President Maithripala Sirisena is reported to have extolled Sri Lankans as a nation with unmatchable qualities. He has praised them for their generous contribution towards disaster relief. One cannot but agree with him on this score. Sri Lankans are generous even when there are no disasters. Today is Poson Poya Day, when they give away food at numerous danselas. They offer victuals to the needy and the super rich alike with compassion. But, the question is whether the same can be said about their representatives who are adept at only getting and forgetting.
Cartoon added by TW
The generosity of the public stands the rulers in good stead during disaster situations. In the immediate aftermath of catastrophes, people get together with media institutions to look after victims much to the relief of the government which does precious little to help the citizens in distress. That is why the Disaster Management Minister was able to stay overseas without rushing back during the recent floods and landslides; he came back leisurely to make a revelation; people had perished in disasters because they did not heed warnings! The government also gains from people’s generosity in that its tax revenue shoots up due to a sharp increase in the sale of goods distributed among disaster victims. Super market shelves get empty during disaster situations as people send truckloads of essential commodities to their fellow citizens crying out for help.
Politicians only make promises and conduct media shows by way of disaster relief. They take chopper rides over disaster-stricken areas with television crews in tow and pose for pictures wielding shovels or other such implements. We witnessed such boru shows in the aftermath of the Salawa and Meethotamulla disasters as well. People who lost their houses have not been compensated yet. So much for the government’s generosity!
In China, a few weeks ago, 45 persons including 17 state officials were jailed over a waste dump collapse which killed about 73 people in 2015. A government regulator committed suicide, fearing stringent punishment. That is the way politicians, bureaucrats and others who endanger the lives of people should be dealt with. The Chinese can now rest assured that their officials will not allow garbage dumps to collapse ever again. But, in this country, a frantic search for the unfortunate men, women and children buried alive in the Meethotamulla garbage avalanche was still on when the government unflinchingly presented a supplementary estimate to Parliament, seeking more than Rs. 300 mn to buy ministers super luxury vehicles in addition to the ones they were already using. The government did so following the Salawa disaster as well. Ministers’ comfort takes precedence over relief for the disaster victims! In any other country, people would have taken to the streets in protest against such callous disregard for the suffering of disaster victims and the criminal waste of public funds, but Sri Lankans not only acted with restraint but also relieved the government of the task of providing relief.
The President is right. Sri Lankans are generous to a fault. So, the government ought to appreciate their noble acts of selflessness in tangible terms. It should seriously consider curtailing its wasteful expenditure and easing people’s tax burden. Indirect taxes, which the government is thriving on, affect the ordinary public more than the rich. They must be reduced. Besides, the yahapalana leaders, who slumber during disasters, leaving the provision of relief to the public, ought to respect people’s right to vote. They must pluck up the courage to hold the local government polls without further delay so that the irate electors can exercise their franchise. Unless they do so forthwith the pent-up public resentment is sure to find expression in a massive protest vote and they will end up being the victims of a political disaster. There are clear signs of people’s patience wearing thin.