FM holding a lamp-post (Island Editorial)
Finance Minister (FM) Ravi Karunanayake is using statistics as a drunkard uses a lamppost—for support rather than illumination—as we recently pointed out in this space. He has used accident related statistics, provided by the police and the health authorities for the last two weeks, to claim that the benefits of unconscionable increases in fines for some traffic offences are already kicking in. He tells us there has been a discernible decrease in road mishaps since the announcement of the fine hikes.
If what the FM tells us is true, then there is no reason why the Road Development Authority (RDA) should take the trouble of repainting pedestrian crossings etc in white at an enormous cost to the public purse. Motorists, according to the FM, will behave hereafter in view of massive fines with or without road signs. They are so scared that they may see pedestrian crossings even where there are actually none! Moreover, all outfits tasked with ensuring road safety can now be dissolved forthwith because at the rate the government is increasing fines road mishaps will be a thing of the past before long!
The FM’s ‘fine’ method can be adopted to tackle other problems as well. Fines which are huge enough to send a chill down any crook’s spine can be introduced for offences such as bribery and corruption so that those social evils will disappear overnight. An exponential increase in fines for burglary, chain snatching, sexual crimes etc will help rid the country of those offences in next to no time.
As the incidence of an offence is in inverse proportion to the severity of punishment, according to the FM, the question is why the government does not seriously consider replacing the death penalty which is commuted to life imprisonment at present, with a huge fine to the tune of, say, one billion rupees, to minimise grave crimes. If fines are increased exponentially all round, nobody will want to break the law. But, there is bound to be a problem in such an eventuality. For, everybody will want to rob the Central Bank of treasury bonds because that is the only offence which does not carry any punishment according to yahapalanaya (good governance) currently being practised!
The FM and other UNP ministers have adroitly trapped President Maithripala Sirisena, who has undertaken to re-examine the wisdom of massive traffic fine hikes. Now that they have claimed the fine increases have already helped reduce road mishaps and the attendant deaths and disabilities, if the President, by any chance, intervenes to reduce the fines in response to protests against them, he will be seen to be a bad guy trying to scuttle the government’s ‘successful’ strategy to make roads safe.
Health Minister Rajitha Senaratne called for an increase in sugar price to bring down the extremely high national consumption of the sweet poison responsible for the high incidence of diabetes. But, the FM has, in his wisdom, reduced the sugar price. One can argue, using the FM’s logic pertaining to road accidents, that the government has sought to increase the incidence of diabetes with a sugar price reduction!
As Jeff points out in his cartoon today, the unprecedented fine hike may stand traffic policemen faced with pecuniary difficulties in good stead; the venal cops who have no qualms about having their palms oiled to let errant drivers off the hook may even be able to complete their half-built houses in record time or raise funds for dowries to marry off their daughters.
We also have a suggestion to raise the standards of Parliament, which has hit rock bottom as is public knowledge. Let massive fines be introduced for misbehaving in the House and absenteeism. We suggest that at least Rs. 1000,000 be imposed for the offence of exchanging blows, using unparliamentary language and causing affronts to others inside Parliament. MPs who protest in the well of the House can be fined at the rate of Rs. 500,000 each. If this is done the Speaker would be able to bring order out of chaos in the House in next to no time and have some peace of mind. This method should work; anyone who has doubts about its efficacy can ask the FM, who knows best.