Simplicity must begin at the top
IN a rare spirit of goodwill (perhaps
betokening the Christmas season) the first Budget of the Mahinda
Rajapakse Government presented by the President himself was passed
largely unopposed in Parliament on Monday.
While the main Opposition party, the UNP, kept away the JVP, JHU and
the SLMC voted with the Government as did two CWC dissidents. The only
opposition came from the TNA but this too can be said to have been in
the nature of a ritual gesture stemming not so much from any opposition
to the Budget itself as to the TNA's stance on the ethnic issue and what
it perceives as the problems it has with the Government on this score.
This sense of Parliamentary goodwill is also in keeping with the
larger fund of national goodwill which has accompanied President
Rajapakse's installation in office.
Even his opponents have conceded that Mr. Rajapakse is a capable man
with a honest vision for the country and from the ranks of Tuscany has
come LTTE chief Velupillai Prabhakaran's assessment of the President as
a reputedly pragmatic man. Now that the dust has settled on the hustings
and the Government has to contemplate the grim realities of office as
against the easy rhetoric of an election campaign it is up to the
President and his administration to consolidate this sense of goodwill
and build upon its foundations.
Here the administration's sense of purpose and the integrity of its
approach to the work of day-to-day government will be imperative.
Problems have to be tackled and solutions found in keeping with the
avowed outlook which brought the Government to office and embodied in
the 'Mahinda Chintanaya' as it is popularly called. But the Government
cannot allow this to be a mantra to be invoked and intended at its
convenience but a guide to positive action.
That action necessarily has to be in the interests of the larger
masses who brought it to office rather than a microscopic elite of the
cities who for too long after Independence have plucked the fruits of a
progress which has been beyond the reach of the generality of the
Honesty and integrity on the part of these holding office are the key
to persuading the people that the Government means business. Too long
have the bulk of Sri Lanka's people been accustomed to cynically view
politicians of all colourations as mere place-seekers or opportunistic
climbers who are there in the game for whatever fast and slick money
they can extract from the milch cow of government.
If this image of the politician is to be erased from the public mind
politicians themselves must think afresh and refashion themselves in the
image of the advice they proffer from the public platform to the
populace to work hard, tighten the belts and lead simple lives.
In recent weeks, for example, there has been concern both within and
outside Parliament about the large size of the Cabinet, some of the
luxuries enjoyed by Ministers and other such issues related to
ministerial opulence and aggrandisement.
The JVP in particular has been quite critical of the Government on
this score. Speaking on the last day of the Budget debate the party's
Anuradhapura District MP K.D. Lalkantha, himself a former Minister, had
said for example that some Ministers should voluntarily resign their
posts considering the large size of the Cabinet.
While the cynics will say that it is too much to expect such acts of
self sacrifice from our politicians what is certainly necessary is a
less ostentatious life-style on their part. There is surely no need for
burning up the roads in luxury vehicles or refurbishing offices whenever
a new Minister takes over.
There can be leaner personal staffs and a standard vehicle of
ministerial travel as it obtains in India for example where everybody
travels by an Ambassador car. It is this kind of example from the top
which will drive the people below to inspired action.
It is therefore necessary that the Ministers in office, whether
Cabinet, non-Cabinet or Deputy Ministers, should themselves take the
initiative without waiting for the President to crack the whip like some
There were reports, for example, of a Cabinet Minister who had lived
it up on a recent overseas visit. While nobody would expect our
Ministers to go slumming when they go abroad there should be nothing to
prevent them from going in for accommodation in keeping with our
resources rather than give a warped impression of our country by
worshipping at temples of luxury.
So even as the Budget has sailed through Parliament on the heady
winds of goodwill this has to be followed up with the steady steering of
the ship of state with a sure hand on the tiller. For that there must be
a change of captaincy not merely at the top deck but all levels of the
national vessel as well.