Of that "sitting" allowance | Daily News

Of that "sitting" allowance

Santa has come early this year for our people's representatives in the form of glad tidings. A proposal has been made by the Government to the House Committee to increase MPs' allowance for attending sittings from the present Rs. 500 to a whopping Rs. 20,000 - a cool 4000% increase. Of course the request has been made by the MPs themselves on the grounds that the attendance allowance has remained static for many years. The JVP has opposed the move, as it opposes all moves that offer largesse to Parliamentarians at public expense, but continue to enjoy the benefit, while the pro Rajapaksa UPFA group has remained non committal, with the so called National Organizer of the Joint Opposition Dullas Allahapperuma quoted in a national daily as saying he could not comment on it since a formal discussion is ongoing pertaining to the matter. The UNP too has preferred to play it safe with Minister Gayantha Karunathilaka offering a wishy washy answer that his Ministry has so far not been informed of such a decision.

Sri Lanka's Parliament perhaps entered the Guinness Book of having the world's largest Cabinet of Ministers during the Rajapaksa era. Some called it a Parliament of Ministers, for barring a few members whose numbers could be counted on one's fingers, the rest were either Cabinet Ministers, Deputy Ministers or State Ministers supplemented by an assortment of Monitoring MPs who were close to the powers that be. There is all likelyhood of the present Parliament too equaling or surpassing the score sheet or at least giving their predecessors a run for their money.

To begin with, it is difficult to comprehend why MPs receive a stipend for attending Parliament, which is their job anyway, and put there by the voters. In any establishment a salary increment for each member of the staff is decided by his/her output or performance. Here we have a situation where a 4000% increase in the allowance of an MP is granted across the board. The Government has only barely managed to avert an all out strike by Trade Unions by acceding to adding Rs. 2,500 out of the Rs. 10,000 allowance granted to public servants, to the basic salary. Is it not inviting another strike by such hare brained proposals, knowing full well how the public view the current crop of MPs for their capacity to amass ill gotten wealth? True, the increase will be confined only to a miniscule, compared to the vast army of public sector employees, and the Government could claim there would not be any drain on the exchequer.

But will not this brazen and obscene act of raising MPs allowance by a staggering 4000% show the Government, who rode to power on the promise of cutting down waste and profligacy, in poor light? What pray have our peoples' representative demonstrated by their words and deeds that they deserve this sheer extravagance? What has been their contribution over the years other than scaring off school children in the Public Gallery by their wild antics? The recent budget presentation in Parliament witnessed several members taking a deep snooze while in the last Parliament there were two fair members from the UPFA who failed to make even a single contribution to the Hansard, for the entire duration of their Parliamentary life. Thankfully, both members are no longer in Parliament (one of them rejected by the people while the other bidding adieu to politics, though not to the celluloid world), lest they too being made entitled to the whopping Rs. 20,000 'sitting' Allowance. One wonders how this extravagance would have been viewed by Ven. Maduluwawe Sobitha Thera, had he been alive.

Time was when MPs received a pittance as their allowance as opposed to a salary, with which they had to make do. Today it is agreed that their successors are not only a pampered lot but make use of their Parliament membership to engage in shady businesses and other means to amass ill gotten wealth. By adding to this OFFICIALLY the Government is clearly sending the message to the public that crime pays. True, MPs expenses have increased, as one member has pointed out. But so has everybody's. Thus, increasing the emoluments of MPs, disproportionate to what the public servants receive, is not going to make the Government popular. It was only the other day that Speaker Karu Jayasuriya informed the House that it costs Rs.4.6 million per hour to run Parliament. This includes the cost of five star meals indulged in by members, the menu of which was altered recently to include gourmet fare.

Our people's representatives certainly never had it so good. No wonder there is a big clamour to enter Parliament by all and sundry, with some even by resorting to murder. President Sirisena who has shown that he clearly abhors extravagance and is an individual of simple means should put a halt to this project. True, MPs 'sitting' allowance, now that this has been built into the system, needs to be revised. But this should be done with circumspection and not reach the point where the Yahapalanaya Government's own credibility will be at stake.


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