Cashew nuts and Murunga leaves

Island Editorial

Political leaders are going for one another’s jugular over various issues in Colombo. They thunder in Parliament and elsewhere, claiming to be the saviours of the nation, which has come to such a pass that the need has arisen for it to be saved from its saviours.

The Joint Opposition (JO) held a demonstration near the National Police Commission office, yesterday, calling for action against those responsible for distributing packets of spiked milk among its supporters during its Janabala protest in Colombo on Sept. 05. The UNP finds itself in an unenviable position, struggling hard to defend IGP Pujith Jayasundera vis-à-vis the JO’s call for his removal. Its leader waxes eloquent at internal fora, where global issues are addressed. The SLFP is all at sea, and its leader is busy condemning the poor quality of airline food.

None of the political leaders have addressed the plight of nearly one million people badly hit by drought conditions in 16 districts. Jaffna is the worst affected with nearly 400,000 people struggling for survival. The Northern Provincial Council is busy campaigning for more power without using the powers and funds already available for the benefit of the people crying out for help.

Drought victims have suffered crop losses and are without food and water. The government has released some funds and directed the authorities responsible for disaster management to attend to the needs of the victims, but it is only scratching the surface of the problem, we reckon.

A heart-rending story has been reported from Kahatagasdigiliya; a farmer and his wife have survived on boiled Murunga leaves for days. The situation must be more or less the same in other drought hit areas. People are unable to dull the pangs of hunger; water levels of major reservoirs are fast receding, and unless rains occur within the next few days, the situation will take a turn for the worse.

What have the ‘saviours’ of the nation done to ameliorate the suffering of the poor people who have enabled them to live in clover by voting for them and paying taxes? They must go to their constituencies and be with their electors in distress. All the political parties, represented in Parliament, have village level branches, which spring into action during elections. Why can’t the political leaders use these networks to provide relief to the people? They can easily raise funds by mobilising their members in other parts of the country. They spend billions of rupees on their election campaigns, don’t they?

With the money the JO spent on its recent protest, which has now been forgotten, relief could have been provided to all its members in the drought-hit areas. Former President Mahinda Rajapaksa should give serious thought to helping the poor who back him. The UNP is spending colossal amounts of public funds on tamashas in the name of rural development though it used to flay the Rajapaksa government for such extravagance. If this kind of wasteful expenditure is curtailed, allocation of funds for relief operations can be substantially increased. This is something that should receive the attention of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe.

President Maithripala Sirisena should stop worrying about the poor quality of cashew nuts served on flights and take cognizance of the fact that some people are surviving on Murunga leaves. Let the TNA and SLMC leaders also be urged to go to the North and the East, where they troll for votes, and look after their supporters in trouble. Hambantota, Moneragala and Ampara are among the drought affected districts, where the JVP can deploy its cadres for relief work.

Parliament has frequent inquorate sessions. The Speaker has said one sitting of the House costs the taxpayers as much as Rs. 4.5 million. Since not even 20 MPs are present in the House on most days, the party leaders should consider reducing the number of parliamentary sessions so that the funds so saved can be utilised for providing relief to the needy. Most of all, the so-called people’s representatives must be made to go to their constituencies and share the suffering of their voters and live on boiled Murunga leaves at least for a couple of days.

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