A common ruse employed by a pickpocket in trying to escape a mob giving him the chase, calling for others` help to catch him, is to deceive the onlookers by repeating the pursuers` cry, `Pickpocket! Pickpocket!`, and run for dear life, holding on to the stolen wallet. Some government ministers seem to have taken a leaf out of pickpockets` book in a bid to escape the public wrath over the jumbo cabinet.
On Tuesday, Minister and General Secretary of the SLFP Maithripala Sirisena said he was ashamed of the over-sized cabinet of President Mahinda Rajapakse. In our editorial on Wednesday, Masses aren`t asses, Mr. Sirisena!, we dwelt on his hypocrisy and asked him to resign from the cabinet, if he was really ashamed of being a member thereof.
Now we hear that another minister?a state minister, to be exact?has adopted the pickpockets` ruse. Minister Sripathi Sooriyaarachchi has said the jumbo cabinet is disgraceful. We couldn`t agree with him more on what he has said. But, many a pair of shoes is worn out between what a politician says and what he really does?the distance between them being so great. He is obviously trying to run with the people and hunt with the government. Had he been offered a cabinet post, would he have refused it? We don`t think so. For, he who has accepted a state minister post would definitely have grabbed a cabinet portfolio, if offered. He, we believe, is being like the proverbial fox that found a bunch of grapes too sour, as it was not within its reach.
Mr. Sooriaarachchi must go the whole hog in his protest against the jumbo cabinet, which he says he is ashamed of. He must register his protest with the President himself by resigning from his post and calling on the cabinet ministers to follow suit.
President Rajapakse has done two wrongs. Firstly, he has burdened the public with a huge cabinet to fortify his political future. There are only a few non-ministers in the government group and they, too, might have to be appointed ministers, if they threaten to cross over to the Opposition. Secondly, he has put some of his party men to shame by appointing them ministers. He must be fair by Messrs Sirisena and Sooriaarachchi. Our hearts are bleeding for those two honourable men who are greatly embarrassed by the President`s arbitrary act.
Poor Sooriaarachchi must be thinking that the President has deliberately subjected him to ridicule by appointing him a minister, as he has ruffled the presidential feathers by siding with the dissident group of the SLFP which is said to have the blessings of former President Kumaratunga. The President must be magnanimous enough to relieve Mr. Sooriaarachchi of the burden of being a minister.
Come on, Mr. Sooriaarachchi, you have made the same mistake as Minister Sirisena! You have taken the masses for asses or a herd of water buffaloes. Those who returned you and Minister Sirisena to Parliament may fall into that category but the people are, by and large, not foolish enough to believe your protestations! `Much of what men paint themselves,` said Edwin A. Robinson, `would blister in the light of what they are.` How true!
The elephantine cabinet, no doubt, cannot be justified on any grounds. Its sheer size is a monument to the greed of politicians who want to aggrandise themselves and feather their nests, to hell with the people. The late President Premadasa, who found himself in the impeachment soup, sought a way out by making every Tom, Dick and Harry a minister. President Kumaratunga made every Tom, Dick, Harry and Sirisena a minister and President Rajapakse has gone a step further and appointed every Tom, Dick, Harry, Sirisena and Sooriaarchchi a minister. A future President with a fragile government might have to appoint a Parliament of ministers. However, it is unbecoming of any leader to seek solutions to his or her political problems at public expense.
It is not only the size of the cabinet that has become a problem. The size of Parliament and the number of all elected representatives in the country?over 4,000 of them in Parliament, the Provincial Councils and the Local Government bodies?are also a massive burden on a mendicant state like this. The country can well afford to shed a lot of political waste fat. If the fact that the House is frequently without quorum is any indication, then most Parliamentarians are doing nothing but helping themselves to heavily subsidised food and pocketing the sitting allowance. Why should the people suffer to maintain such a large number of them? Messrs Sirisena and Sooriaarachchi, the knights in shining armour fighting for the people, ought to advocate that Parliament be downsized.
The duo should also demand that the pay hikes for MPs, ministers and the President (165 per cent, 110 per cent and 300 per cent respectively) be scrapped with immediate effect. Since they are ashamed of the jumbo cabinet, they must also be ashamed of jumbo pay hikes, if we are to take them seriously.
Hannah Arendt (German-born American Political Philosopher) may have had the people like Sirisena and Sooriarachchi in mind, when he said four decades ago:
What makes it so plausible to assume that hypocrisy is the vice of vices is that integrity can indeed exist under the cover of all other vices except this one. Only crime and the criminal, it is true, confront us with the perplexity of radical evil; but only the hypocrite is really rotten to the core.