Palace Advisors

Daily News Editorial

Politicians, whichever party they belong to, have no qualms about spending public funds indiscriminately on their behalf, especially, on ego boosting exercises and the sky is the limit. Rulers representing both major political parties have some monument or other, a sports stadium, airport or port named after them, all of which were built by public funds. Not only that, some of them even use public funds for personal projects. Critics of former President Ranasinghe Premadasa held that the late leader’s Gam Udawa programme was meant to promote his image and that he used public funds to build a Piya Gama and Maugama named after his parents. The public are aware as to how the Rajapaksas spent millions of public funds to build a cenotaph to commemorate their long departed parents, in Hambantota. It was also revealed that public funds were spent even for an overseas stint at a prestigious Defence Academy of a young Rajapaksa. The list goes on.

It is hoped that with the establishment of the Right to Information Act the public will get an opportunity to ascertain the extent to which politicians had used public funds for uses other than that which directly benefited the public. The same goes for the squandering of public funds to reward relatives, friends, and lackeys of the rulers. We say this because it is being revealed that former President Mahinda Rajapaksa had spent over Rs. 90 million of public funds to pay the salaries of 196 “advisors”. State Minister Niroshan Perera replying to an Oral Question in Parliament on Tuesday, while naming four advisors currently serving President Sirisena, said there were no personal secretaries and only six coordinating secretaries in the employ of the President.

There is no argument that all leaders have their own choices for the post of ‘advisors’ and they are, needless to say, individuals who have won the confidence of the leader or those with close links. But there has to be a rationale for these appointments, since public funds are involved. Those functioning as ‘advisors’ should posses the ability and capacity to provide the right counsel to the ruler so that what would ensue from this advise would be beneficial to the country and its people.

But this certainly was not the case under Rajapaksa where “advisors” were a dime a dozen, a good majority of them with dubious credentials, their only qualifications being their obsequiousness and fawning servility to the powers that be. These “advisors” not only had the ear of the then President but also the run of the Temple Trees, with some of them even becoming more powerful than Ministers. It was plain to one and all in the know that these appointees had no inkling as to what was expected of them and occupied the post purely for the salary and other perks that included luxury vehicles. Rajapaksa had a good assortment of these ‘advisors’ who were repaid for their loyalty by the public purse. Among these “advisors” were a good many Bikkhus who were in the thick of Rajapaksa’s election campaigns in the past.

It is difficult to fathom what qualifications did a whole caboodle of Buddhist monks have to advise the former President who looked as if he did not need any advice on Buddhism. These ‘advisors’ were also seen among the throngs that comprised the delegations that accompanied Rajapaksa overseas and put up in expensive Seven Star hotels, their bills paid for by the public. Not just Buddhist clergy, there were ‘advisors’ representing all religions – some of them imposters- who had virtually pitched camp at Temple Trees. What counsel these men of the cloth offered Rajapaksa in spiritual guidance is difficult to comprehend when one considers the state repression, white van abductions, the murder of journalists etc. that were common at this time. Equally, what guidance had an oracle who doubled as an ‘advisor’ and paid for by the public had to offer the former President that would have positively impacted on people is hard to fathom since Rajapaksa himself was duped by this palace seer.

Be that as it may, the Yahapalanaya government should seriously consider the role of ‘advisors’ in its fold. They should be made productive or the post done away with. Only those with proven ability and professional and intellectual capacity in a particular subject, assigned to Ministries and government bodies dealing with that subject. The post of ‘advisor’, which bears significant stature within the ruling circles in the developed countries should not be devalued through the hiring of stooges, political rejects and sycophants. Above all, this post should not be made a refuge for jobs for the boys and gals. A means should also be sought for limiting the number of ‘advisors’ in government and criteria specified for the post of ‘advisor’. Fore long, the post of ‘advisor’ had been abused by all rulers to reward their friends, relatives and henchmen to earn a living, paid for by the public. Besides, a ruler who employs a large contingent of ‘advisors’ is not doing himself much credit and runs the risk of being called an incompetent.