Foreign travel check on MPs

Daily News Editorial

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s edict restricting UNP ministers’ and MPs’ foreign travel will no doubt be endorsed by a majority of the public. The Premier has ordered that foreign travel of MPs not to exceed three times a year per Minister or MP. Needless to say most of these trips are mere jaunts, more often than not with family members in tow. There are two categories of foreign visits undertaken by politicians. There are trips sponsored by foreign embassies for so called study tours and workshops with all expenses paid. This was the case when a western embassy sponsored a series of foreign visits to Ministers and MPs some time ago to acquaint themselves with the federal system practised in the host country. Upon their return after enjoying the hospitality of that country certain MPs went onto lambaste the federal system which needless to state was in bad taste.

The other category of foreign trips undertaken by MPs are paid for by the tax payer and thus there should be an evaluation of the cost benefit factor of these trips (The exception being the foreign travel of the country’s Foreign Minister, although, we once had a Foreign Minister who was noted for his almost weekly visits abroad always accompanied by spouse and brood. That worthy also once undertook a visit to Iceland, a country far removed from Sri Lanka’s orbit).

Not just parliamentarians, even provincial councillors and members of local bodies undertake frequent foreign jaunts with tax payers’ money, the trips billed as study tours. Sometime ago members of a local government body took turns to visit a certain country to undertake a study on garbage management. Nobody in authority sought to inquire as to the outcome of this ‘study tour’ or whether the country gained by this exercise. Needless to say, if the combined knowledge of all these members who undertook this tour were put to use perhaps we would have been spared the tragedy that befell Meethotamulla. There were many such foreign trips being made by provincial councillors and LG members at the expense of the tax payer with no back up check to verify if they or the country, benefited by such trips. Ditto for our erstwhile people’s representatives in the august assembly of parliament some of whom are abroad even when important Bills are taken up for discussion, often related to the subject of their ministries. Hence, it is time that someone in authority cracked the whip and the Premier calling the riot act no doubt would come in a for praise, although some would wonder why MPs have to go abroad as much as three times a year – the ceiling imposed.

Of course there would be those who will contend that MPs who had entered parliament for the first time, particularly those representing the rural outbacks, should be given the opportunity for foreign travel, if not to widen their horizons, then at least to make up for lost opportunities. This perhaps is the basis followed by former President Mahinda Rajapaksa when he included in his ample entourage on foreign travel MPs and functionaries who possessed no clue as to the subject matter of these visits. There were businessmen, artistes and long term loyalists included in such tours, running up astronomical bills. How such inclusions brought any benefit to the country was anyone’s guess.

Be that as it may, while no one can begrudge foreign travel for ministers and MPs all such travel ought to bring some form of returns to the country to justify such visits. Ditto for provincial council and local government members. More often than not MPs go abroad to visit their children who are either studying or settled down with their families. This cannot be done at the expense of the tax payer.

WW back with a bang

National Freedom Front Leader and Joint Opposition stalwart Wimal Weerawansa, after lying low for a brief period following his release from remand prison on bail, has returned to his usual self, making high octane pronouncements and directing his fusillade at the government. Weerawansa in the meantime also displayed his soft side, telling reporters that he planned to visit the Welikada prison next week to meet with his prisoner colleagues who gave him moral support while behind bars. All this, while storm clouds were gathering within the National Freedom Front over Weerawansa, for the second time deciding to call of his ‘hunger strike’.

According to reports, at the politburo meeting of the NFF, some stalwarts had questioned the prudence of WW calling off the ‘hunger strike’, putting his own credibility and that of the party on the line. They of course are justified in their claim.

Mahatma Gandhi, popularly called Gandhi Ji used his famous satyagraha campaign of non violence to bring the mighty British Empire to heel. Local cardboard Ghandhis seems to have rendered this time honoured non violent form of protest to irrelevance by trying to imitate the great savant at every turn. That is why Weerawansa has even earned the ire of his own party men.