Grandpa’s Supermoon and Limousines for Legislators

K K S Perera (Daily Mirror)

On Ill Full Moon Day my neighbour, a retired school head, famously known as ‘…… Sir’, by his Mathematics students was on the road outside his home along with his two little grand children. They were gazing at the Eastern sky from 7.00pm, with clouds blocking the visibility. The former staunch Rajapaksa supporter turned ‘Vote for Hansaya’ in January 2015, was gifted with a little knowledge of astronomy too. On that evening he was ready with his old camera and other paraphernalia to capture the ‘magnificent huge object’ and measure the size and brightness of it.

The SUPER MOON, a term coined by astrologer, Richard Nolle, in 1979, according to our Grandpa had been closest to Earth since January 26, 1948, and occurs when a Full Moon coincides with its closest approach to Earth. He was enlightening not only the two kids but a few other interested bye-standers as well. The long awaited arrival of the spectacular object that they were about to sight once in a life time will look 14 per cent bigger and, imagine, 30 per cent brighter, he claimed. By 9.30pm, the blowing was kind enough to our man, as it moved the clouds exposing his DIVINE IDOL.

Supermoon -how big and brilliant was it?

“Seeya, you told us a big lie; it is the same old moon as we see every Poya Day. There is no difference” The kids sprinted back home.

Handen Haal!, Free Tabs and ‘Water Festival’ by the Board

Our benevolent man, who did not charge a fee from not-so-well-to-do for his Maths classes, was disappointed but not saddened—being quite used to Sri Lankan way of life; though he anticipated sensational things to happen—the change as speculated, in the Moon as well as the Government, jeopardizing all high hopes and aspirations, but some change, a concession of the ‘January 8’.

Is it only the politicians who put people to sleep with their ‘moon and star’ Fairy tales? Remember, the Handen Haal, in 1970, and Free Tabs now, [of course, with 25% hike on internet charges!] No, even Astronomers do it leisurely. They did hide the fact that the 14% increase in size is a gradual process happening over a period, but emulated the politician taking the moon gazers for a solid ride on a sacred day for the media to go to town with it. The actual change in size and brightness compared to that of previous month’s should be very much less than 14 %, and 30%, which is an insignificant difference that our naked eyes cannot grasp, especially the ‘kids’; an analogous to difference in Bad and good G…. , though in real terms some change occurred.

Water-man, like the 30% brighter Supermoon, chose the date to announce his bill jack-up by 30%, possibly to cover the cost of 500 back-door political appointments at Rs. 35,000 pm to his already over-staffed, cash-strapped ‘reservoir’ in Ratmalana, and Rs. 54 billion borrowed from local banks at 9 to 11% interest for new projects, an extra cost of Rs. 210 million plus Rs. 5000 million respectively.

Cars for Ministers 50 years ago

Glancing through pages in a 1966 November Hansard the other day at National Archives, I came across a question asked by an opposition member on Vehicles given to Ministers by the Dudley Senanayake Government [1965-70]. It reminded me of the previous day’s Daily Mirror news item [16th,] ,

‘The JVP Leader speaking at Ravaya’s 30th anniversary held at BMICH, ‘…that the government had failed to meet the aspirations of those who had voted the Rajapaksas out of office; that massive spending of public funds on politicians couldn’t be condoned under any circumstances. Turning towards President Sirisena and Premier Wickremesinghe, Dissanayake alleged that the cash-strapped government was planning to spend approximately 2,436 mn to hire luxury vehicles for 58 MPs. “How could this be compatible with Yahapalana promises?” the JVPer asked. Dissanayake pointed out that the taxpayer had to pay approximately Rs. 700,000 for a month for each MP and at the end of the term, the vehicles would have to be returned to the company which owned them.’

Now, Let me quote directly from the Hansard, of which every word is printable unlike in today’s—

Neale de Alwis –Baddegama – Asked the Minister of Finance: Will he table a list of names of Ministers and Parliamentary Secretaries [Dep. Min.; as they were known five decades ago] who have been allocated Government cars for their use, with reg. no., and make …..?
Mr Wimalasena – I tabled the answer. ‘There has been no allocation of cars for exclusive use to Ministers and PS, excepting the case of the PM. However, Ministry and departmental cars are used as and when required by the Ministers and PS. for official travelling, the cars stated below being generally used by the ministers and the PS.’

