Harin’s lament | Daily News

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Harin’s lament

Telecommunications and Foreign Employment Minister Harin Fernando, the other day, said that he doubted if there was even a single member of parliament who would not have received financial support from businessmen for their election campaigns. Asked by a journalist outside Siri Kotha following the Working Committee meeting of the UNP as to what he thought about Dayasiri Jayasekera receiving Rs. one million from Arjun Aloysius for his election campaign, Fernando, who sometime back had his ear bitten by Jayasekera ala a Mike Tyson in a dust up following a heated television debate, this time though came to the defence of his onetime UNP colleague saying that it was not unusual for politicians to receive such financial assistance from businessmen or whatever quarter.

Elaborating further, the minister said that it was extremely difficult for MPs to conduct an election campaign with the paltry Rs. 55,000 they receive as their monthly allowance and he saw nothing wrong in their receiving financial assistance from businessmen.

Here though the minister is being economical with the truth. The Rs. 55,000 that is paid to a MP as his/her monthly allowance, any individual with even a modicum of intelligence knows, is a mere book entry. The money earned by MPs by other means knows no bounds, as is common knowledge today. The Rs one million received by Dayasiri Jayasekera from Aloysius is only a sample of the potential earnings of our erstwhile people’s representatives. Minister Harin Fernando does not mention about the whole gamut of perks that go with the MPs’ official monthly allowance of Rs. 55,000.

To begin with, there is a so called ‘attendance allowance’ of Rs. 2,500 paid to each MP for being present in parliament although he/she is elected by the people to represent them in the House. With eight days sittings per month this adds up to a tidy Rs. 20,000, never mind their contribution to the debates. They are also paid Rs. 2,500 for their participation in the various committees in parliament on non-sitting days. Recently Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe showered all MPs with a lavish Rs. 100,000 per month for setting up offices in their electorates to serve the public. It is not clear if there was any follow-up action to check whether, indeed, these offices were really set up, and, if not, what became of this money.

Then there is the little matter of the duty free vehicle permit granted to each MP. A recent case filed by a civil activist lawyer to recover the money by the sale of these duty free vehicles by MPs laid bare the whole sordid tale of how some of our people’s representatives became super rich overnight by the sale of their duty free vehicle permits to third parties. Add to this, there is also the all too common practice of issuing liquor licenses to government MPs notwithstanding the President’s well intentioned crusade to make the country free of imbibers in the not too distant future. Needless to say, these liquor permits are sold to the highest bidder if the MPs themselves have not taken up the business themselves or run by siblings or relatives. Allay all this to the heavily subsidized meals and all paid for foreign junkets, is it wonder that blood is spilled at elections to enter parliament?

MPs receive funds not just at election time, as Minister Fernando will readily admit. Being a government minister or MP brings with it other advantages and tremendous opportunities. Above all, there is a sense of immunity from the law to do as one pleases. Even if the law intervenes there is a sense that one would be protected, being a government minister or MP. The episode where a notorious politician from Negombo was bailed out by none other than the President of the country, through his personal intervention, when the law detected a large haul of narcotics in the home of the MP concerned is a case in point. Being a government MP, needless to say, gives one the opportunity to conduct illegal businesses and gain from contracts. The drug business that was openly carried out by another notorious politician during the Rajapaksa era only goes to underline the limits to which a government minister, or MP can go to amass illegal wealth.

There are also the tenders attached to government projects to rake in the shekels and opportunities provided for buddies in the business world, of government politicians, to enrich themselves. One recalls how the stock market was allowed to be manipulated by pump and dump artistes close to the Rajapaksas, and how they amassed billions, which money is today believed to be in wide circulation to destabilize the government. Being a powerful minister of the government also gives one the opportunity to leverage business deals in one’s favour for massive financial gain.

Hence, when it comes to the earning capacity of government leaders and ministers /MPs the sky certainly is the limit, as Minister Harin Fernando will readily acknowledge and the Rs. 55,000 monthly allowance referred to by him is just pocket money. 


 

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