or professionalism as an economic whiz with no political attachments. The nation owes a personage of his outstanding calibre a huge debt of gratitude.
In fact, our politicians over the last four decades or so have disagreed on most everything. Everything that is, except when it comes to ladling out the biggest share of the nation’s wealth to themselves. At that crucial juncture they all agree to vote in accord to give themselves too much of everything.
Let’s be honest about the whole issue. Over the last few years our ‘slobby’ legislative and ministerial enclaves have become nothing short of obscene. And just imagine their perks! The staff, the bodyguards, the luxury cars, the first-class flights, the food, the office refurbishments and the five-star hotel stays. Yes, it amounts to all status, no substance and at a cost of billions of bucks.
For sheer exclusivity nothing beats the elite ‘Diyawanna Oya Club’ comprising the nation’s politicians, whose perquisites and standard of living have become as breathtakingly opulent and straight out of the ‘Arabian Nights’. They live, entertain, feast, travel, are provided protection and indulge themselves like superstars at the expense of the people. And all this has emerged amid disclosures of corruption all around them, intensifying the evidence of economic pillage and the improper use of government funds for personal political purposes. Much of the economic damage may be too deep to reverse. But then, the politicians and certain bureaucrats themselves too are largely to blame because they have never been any good at moderation.
Everything at this point calls for harsh budgetary measures in an effort to bridge the colossal Budget deficit, generate more revenue, decrease expenditure and to honour both staggering domestic and foreign borrowings.
What is unacceptable is that every successive government has been spoiling its politicians and bureaucratic flatterers rotten in budget-slashing times where ordinary citizens are being entreated to exercise austerity which now appears to border on bare hand-to-mouth existence. Take for instance, the dishonesty, the neglect, the incompetence and the sinful waste which have become the norm in most every utility, state-owned enterprise and the bureaucracy.
Utilities charges today have become outrageously unaffordable. Take into consideration the reality that the consumers of this nation are already paying among the highest electricity and water tariffs in the world. In a nation where poverty and inequality remain disappointingly widespread, perhaps nothing is more destructive of public trust in a democracy than belief that nepotism and corruption are flourishing as never before. The last few years will go down in the annals of our nation’s history as the era that witnessed the largest number of political mouthings of abject inanity. The assertion is reinforced by the statements of certain high-ranking Cabinet legislators such as the same Bandula Gunawardena when he was minister of education. He actually theorized that a family of three could live a comfortable life with an income of Rs.7,500 per month if they used their money wisely.
Clearly, a seventh grade student with a knowledge of basic economics would have been able to rebut the Minister’s nonsensical theory with a single X flourish of his pen. And the more perceptive among them would question as to how he could function as the minister of learning when he has a heck of lot of learning to do himself.
But on the other hand, allowing loose cannons to fire such unintelligent salvos indiscriminately may sound as if this is their party’s general view? Party whips must start a crackdown on allowing these small minds to wander. Indeed, they are far too small to be let out on their own.
Besides being an embarrassment to their party and a mill-stone around the nation’s neck, they are ill-equipped to make intelligent statements. They are positively expendable. They are a monumental reminder to everyone that there is no surer way of leading a party to electoral extinction than having them on board.
But as with our Parliament, every time they make a joke, it becomes a law! And every time they make a law, it becomes a joke! Elected jokes are a very serious matter, legislatively speaking that is. firstname.lastname@example.org