There was more evidence this week of what the people of this country have known for a long time. That politicians in this country consider themselves above the law and unashamedly go about abusing the privileges that they enjoy as MPs.
First there was the news that State Minister of Urban Development and Housing Arundika Fernando had intervened to secure the release of a Chinese national who had landed at the BIA and attempted to enter the country on a forged passport and misbehaved with immigration officials when they tried to deport him. No action was taken against Fernando for his interference into a matter that only immigration officials are tasked with.
This was followed days later by the interception of Puttalam District All Ceylon Makkal Congress MP Ali Sabri Raheem who was taken into custody at the BIA with 3.5 kgs of undeclared gold and mobile phones. He was released after he paid a fine of Rs. 7.5 million and had the seized goods confiscated.
Both these incidents which took place within the course of the past week reinforces the public perception that politicians can get away with anything and everything while for the common man who plucks a coconut from a neighbour’s garden could land in prison for several weeks.
In Sri Lanka’s political pecking order, Parliamentarians hold the most privileged position followed by those in the PC and Local Authorities. Usually those who make their entry into politics at the local government levels graduate to provincial level and then make it to Parliament, but the rule does not apply to those who have the privilege of coming from politically powerful and well- connected families and finding a direct ticket to Parliament. The Proportional Representation (PR) system has long been blamed for many undesirable people getting elected to Parliament and to other elected bodies and this is true to a great extent. In the 2018 Local Government election, there was a major swing in favour of the newly formed Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) and many elected were far from suitable to hold elected office.
In the 2020 parliamentary election, much of the same was repeated and among those elected from the SLPP are many who do not deserve to be called “Honourable Members” given the lack of decorum and dignity in their actions and words.
Both Arundika Fernando and Ali Rahim Sabri are part of the bigger problem that this country faces in politics today. They take for granted the powers and privileges granted to them by law.
Diplomatic passports, duty free vehicle permits, overseas tours are some of the privileges one enjoys as a MP and these are given in good faith so that MPs conduct themselves in a way that the public can look up to them and have faith in them to make the right decisions in public interest but politicians once elected, by and large only know to serve themselves and their cronies and remember the public only when the next election gets announced.
No one is holding their breath for the political parties that Fernando or Sabri belong to take any disciplinary action against them. They might even be promoted and given a better position within their parties or in government for their notoriety. After all, we are yet to see any action against MPs for causing damage to parliament property, for running around with pistols, for threatening public officials and many other illegal acts that would land another person in jail.
Any which way they become Members of Parliament (MPs), elected or appointed, once they are sworn in, they have a bounden duty to uphold the constitution. We can only hope that MPs take their job seriously and stop abusing the privileges that come with holding high office.