Cost-cuts: first step of building a nation

Yahapalanaya, or Good Governance, is a catchphrase to attract voters. The people voted for the principles of good governance outlined in the election manifesto. While a good portion of the yahapalana promises has been implemented, a substantial number is yet to be fulfilled.

While the masses are eagerly waiting for the elected lawmakers to pay sufficient attention to the issues faced by the people of the country, it is unfortunate that some lawmakers seem to think that the top priority must be given to their own privileges, perks and benefits.

In the last meeting of the Cabinet of Ministers, two attempts to get the Cabinet approval to grant benefits to Members of Parliament and former members of Provincial Councils were stopped due to strong opposition from President Maithripala Sirisena.

In May this year, Home Affairs, Provincial Council and Local Government Minister Vajira Abeywardane submitted a Cabinet memorandum to grant a monthly allowance of Rs. 200,000 to 23 MPs who are working as the heads of the District Development Councils (DDC). The President opposed this move and pointed out that the MPs were already getting over Rs. 400,000 per month as pay and allowances. Furthermore, he said that the proposed DDCs have not been activated.

The moment the DDCs come into effect with the implementation of the Gamperaliya and Enterprise Sri Lanka programmes, Minister Abeywardane was on his feet at the Cabinet Meeting on September 10 with his proposal to pay additional Rs. 200,000 per month to the MPs. President Sirisena objected to the Cabinet paper once again, saying this was not the time for such payment.

Undeterred by the rejection, the Home Affairs, Provincial Councils and Local Government Minister came up with another proposal to give a bonus to lawmakers. This time it was not for Members of Parliament, but former Members of Provincial Councils. Vajira Abeywardane’s Cabinet memorandum sought to give duty-free vehicle permits to the former members of the provincial council. The Cabinet memorandum sought to grant this facility to 421 former PC members.

Fortunately for the taxpayers of the country, this proposal was also shelved due to strong objection from President Sirisena and Finance Minister Mangala Samaraweera.

Cabinet memorandum

The Cabinet memorandum sought to grant approval for the members of the now-defunct seven provincial councils and the functioning Uva Provincial Councils to import vehicles valued USD 35,000 each under concessionary duty-free terms. This would have cost Rs. 627 million to the Treasury.

Speaking in favour of the proposal, Housing, Construction and Cultural Affairs Minister Sajith Premadasa said all the parliamentarians received such permits, and therefore it should be given to the provincial councillors as well. However, Minister Samaraweera responded saying the issuance of such permits to the MPs should also be stopped then.

In the current Parliament, all 225 MPs have imported luxury vehicles using duty-free permits and it was reported more than 100 of them had sold their permits for import duty-free vehicles.

Some time back, there was a proposal to import the most luxurious vehicles for ministers, when the farmers of the country were facing a disastrous flood. In a bid to cut down excessive expenditure, President Sirisena instructed to cancel all vehicle imports for ministers in that year. The import of luxury vehicles for ministers and MPs have been a strong point of debate among the public for over a year as legislators face public outcry over their decisions to purchase expensive vehicles. The issue came up when the Parliament took up the debate on a supplementary estimate, which sought approval to spend more than Rs. 360 million to purchase vehicles for some ministers and renovate official residences of others. The debate took place amid heavy rains wreaking havoc in many parts of the country that season.

The vehicle budget consisted of Rs. 154 million to purchase new vehicles for the Defence Ministry, Rs. 120 million for vehicles for the Finance Ministry, Rs. 43 million to purchase a vehicle for the Rural Economy Deputy Minister and Rs. 16 million to purchase a vehicle for the Development Strategies and International Trade Minister.

Provincial Council system

The government provides each Cabinet, deputy and state minister with an official vehicle and two other vehicles as well as a vehicle permit. In addition, vehicles are also provided to the personal secretary, media secretary, the two coordinating secretaries and public relations officer of every minister. President Sirisena at least stopped the import of these vehicles during that year.

There is a strong estimation in the country that a substantial number of Parliamentarians are not suitable to be honourable representatives of the people. There is also a growing opinion that the Provincial Council system is a white elephant, which is of least productivity and unnecessary high expenditure.

Under these circumstances, the two Cabinet papers to issue duty-free vehicle permits to former PC members and salary hike to MPs came up at a time when the people are complaining about bread price, high transport costs and increasing Cost of Living and other issues that require priority attention. Undoubtedly, the people will praise the stern action taken by the President and Finance Minister to turn down these two ostensibly unjustifiable Cabinet memorandums.



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