Various issues such as unkind cuts in former President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s security, postmortems on May Day rallies and a government attempt to tame trade unions have eclipsed the latest supplementary estimate Parliament approved to the tune of Rs. 330 million for ministerial vehicles. No sooner had the township of Salawa been destroyed by the Army’s Central Armoury blast last year than the government demonstrated its callous disregard for people’s suffering by presenting a supplementary estimate seeking more than Rs. 1 billion for super luxury vehicles to keep ministers happy. The disaster victims have since been demanding compensation which the yahapalana administration promised. Out of sheer desperation, they have threatened legal action against the government.
This year, Parliament has so far allocated more than Rs. 1 billion for super luxury vehicles for ministers and their deputies. The latest one for Rs. 330 million was passed on May 05, within less than one month of the Meethotamulla garbage dump tragedy. The survivors are crying out for financial assistance to rebuild their lives and hundreds of others, still living in the disaster-stricken area, fear another collapse of the garbage mountain.
Why can’t the government worthies who came to power, promising to practise austerity, use the dozens of luxury vehicles that former Minister Wimal Weerawansa is accused of having misused under the previous regime? There were also fleets of flashy vehicles at the disposal of other ministers of the Rajapaksa government and the present administration had all of them returned after the 2015 change of government. Those vehicles can also be used by the ministers of the yahapalana government if they are desirous of putting an end to the deplorable practice of wasting public funds on super luxury vehicles for politicians.
The Rajapaksa government was notorious for what is popularly known as rathagaaya (excessive desire for travelling in luxury vehicles). That was one of the issues the yahapalana leaders flogged very effectively to turn public opinion against the previous regime. They claimed that the members of the ruling clan were using Lamborghinis etc. The onus is on them to trace those vehicles and auction them at the Galle Face Green (GFG) and utilise the proceeds therefrom to provide relief to disaster victims. In 1994, Chandrika Kumaratunga vowed to have the fleets of vehicles the UNP MPs and ministers were using seized and auctioned at the GFG immediately after forming an SLFP-led government. But, nothing of the sort happened after she captured power.
The sanctimonious political leaders who live in clover while asking the masses to tighten their belts ought to watch the BBC feature on Mexican Ambassador to India, Melba Pria, (Pic googled and added by TW)travelling in a three wheeler in New Delhi. She has put the diplomats and political leaders of the developing world to shame! We are not suggesting that our political grandees settle for tuk-tuks, but they can use the existing super luxury vehicles without wasting the much-needed forex on new ones.
Meanwhile, grand preparations have been made for this year’s Vesak celebrations which begin today. Political and religious leaders should have called upon the public to scale down the Vesak celebrations and channel funds so saved to help disaster victims. The Ministry of Ports and Shipping built what it described as the world’s tallest Christmas tree last December despite criticism even from some members of the clergy. But, surprisingly, it did not help shore up the collapsing garbage dump at Meethotamulla.
Huge, colourful thoranas have come up in many parts of the country, depicting various Jathaka stories. There is no need to highlight the suffering of Patachara or Kisa Gothami this year; people have witnessed the agony of the Meethotamulla residents whose loved ones were buried alive.
Tearing into those who struck work the other day, President Maithripala Sirisena has said it is unbecoming of doctors to resort to work stoppages and aggravate the suffering of the sick during the month of Vesak. He may have struck a responsive chord with those who frowned on the doctors’ strike. It will be interesting to know what he thinks of Parliament passing billions of rupees for ministerial vehicles while disaster victims are demanding long overdue compensation.