1. Hon Dudley Senanayake PM- 4 sri 8631 – Humber Hawk
2. Hon U B Wanninayake – Finance . 4 sri 7568 – Peugeot 404
3. Hon M Thiruchelvam – Local Gov. 4 sri 8148 -Volksvagen
4. Hon IMRA Iriyagolla— Education 4 sri 7528 -Humber
5. Hon W Dahanayake — Home Affairs 4 sri 8640 -Ford Cortina
6. Hon M D Banda — Agriculture & F. 4 sri 8431 -Peugeot 404
7. Hon M D H Jayawardene-Health 4 sri 8865 -Peugeot 404
8. P C Imbulana Dep Min Agriculture 4 sri 8459 -Holden
–HANSARD—6th November 1966: Folio 1170-1172

Image result for Peugeot 404=1966

There were 18 Cabinet Ministers and 16- Deputies. A permanent allocation was only for the PM and six other ministers for official use only— only Semi-luxury car in the answer is the PM’s Humber Hawk— Peugeot 404 (Pics from internet by TW) and Volksvagen are ordinary middle class autos. Other 11 Ministers used their private vehicles for official work! The eleven included, Philip Gunawardena, J R Jayaewardene and R Premadasa. Image result for humber hawk cars -1966

The government in June this year presented a Supplementary Estimate for Rs. 1.175 billion seeking the approval to purchase 32 vehicles for 30 ministers, deputy and state ministers. Regional development Minister Sarath Fonseka – Rs. 70 million for one car [the list is too long for the article] This is in addition to the top conditioned luxury vehicles already in the respective minister’s fleet. Compare the two lists 50 years apart.

The economy is in dire straits, some of our people are yet suffering from catastrophic effects of unresolved Kelani Floods, Landslides in the Aranayake; Kosgama Army ammunition dump explosions. Most of them are living in temporary tents. Cancer Hospital, Maharagama needed a PET Scan Machine for the early diagnosis of cancer; a media institution campaigned to collect Rs. 200 million from the General Public for this purpose.

The ‘United 225’ an Example to World’s Parliamentarians?

It is not only UNP and a section of SLFP led by President that is united—whenever a proposal or a bill is presented for enhancement of Parliamentarians perks; they stand up together in one voice. MPs of each and every party will join with no divisions. Nobody will oppose it. Now they are getting Rs.130,000 per month plus free accommodation, water & electicity, free passes in transport, five free telephones , foreign trips, Car Permits worth 25 to 30 Rs. Million and some earning millions illegally. Special allowance paid for attending sessions. Most of them waste time and public money. Each member gets paid for five personal staff.

The perks our Legislators enjoy are mostly unaccounted for. Mr Wijewardene, former Deputy Governor at Central Bank says, it cost the taxpayer around Rs. Six million for a month to maintain each Minister in a cabinet of 53.

Who decides in England?

Legislators in UK no longer will be in charge of fixing their own emoluments– helping themselves with a bigger spoon like we do here. An independent body known as Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA) was established in 2010 to recommend, monitor and control all aspects of MPs’ payments and income. The IPSA created to clean up the British Parliament by making better oversight on MPs’ private use of public money including the budgetary allocation for electorates. Until then, like in Sri Lanka parliament always decided on its own salaries.

The nation is facing one of the most severe economic disasters since independence, thanks to fiscal management of the past and present regimes. Our politicians regardless of the above fact are spending tax payer’s money and money borrowed from funding agencies [IMF] to serve themselves with luxury vehicles worth billions of rupees. President Sirisena and Prime Minister Wickremesingha had promised that, they would clean up all the corruptions, nepotism, unfairness, carried out by Rajapaksa regime, and take steps to recover the loot as well. All financial, social and economic corruptions and irregularities that took place under previous government are taking place to a somewhat lesser degree under the Maithri-Ranil regime too.

Let us now entrust ourselves to endeavour together for a more wide-ranging, truly democratic nation with equal rights and opportunities for all sections of our people.

Dear President, You may appoint a IPSA-Sri Lanka with full powers to handle all the emoluments of our VAT drinking legislators without allowing them to get-together and fleece the poor VAT payer. It will make my neighbour, ‘….. Sir’ a happy man, after all he voted for Hansaya irrespective of his party loyalties.

TW was disappointed to see Ranil defending MPs’ salaries, perks, etc on the parliament floor on Friday.   These fellows are entitled for duty-free tyres and spare parts, too.