When whirlybirds fall
Close on the heels of the crash-landing of a Sri Lanka Air Force (SLAF) chopper in a flood-hit area due to a technical defect comes the news that India has rushed in essential spare parts needed for the SLAF fleet to sustain rescue and relief operations. One is intrigued! Has the SLAF gone the same way as the state-owned bus service, which is also badly in need of spare parts? Why did the government wait until the last moment to procure the essential spares?
It may be recalled that the SLAF lacked spares between 2001 and 2004 as well. The then UNP-led UNF administration was preoccupied with a fragile peace process to the neglect of the urgent needs of the armed forces. A similar situation seems to be prevailing at present. It is the bounden duty of the government to ensure that the armed forces are fully equipped and ready to meet any eventuality.
Cartoon from Daily Mirror
The question is whether the government would have awakened to the need for spares for the SLAF craft but for the recent disasters which warranted the deployment of several whirlybirds including the one which crash-landed. The government should have allocated funds for procuring spares for the SLAF craft instead of allowing public funds to be wasted on super luxury vehicles for ministers. President Maithripala Sirisena is reported to have put on hold a supplementary estimate seeking funds for ministerial vehicles and received praise from some quarters for doing so. But, our position is that he doesn’t deserve any praise. He shouldn’t have allowed any supplementary estimate, seeking funds for buying ministers new vehicles, to be presented to Parliament. Or, he should have cancelled the one at issue once and for all and taken stern action to put an end to his government’s profligacy in keeping with his election pledges.
There are enough and more luxury vehicles for government politicians including the political rejects within the Cabinet ranks. New vehicles must not be bought to boost their egos. As the late Anura Bandaranaike once put it very eloquently in Parliament most of them had been riding rickety bicycles in flip-flops before entering politics; today, they are living in the lap of luxury thanks to the stupidity of their voters who are gluttons for punishment, maintaining them in return for virtually nothing. It must be impressed on these politicians sans an iota of shame that there is a limit to sponging off the public.
The yahapalana leaders secured a popular mandate, promising to be different from their immediate predecessors who had indulged in shameful extravagance at the expense of the public. They promised frugal fiscal management and austere measures, among other things, and undertook to grant the much-needed economic relief to the masses. But, nothing of the sort has happened and the ruling politicians are busy feathering their nests and making up for lost time. One cannot but ask whether they, at their back, hear ‘time’s winged chariot hurrying near’.
The inexcusable delay in procuring spares for the SLAF shows the government has got its priorities mixed up. When the recent disasters occurred it did not know what had hit it. Then it found itself in the same predicament as a person struggling and splashing in swirling floodwaters. By the time it responded at last, others had already commenced relief operations! But for the electronic media outfits which swung into action most disaster victims would have been without any relief. While the armed forces personnel were risking their lives to carry out rescue operations politicians were in the refuge of Colombo!
Let the yahapalana government, which keeps signalling left and turning right, so to speak, be urged to get its priorities right and rationalise its expenditure lest it should come crashing down like a poorly maintained chopper.