A deceptive stance | Daily News


A deceptive stance

President Maithripala Sirisena has, certainly, set the cat among the pigeons. There were howls of protest by members on both sides of the House to his claim that an MP received Rs. 400,000 a month and that he quashed moves to add another Rs. 200,000. Different figures were given by MPs as to their real earnings. Kurunegala District UNP MP Thushra Indunil claimed that they received only a basic salary of Rs. 54,000 and with the allowances their monthly earnings hardly reached Rs, 100,000. He said he was hard put to manage even for two weeks (of the month) with what he receives, what with having to ‘look after’ his chauffeur and other members of the staff. In fact, he was out of pocket, lamented the MP.

His colleague from the other side, Wimalaweera Dissanayake, also disputed the President’s figure. True, his monthly emoluments are higher compared to some of the others (Rs. 300,000) but this is because he receives an enhanced fuel allowance by virtue of having to travel from a distant outpost. “We get only Rs.300,000. Who is taking the balance? That is my question. We struggle to live. I spend around Rs.50,000 on fuel for a month. I have to attend to the needs of my people in my electorate. In addition, we pay tax. I am in debt. This statement by the President is unjust”, he lamented.

It is said that both Government and Opposition MPs, though, at each other’s jugular most of the time, shrink their differences when largesse is on offer. Similarly, the President's exposure has once again united the otherwise sworn enemies in protestation, going on to demonstrate the widely held belief, that, when it comes to personal benefits, politics are set aside by our erstwhile people's representatives. Even the JVP, which represents the oppressed segments, are one with the rest, in this connection.

Be that as it may, the MPs who took exception to the President's ‘exposure’ however, were not telling the whole story. The salaries and allowances they receive as Parliamentarians are not the only source of their income, as is all too well known. MPs have countless other avenues of income -both, legal and illegal. Nobody in their right minds would buy into the claims of MPs Indunil Thushara and Wimalaweera Dissanayake that MPs’ Parliament incomes wouldn't allow them to see through the month nor the laughable assertion that their lot are in debt. There are more than one ways to shoe a horse. Both MPs have omitted the other side of the story.

To begin with, as is all too well known, MPs are deeply involved in deciding on tenders for various projects in their electorates, most often very lucrative ones. It would be stretching one's imagination to believe that everything is aboveboard. There is the common talk of how MPs who did not even posses a push cycle when they first entered Parliament now going about in SUVs. Besides, it is also well known that MPs, as is the practice, are usually granted liquor licenses to operate Wine Stores or restaurants which they do under their name or by proxy. This, as anyone in the liquor business would vouch, is an extremely profitable venture, whose monthly earnings could well exceed their emoluments as given out by the two MPs, following the President's ‘exposure'.

It is also well known that MPs closely associate with wealthy businessmen in their electorates and it does not need much imagination to conclude the outcome. Newspapers are full of instances of how MPs or ministers interfere in getting businessmen out of trouble with the law. There are also instances where ruling party MPs wield their influence to get the law to turn a blind eye to the illegal acts of businessmen. There, of course, has to be a quid pro quo. Certain MPs in the present Parliament run their own businesses – some legal, some not. The media was full of reports, some time ago, how an Opposition politician in the Gampaha district was deeply involved in the illegal sand business.

The two MPs who took issue with the President for grossly overstating their monthly incomes and lamented on their dire circumstances also forgot to mention the duty free vehicle permits granted to MPs which they dispose of to the highest bidder. What is more, this facility is granted each time a MP gets elected turning them into millionaires several times over, not needing the Parliament pay to sustain them.

Why is there this mad scramble by sitting MPs to get re-elected, if the going is not good? They go to extraordinary lengths, even resorting to murder, to get their foot back in. Isn’t this a revelation in itself? When the late President J.R Jayewardene decided to increase the salaries of MPs it was done with the purpose of keeping them out of temptation's way. But this did not prevent corruption. The trend, no doubt, continues, as is only too well known -whether the MPs’ emoluments are increased or not, or, despite the protestations of poverty by the present lot.

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