Towards a new political culture | Daily News

Towards a new political culture

The declaration by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe that the new Cabinet of Ministers will forgo their Ministerial salaries and other perks would be welcomed by the public who only have contempt for the vulgar ostentation of our MPs at public expense. Speaking in Parliament, the Premier said that due to the need to cut down on public expenses, the Ministers will not draw their salary entitlements as Ministers and also a limit would be placed on their benefits. The disproportionate incomes of Ministers and MPs, their luxury lifestyles and the lavish indulgence of their progeny and kith and kin plus large scale corruption were among the major reasons for the current protest movement and the demand for a system change.

In that context the aragalaya has paid dividends. It has opened the eyes of all politicians to reality, as to how they are being viewed by the public and the need for introspection with a view to mending their ways. This is also evident by the move by SLPP legislators who say they will not partake of subsidized meals in the Parliament canteen but pay the market price for their meals.

The MPs should go one step further and give up drawing the allowance paid for attending Parliament. Didn't the voters elect them to do just that? Isn't this reward enough? Are public servants (which MPs certainly are) elsewhere, being paid to attend their official duties?

Steps should also be taken to halt the practice of family members of Ministers being appointed as their personal staff. It was reported that Rs. 40 million is spent each year to pay the salaries of wives, sons, daughters etc, of Ministers and MPs, who act as their secretaries etc. This at a time of rampant unemployment and youth forming long lines before passport offices to take the earliest flight out of the country. The Prime Minister should also demand that all MPs declare their assets. Only a handful of MPs have done this so far. The earnings of MPs should be monitored on a yearly basis and all disproportionate assets called to account and where convincing explanations as to their acquisitions are not forthcoming the MP concerned should be brought before the law.

All MPs should also be subject to a strict code of ethics and those who misbehave and act contrary to accepted norms and practices should be dealt with under the Standing Orders. Presently, the Standing Orders governing MPs’ conduct are there only in name bringing into ridicule the whole Parliamentary system. All foreign visits of Ministers for official purposes should be stopped given the dollar crisis and the economic slump, except where extremely urgent. Our envoys overseas can deal with matters that are not of immediate importance.

The Premier also said that all escort vehicles of Ministers would be withdrawn. This is another aspect that incurred the wrath of the public. This was evident recently when a helicopter carrying a VIP politician which took off from the vicinity of a long diesel queue was booed by the much harried crowds. Besides, with the acute fuel crisis, escort vehicles for politicians are now out of the question. Politicians should not enter the game if they are chicken hearted and need security guards and escorts for their protection. In that respect the fuel crisis also has helped to cut down to size ego driven VIPs who are chiefly responsible for the current mess the country is in.

Premier Wickremesinghe should prevail on his Ministers to do away with all ostentation, and acts of flagrancy. Public anger against politicians has reached fever pitch as seen from the destruction caused to the homes of politicians and VIPs in the recent violence. The common thinking appears to be that politicians have failed the people who are clamouring for a system change devoid of politicians in any new set up. Hence, the politicians have to tread cautiously and their every move from now on should be to douse seething public anger. The new Ministers who were sworn-in yesterday should get down to business right away and attend to the shortcomings in the affected sectors. The shortage of essential medicines at most State hospitals should be addressed as a matter of urgency. So are the issues of the LP Gas and fuel shortage. Prompt steps too should be taken to deal with the runaway inflation that has caused the Cost of Living to soar to unimaginable heights. The new Ministers should not waste time visiting Temples and other places of worship. It is hoped that the embargo placed on politicians by the Chief Prelate of Malwatte Chapter is still in force.

“Auspicious time work starting” ceremonies at new Ministry offices too should be scrapped. The people are in no mood for ceremonies at present. All they want is food on their tables.

It is time for a whole new political culture to emerge out of the ruins – a culture that will win back public trust that politicians have lost for themselves due to their monumental follies over the years.

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