Politics, it is said, is the art of the possible. But some of our politicians are doing not just what is possible but what in any democracy worthy of its name would surely be considered impossible. Take the size of the present cabinet. Would President Mahinda Rajapakse or any other politician for that matter have dared to go to the electorate and told the people that they would seek an entry for this nation in the Guinness Book of Records by appointing a cabinet this size? The tragedy of this nation is that successors do not right the wrongs of their predecessors. They go one or more better and the result is the sorry mess in governance we see today. This is further aggravated by the impotent opposition we have elected to parliament who are doing anything but keeping the government on their toes.
That is why a letter that the CMU`s General Secretary, Bala Tampoe, whose fires have still not turned to ashes despite his 80-plus age, has written to the president will in certain matters raised strike a responsive chord among many of our readers for whose benefit we have published it today. Who will contest the assertion that last year`s rise in the Cost of Living Index by over 750 points was not entirely due to the rise in the world price of oil? As Tampoe has pointed out, those have actually declined appreciably from their peaks but, as he says, the cost of living continues to soar. ``This, in our view, is mainly due to the huge expenditure of public funds by your government, in pursuance of its military operations in the North and East, and in maintaining a huge cabinet of ministers. Most of them are in the cabinet, not to serve the people, but themselves.` Hear, hear.
While there will be many who will not fault the president or his government for the military expenditure without which the LTTE can never be subdued, there will be a multitude who will unreservedly agree about the size of the cabinet and the ladling of taxpayer funded gravy into overloaded ministerial plates. The opposition, particularly the UNP, of course, can hardly bleat on these matters because their record in office is just as sordid. The JVP which in this regard can claim to be the best of a bad lot sadly had no reservations in participating in the recent self-serving massive increase of MPs salaries. Have none of our MPs got the gumption to get up in parliament and ask how many people were on the presidential entourage to China and what it cost the taxpayer? If the UNP should ask that question, there`s plenty that can be thrown back at their faces about their own performance though not in terms of numbers. The behaviour of part of the press entourage then Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe took with him to New York not so long ago is a case in point. There were reports that they viewed blue films on their hotel room TVs at government expense!
The profligacy of politicians in the context of the big picture is often presented as small beer. If one percent of a billion is skimmed off, what does it matter, runs that argument. While ten million may be tidy for the skimmer, it`s small in terms of the total budget. In terms of the kind of money that has been spent on the senseless war, and will no doubt continue to be spent in the future, the expenditure on several thousand China-style junkets will be very small. It can be credibly argued, though debatably so, that ministerial profligacy that is talked about in affluent and middle class drawing rooms every day does not really bother the poor. It is people who aspire to ride luxurious limousines or travel abroad who resent politicians helping themselves to such perks at taxpayers` expense. Poor people wondering where their next meal is coming from or small farmers praying for a fair price for their crops to keep the wolf from the door hardly bother about such matters. They have other things to think about that are much more important in their lives. But that should not mean that national leaders should spend public money to pay off political debts to their supporters. The Island in its editorial yesterday boldly declared that the Colombo underworld is controlled by three politicians, but stopped short of naming them for legal reasons. The president would certainly know at whom the finger is being pointed. Can he, like many of his predecessors have done, continue to give patronage to undesirables who cannot even get themselves enough preference votes on any major party`s electoral list to enter parliament? The trouble is that the National List route is open to such people. The Parliamentary Select Committee on Electoral Reforms must take a long hard look at that institution. For the one Lakshman Kadirgamar who entered the legislature via that list, how many other deserving people have done that? A few maybe, but the majority not. At least one MP in parliament today on the UNP National List is now in the government!
The Mahinda Rajapakse government, whatever the UNP may say to keep up the morale of its members and supporters, is not in any danger of losing its legislative majority. The JVP, obviously, will not want an election. Without an arrangement with the SLFP/PA, they will certainly not be the third largest force in the legislature. Even the UNP defectors do not want the green party`s number in the House to dip below that of the red brothers. They don`t want the JVP to claim the leadership of the opposition which the Marxists, unless the whimpers now emanating from the UNP swell into a roar, will soon have de facto if not de jure. All that apart, the time has now come for the president with over one year in office under his belt to forget about cashing cheques for his friends and supporters and run the country in the best way possible for all its people-not just the Sinhalese or the SLFPers.