Leading by example? | Daily News

Leading by example?

One would have thought that Members of our Parliament, in addition to being lawmakers themselves, would be shining examples in the observation of the law to lesser minions.

However going by what is now being unraveled, our MPs too are found to be guilty of observing the law in the breach or more accurately, the health guidelines in force against the spread of the deadly Coronavirus.

A senior Cabinet Minister, a State Minister and a frontline member of the main Opposition have already tested positive for COVID-19 and a desperate search is on to trace their first contacts and colleagues in Parliament who may have been in close touch with them during the last few days.

True, leaders of several countries had contracted the Coronavirus, including US President Donald Trump and UK PM Boris Johnson. However, these are countries where the pandemic had made deep invasive inroads. But here in Sri Lanka, the contagion is by no means widespread and was well under control after the first outbreak. If not for the careless acts of a few individuals, the Coronavirus could have been almost eliminated here.

Now we have the same carelessness displayed by those who should have known better than anybody else, to the extent of creating yet another cluster like that in Minuwangoda and Peliyagoda, of all places in Parliament, the repository of the law.

The media yesterday were full of accounts of the alleged callous disregard displayed by some MPs where the distance rule had been thrown out of the window and facemasks altogether dispensed with. In fact Chief Opposition Whip Lakshman Kiriella took up the cudgels with SLMC leader Rauff Hakeem for not wearing a mask in Parliament while another MP, it is alleged, had celebrated his birthday in Parliament by feeding the first piece of the birthday cake to all invitees.

The Parliament has a couple of medical professionals who could have easily offered advice to the MPs if they were not prepared to listen to the advice of the medical experts who have time and again enunciated the need for adhering to health guidelines if the virus is to be contained. We do not know what happened to the idea floated recently of changing the seating arrangements in Parliament and to have members follow proceedings via video technology from a different location. This could certainly have been a sound move where the distance rule too could have been observed to the letter.

The present seating arrangement does not cater to this requirement and things could only get worse if the status quo is to remain with the MPs’ cluster growing to dire proportions. From all accounts, the spread of COVID-19 during the last few days has reached alarming levels with areas and locations in the provinces hitherto almost untouched by the virus such as Moneragala and Badulla falling victim. Therefore no effort should be spared in reining in its spread even if this calls for drastic measures.

The danger here is that with the complete reopening of the country for normal business and offices and workplaces now employing their full staff there may well be a tendency to drop the guard after the initial cautionary approach wears off. We saw this happen in the brief hiatus after the initial outbreak was seen off.

Secretary General of Parliament Dhammika Dasanayake has stated that House proceedings will continue as usual and that the entire Parliament building had been disinfected and staff subjected to PCR tests. Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena is taking the health crisis within the House seriously indicating that the maximum precautions will be taken to protect the MPs and Parliament staff from the virus. All this goes to indicate that one cannot be too careful in guarding against the pandemic which is claiming an increasing number of lives.

The vaccine is still two months away from arriving here as indicated by the authorities and at least until such time all restrictions and guidelines in force should be adhered to by the public. In this regard the idea mooted to deploy special police teams to nab those flouting the health guidelines is indeed commendable.

Police Spokesman DIG Ajith Rohana said that since the areas hitherto under lockdown in Colombo were now freed there was the possibility of people gathering in large numbers and hence there is a need for maintaining a tight control. But the example has to come from the top. If our Parliamentarians fail to adhere to the restrictions, it is futile to expect the public to be serious.

A group of Opposition MPs was seen recently demonstrating near the Borella Cemetery against the cremation of Muslims dying from Coronavirus, with the agitators almost cheek by jowl, giving a tuppence for the distance rule. This could hardly be called showing the way to the others on how to prevent the spread of the pandemic. If this is done in the open, the situation inside Parliament is anybody's guess.