Sale of vehicle permits
A lot has been written and spoken recently about parliamentarians selling their duty free vehicles and pocketing enormous profits. The culprits belong to both the government and the Opposition. Interestingly, the MPs fight many political battles until they are red in tooth and claw. There are no rules of engagement as such when they joust for power. But, they are as thick as thieves—both literally and figuratively—where their perks and privileges are concerned.
UPFA MP and prominent member of the Joint Opposition (JO), Bandula Gunawardena, has sought to defend the MPs who have sold their duty free permits for as much as Rs. 25 million each. His line of thinking is that MPs have to spend colossal amounts of money on their election campaigns and, therefore, they have to raise funds through such means. He has apparently laid the blame for that at the grave of JRJ, who introduced the proportional representation system, under which candidates have to campaign throughout an electoral district. So, JRJ is the culprit! Politically speaking, the Old Fox sinned, but no other Sri Lankan leader has been more sinned against than he.
Cartoon from internet
Huge campaign expenditure is indeed a problem that needs to be solved through constitutional reforms. But, on no grounds can it be cited in extenuation of raising funds through illegal and unethical means. There are some politicians who win elections under the PR system without throwing money around.
Finance Minister Ravi Karunanayake, asked at a media briefing on Thursday, to comment on the sale of MPs car permits, took a swipe at journalists. The media which made an issue of MPs’ vehicles permits was mum on motorcycles and cars to journalists, he said. He said a mouthful! One has to put his own house in order before faulting others for wrongdoing.
Successive governments have pampered journalists by giving them houses, soft loans, dosh, opportunity to moonlight in the state sector, vehicles, laptops, mobile phones etc. They have done so not out of any love for the Fourth Estate; they have sought to pollute the media and deprive it of its integrity and credibility. They have succeeded in their endeavour to a considerable extent.
Incumbent Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, when he was in the Opposition, lambasted a group of journalists who had stooped so low as to receive laptop computers from the then President Mahinda Rajapaksa at Temple Trees. He accused journalists of attacking his ‘top (meaning pate) from Mahinda’s ‘lap’. (Scribes loyal to Wickremesinghe were also among the ‘beneficiaries’.) Ironically, his UNP-led government continues with what may be dubbed goodies-for-journos programme; it has recently gifted dozens of tablet PCs to journalists, we are told.
Minister Karunanayake, however, needs to be told that two wrongs do not make a right. The government claims to be cash-strapped when the public demands relief. MPs sell their vehicle permits at the expense of the state coffers; those who buy them pay less duty on super luxury vehicles, as is obvious. So, let him be urged to make use of Budget 2017 to put an end to the practice of MPs and public officials selling their duty free vehicle permits.
The Finance Minister will do the media a big favour if he could ensure that the incumbent government discontinues the practice of bribing journalists. He ought to take up this issue at the Cabinet for the sake of the media. Will he also publish the names of MPs who have sold their vehicle permits and the journalists who have received bribes both in cash and kind from governments?
As for the media personnel the moral of the story is: ‘A journo who sells his or her soul to a politico has no escape.’