A fine example | Daily News


A fine example

First time Parliament aspirant Madhura Withana (SLPP), no doubt, will be the toast of the tax playing public of this country for turning down the Duty Free vehicle import permit entitlement to all MPs, should he get elected.

Withana was shown in a picture caption of a newspaper posing with President Gotabaya Rajapaksa at an election rally in support of his candidature, presenting a written oath to the latter containing his forfeiture of this most lavish perk coveted by all MPs.

What is significant here is that Withana is a debutant Parliamentary candidate. Viewed in the context that MPs are entitled to this Duty Free vehicle permit each time they get elected, never mind the turns, the sacrifice is a monumental one. It is well known that a majority of MPs dispose of their Duty Free vehicle permits and pocket several millions of rupees. And not just once. They can go on doing the same thing each time they get elected afresh.

In fairness, it must be said that Withana will not be the first MP (if elected) to spurn this lavish offer. But MPs among the present lot who are in this league are in a pathetic minority and some MPs have openly admitted to abusing this privilege. These MPs obviously may well have been able to withstand the temptation either through pure conscience or being in possession of sufficient means. Withana, of course, is an Attorney- at-Law and may be in a position to decline the privilege, although most members of the legal profession among the present crop of Parliamentarians are known to have used the opportunity.

Hence, this new aspirant to Parliament is not going to exactly endear himself to either the old lot or those entertaining hopes to enter Parliament for the first time. For, it is akin to rocking the boat and what is more, sowing a seed in the minds of the voters as to why others could not emulate Withana and make an open declaration in this respect.

But why, one may ask, are MPs granted Duty Free vehicle permits at all ? And why do they want gas-guzzling Landcruiser Saharas and Mercedes Benz SUVs to serve the people when a simple double cab offers much the same luxuries with the same off-road capability, if that is required by MPs living in remote areas to traverse inhospitable terrain. They can perhaps be given a loan or lease package to buy an ordinary vehicle such as a double cab pick-up, paying the same duties and taxes as the rest of the public.

All MPs are entitled to an official vehicle and in case of a Cabinet Minister, a fleet of vehicles, which, as is well known, most of the time used outside official purposes such as conveying spouses to do their shopping and picking up children from school.

During the Yahapalanaya regime, some Government MPs even complained that the vehicles given to them were below par, considering the rough and bumpy terrain they have to navigate through in their far flung electorates with one of them even griping about being inflicted with a Slipped Disc after braving the ordeal in one of the vehicles.

This is indeed rich, considering that in the distant past, MPs did not receive Government vehicles (perhaps only a nominal fuel allowance) and they still managed to attend to the work in their electorates without let or hindrance and repeatedly got elected to Parliament. The redoubtable W. Dahanayake, a one time Prime Minister, used to commute by train to Parliament from his Galle electorate. One may say that that was a time when our people’s representatives truly lived to this cliché and went about their work on behalf of the public without complaints and being a burden to the tax payer.

The Duty Free vehicle permit for MPs was a legacy of the late President J.R.Jayewardene. JRJ’s rationale in granting lavish salaries and perks to his MPs was to keep them out of temptation’s way i.e. indulging in bribery and corruption. That this turned out to be wishful thinking on the part of the Old Fox was borne by the astounding degree to which MPs amassed wealth. The practice, needless to say, caught on thereafter under all successive Governments.

Something ought to be done to stem the rot. No wonder we see dog fights to get into Parliament not only between political rivals but also among members of the same party. Besides, the economic situation today calls for austerity. It is not correct, nay obscene, for members of Parliament to enjoy unconscionable benefits when the citizenry are fighting a battle of survival due to their income avenues drying up consequent to the Coronavirus. In other countries MPs have taken pay cuts and made other sacrifices, in empathy with the plight of their people caught up in the same predicament. Hopefully some sanity and a sense of sacrifice will dawn here as well.

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