It is indeed too late. But better late than never, goes the saying. President Mahinda Rajapaksa has given strict instructions to the Treasury to curtail the funds allocated for ceremonies and other propaganda purposes and to give utmost priority only for development and welfare programmes benefiting a larger number of people.
It may be recalled that similar instructions had been given in the past by former presidents too. But there was little evidence of such instructions being carried out strictly. Therefore, ensuring that these instructions are strictly followed is as important as issuing them.
It is a common criticism in this country that opening of even a public convenience involves a big ceremony with politicians gracing the occasion invariably accompanied by their retinues of officers and bodyguards. More often than not the place is decorated complete with portraits of the officiating politician prominently displayed. A tea party or a tamasha often follows. All these image-building exercises are done at the expense of the taxpayers. The scale of this type of ceremonial opening, project launching, foundation laying and other similar events increases in several folds depending on the position of the officiating chief guest.
Look at the cities and towns today and see how huge cutouts, posters, banners and other items of propaganda for ambitious politicians have spoiled the environment. The type of picture one often sees today is the one portraying President Rajapaksa with a smiling politician placed very close to the president. These portraits obviously are put up by ambitious politicians for retaining their positions or aspiring for higher office. These propaganda gimmicks are not apparently financed from public funds. But they are sponsored by scheming businessmen and unscrupulous persons who expect to get returns for their services in good measure. In fact, President Rajapaksa, some time ago, expressed disgust over the way in which his picture is displayed in cutouts and posters.
When the state spends for these extravaganzas and wasteful propaganda, it is clearly unpardonable. When the expenditure is met by interested parties, it is not less objectionable because such assistance offered leads to fraud, corruption and abuse of power. It is to gain advantage over other competitors that these persons offer such support to politicians. The politicians so assisted invariably are under obligation to them. They are compelled to overlook whatever wrongs and illegalities the donors indulge in.
It is unimaginable that politicians would at once deviate from these customary practices. The standard of our politicians being what it is, they cannot be depended on to mend their ways. As instructed by the President, the Treasury officials have to strictly control the allocations made for these purposes. At the same time the laws already there in the statute book relating to these matters have to be faithfully enforced and new laws have to be framed to meet the new requirements.
The President has correctly instructed the Treasury Secretary and other officials to minimise wastage when allocating funds. They are also asked to adhere to proper management policies in a disciplined manner and to monitor the process on a regular basis. The President has also stressed that they should strictly adhere to tender procedures when using private advertising firms for publicity campaigns of the government and to use that process only for essential matters.
In the allocation of funds for various development projects, the Treasury has been advised to carefully consider the importance and the extent of benefits that could be gained from the programmes. As mentioned by the President there has been much criticism from parliamentarians as well as the general public against projects that bring no benefit to the country. Some projects obviously are designed for image building for politicians.
Another area where some review is necessary is the issue of providing arrangements and other facilities, particularly to former presidents of the country and their families. This issue has come to the fore following the Supreme Court decision to reduce former President Chandrika Kumaratunga`s security personnel and curtail some of the facilities provided to her. Responding to this decision, the former president has queried why some widows of former presidents are being given 12 security personnel for their safety while her security staff has been reduced to six. So, a review of this issue is also necessary.