Vanity, futility and public ire



Wednesday 7th February, 2024

The fifth session of the current Parliament is scheduled to commence today. There was absolutely no need for Parliament to be prorogued, last month. The Constitution provides for the prorogation of Parliament, but it should be done for good reason. In this country, the Heads of State prorogue Parliament, according to their whims and fancies.

President Ranil Wickremesinghe is reported to have decreed that the inauguration of the new parliamentary session today be devoid of traditional pomp and circumstance. He has only made a virtue of necessity. He has apparently sought to escape the opprobrium of the public, who are struggling to keep the wolf from the door. Nothing exasperates the people more than to see public funds being wasted on useless ceremonies. The incumbent government is notorious for reckless extravagance with people’s money.

The SJB is of the view that the latest prorogation of Parliament was intended to derail the probes conducted by parliamentary committees, most of which stand dissolved and will have to be reconstituted. This argument holds water. The possibility of the government planning to have some of its stooges appointed as the heads of those committees cannot be ruled out.

The silver lining of the dark cloud of tax increases is that the Sri Lankan public is now very concerned about wasteful government expenditure, the misappropriation of state funds, and corruption, which takes its toll on state revenue and hinders economic growth. They have learnt the hard way that there is no such thing as government money; the funds that a government is tasked with managing belong to the people, who have a right to know how their money is spent.

Wasteful expenditure continues unabated despite the current economic crisis. There is no dearth of official ceremonies. VIP junkets, domestic and foreign, cost taxpayers an arm and a leg. The government had better reduce its expenditure to a bare minimum at least for its own sake. The patience of the public, who are paying through the nose to maintain a bunch of unproductive, corrupt politicians is wearing thin. Unless the government mends its ways and frugally manages public funds instead of spending them to ensure that its leaders and their kith and king live the high life, it may face another popular uprising, which will be as destructive as the second wave of a tsunami. Let the state employees who strike work, demanding pay hikes during the country’s worst-ever economic crisis be warned that they are also testing the people’s patience.

Both the government and the Opposition ought to bear in mind that public faith in the national legislature is at a very low ebb. There are some decent men and women in the current Parliament, but protesters demand that all 225 MPs go home. This kind of public antipathy towards the legislature and elected representatives augurs ill for democracy; ultra-radical elements with a history of violence are busy tapping public anger to advance their sinister agendas.

Parliamentary sittings cost the public as much as Rs. 10 million a day, according to Chief Government Whip and Minister Prasanna Ranatunga. More often than not, they are inquorate or even stormy due to unruly behaviour of most MPs on both sides of the House. Worse, allegations abound that Bills are rushed through Parliament without amendments recommended by the Supreme Court being incorporated into them. The need for the members of the current Parliament to carry out their legislative duties and functions diligently and make a serious effort to arrest the erosion of public faith in the legislature cannot be overstated.