Not done, Sir | Daily News

Not done, Sir

The Sri Lankan public, as a whole, would have reacted with shock at the demand reportedly made by the main Opposition Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB) for a revision a.k.a. increase in their MPs’ allowances, at a time the country is reeling under a deadly pandemic, depleting the State’s financial resources in its fight to contain the contagion.

According to these newspaper reports attributed to Chief Opposition Whip Lakshman Kiriella, the MPs apparently need an additional allowance to discharge their duties and obligations to the public brought about by the Coronavirus. This at a time the Government has put all measures in place to combat the pandemic including the maximum allocation of financial resources. What more can the 50 Member strong SJB (following the recent defections) could do that a Government which commands a two thirds majority cannot, is difficult to comprehend.

The Opposition demand also comes at a time the Lankan public is virtually under siege, finding it extremely difficult to obtain even their bare necessities, amidst the best efforts of the Government, hemmed in from all sides due to the restrictions imposed post-COVID 19.

It is also a time when the working public is compelled to settle for half salaries – some without any - due to the collapse of business, industry and commercial activity following the pandemic’s crippling effect on the economy.

If the Opposition indeed follows through with this demand, it would not endear them to the public especially at a time Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa and others of the SJB had cast themselves as saviours of the people whilst alleging neglect on the part of the Government.

It is the same Opposition, while continuing to berate the Government on its Coronavirus response, which at the same time demands a revision in the allowances for their MPs in the midst of the worst health crisis to hit the country. Isn’t this a contradiction of sorts whereby all available funds need to be utilized to overcome the emergency including that which might have gone to swell the already burgeoning kitty of MPs on all sides?

Isn’t the demand for enhanced allowances at a time like this when the nation is in peril also a demonstration of the Opposition’s disregard for the thousands of victims of the Coronavirus who are languishing in hospitals and quarantine centres and the public as a whole whose servants they profess to be?

Besides, what good will come out of the Opposition’s request for an extra allowance to its MPs seemingly to attend to affairs relating to the Coronavirus when the full machinery of the Government is in full operation as is evident to all, not only in providing all medical care and quarantine facilities to the victims but also the delivery of medicine and essentials to those under siege due to curfews and lockdowns. One should not overlook the fact that the Government spends Rs. 60 million per day for the Anti-Coronavirus operations especially for the PCR tests.

Extra allowances or additional emoluments should not be allowed to all MPs on both sides of the divide to be padded up to their already unconscionable perks and privileges that have drawn the ire of the public, at least until we overcome this crisis. It is no exaggeration to say that our people’s representatives are already a pampered lot, from duty free vehicle permits to subsidized meals in Parliament.

Worryingly, many Members do not have an elementary grasp of Parliamentary procedures, the norms governing their conduct, not to mention any insights into the Bills, legislative enactments and draft proposals etc. that come before them. The foul language that is being frequently used and the free for all in the Well of the House that had school children in the Public Gallery screaming with terror during the previous Parliament, just about sums up the situation. Moreover, only three MPs had attended more than 400 sittings out of 414 in that Parliament though we hope things will be better in this Parliament, once the Coronavirus restrictions on travel and social distancing fade away.

The nature of the perks and privileges enjoyed by MPs are more or less public knowledge and their inexhaustible appetite for more is demonstrated by the latest demand by the Opposition. This is not a moment for demanding more, it is a moment when all MPs must do their bit to stem the tide of the Coronavirus. We wonder how many MPs took the time to educate their supporters on the need for following health guidelines or actually helped the downtrodden masses by way of giving dry ration packs etc. Be it Government or Opposition, each MP is a leader and a potential candidate for even the highest office in the country some day. They should lead by example and show empathy with the people at this crucial juncture.