Yahapalanaya in overdrive – II

Island Editorial

The yahapalana regime apparently has no sense of shame. No sooner had the Public Finance Committee (PFC) suspended a government move to spend Rs. 329 million on super luxury vehicles for ministers another supplementary estimate was presented to Parliament seeking funds to buy vehicles for some more politicians. This time around the beneficiaries are the members of the Constituent Assembly steering committee. (Are they going to steer new vehicles instead of the constitution making process?)

The PFC has called for information about the conditions of the vehicles currently being used by ministers who have asked for new ones. It seems to have responded to public criticism of the government’s profligacy.

The township of Salawa was still burning due to last year’s devastating blast of the army’s central armoury when the yahapalana government unflinchingly presented a supplementary estimate to the tune of over one billion rupees for vehicles for ministers. The fact that thousands of people who had lost their houses and shops were crying out for help to rebuild their lives did not cause any concern to the government. The supplementary estimate, currently suspended by the PFC, came in the aftermath of the Meethtoamulla garbage dump collapse, which left more than 30 people dead. The callous disregard of the government leaders for the unbearable suffering of disaster victims is shocking to say the least. As we argued in a previous comment, not even Nero was so inconsiderate. He only fiddled while Rome was burning according to historians and did not order chariots to be paid for with public funds.

One hopes that the aforesaid suspension of the supplementary estimate is not a government ruse to deflect mounting public criticism. One should not be so optimistic as to believe that funds won’t be allocated for buying ministers their dream vehicles. If experience is anything to go by, then the yahapalana grandees will have the last laugh.

If only the PFC had withheld the supplementary estimates seeking funds for vehicles on previous occasions as well! One of the huge cars to be bought for a defeated-candidate-turned minister is to cost the taxpaying public as much as Rs. 70 million. With the money spent on that vehicle alone the housing problem of many disaster victims could have been solved.

No more vehicles should be imported for ministers. The public must not be made to pay for cars that tickle politicians’ fancy. If the government thinks some of the greedy ministers within its ranks may defect unless their nests are sufficiently feathered, that is its problem. Wasting public funds to keep them happy is antithetical to good governance.

Ministers of the Rajapaksa Cabinet were known for their expensive tastes though they are today pontificating on the virtues of frugality. It may be recalled that one of the main planks of the yahapalana platform was that the members of the Rajapaksa regime were living off the fat of the land with fleets of super luxury vehicles at their disposal while the masses were starving. They used a pithy slogan to turn public opinion against the Rajapaksa administration—unta lamborghini; janathavata badagini—lamborghini for the rulers and pangs of hunger for people. Immediately after the 2015 change of government the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government saw to it that the vehicles used by the members of the Rajapaksa regime were returned immediately. Noncompliance led to prosecutions. Why can’t the yahapalana politicians who came to power, banging the drum for frugal fiscal management use those high-priced sedans and SUVs which are good enough for the use of even the First World political leaders?

There has been a severe erosion of public faith in the national legislature which has come to be synonymous with waste, dereliction of duty, absenteeism and indiscipline over the years. The uphill task before the yahapalana government is to reverse the trend. Wasting public funds according to the whims and fancies of ministers is certainly not the way to set about it. Having failed to make good on most of its promises, the government should at least cut down on its wasteful expenditure. That is the least it can do to prevent public resentment from spilling over onto streets.