The revelation made by a former University don, that only 94 MPs, out of our 225 member legislature, have not passed their GCE O/L examinations will come as no surprise to many. Also the claim by Peradeniya University Ex-Chancellor Prof. M.O. A. De Zoysa that only 25 percent of our parliamentarians are graduates. Addressing the media on Tuesday the professor said; “Taxpayers’ money is being spent for the welfare of all MPs and a Rs. 2,500 Attendance Allowance is being paid to each member, along with luxury meals, for a single sitting.” The good professor, has, perhaps, been charitable and not mentioned the other perks, such as duty free vehicles, which our people's representatives dispose of no sooner they are delivered, raking in millions, nor the recent Rs. 100,000 allowance per month paid to each MP to refurbish their electoral offices, whatever that may mean.
What Prof. De Zoysa meant by making reference to the privileges enjoyed by our MPs is to make the point if all these are justified and whether the taxpayer in fact is getting value for his money. He went onto refer to the almost daily disruption of parliament sittings by at least two hours by the shenanigans of the Joint Opposition. He said; “The conduct of some of the senior members are disgusting. They may be senior, but they have not matured. They have been given front row seats to set an example to the juniors, but they themselves are the chief offenders”. The main thrust of the professor's argument is, the members who are lawmakers should conduct themselves exemplarily and be able to understand the contents of Bills, be familiar with Standing Orders and other parliamentary traditions. When 94 MPs have not passed their O/L’s, which is the basic requirement for the recruitment of a peon, in the state sector, can the people expect them(MPs) to be conversant with the contents of the volumes and tomes placed on their desks or that of the important Bills placed for the perusal of our lawmakers?
The Professor's contention assumes more serious proportions, given the Constitution making process now placed for the scrutiny of our MPs, all of whom have formed themselves into various Committees to decide on the best form of Constitution for the country. Will they be up to the task, given the deficiency in the grey matter of over one third of our lawmakers? As the professor queried, what is the quality of their contributions in parliament? Is it that the strong point in our supreme legislature is brawn, so much so that little time is left to discussed matters that require the faculties of brain, going by the frequent disruptions and fisticuffs in the House? What would be the position down the line? Given that the Provincial Councils and Pradeshiya Sabhas are mostly filled by the progeny, or siblings, of the present O/L failures, and these local bodies being the nursery of the next generation of parliamentarians, isn’t the situation going to get worse?
An academic’s concern
The concern expressed by Chairman of the University Grants Commission Prof. Mohan de Silva on the current boycott of academic activities in the state medical faculties and its impact on the creation of good doctors in the country no doubt will be shared by most, who wish for a sound health care system in the country. The Prof. also shared his concerns of the parents of the striking students, on the direction their education was heading and risk of young minds being manipulated by forces beyond the control of parents and the university authorities. With the Anti SAITM strike stretching to the unforeseeable future, what with the protagonists standing their ground, the ultimate result would be a stagnation in the creation doctors in this country and a blow to the ordinary public who are funding the education of these students.
Like the professor observed, unseen hands are manipulating these students and the parents and the university authorities are helpless by-standers. The powerful, well funded Anti-SAITM lobby, working to a political agenda, is not going to stop at this, but take forward their campaign into other realms. This will gradually snowball into an anti-government campaign reminiscent of the late 1980’s when students were manipulated by anarchic forces to rise against the government. It is regrettable that even some government ministers have taken cudgels on behalf of the agitators, at a time the matter is to be adjudicated by the Supreme Court, which will only serve to exacerbate the problem. The parents of these misled students should try to persuade their sons and daughters, who are spending their time on the streets, being subject to tear gas and baton charged, to change their minds and get back to lectures. After all, a majority of these students come from poor or middle class families and the parents have rested their hopes on the success of their children being doctors one day and change the fortunes of their families.