Soon politicians who currently have a fetish for visiting the Maha Nayake Theras every now and then with media teams in tow to make a grand show of their meetings with the prelates will think twice before doing so. They may even stop going to Kandy altogether lest they should have a chance encounter with the theras. For, the Maha Nayakes have, of late, begun telling them what they are loath to hear. On Saturday, we reported that the Malwatte Maha Nayake Most Ven. Tibbatuwawe Sri Siddhartha Sumangala thera had impressed on the Central Province Governor Tikiri Kobbekaduwa the need for politicians to curtail vehicle use.
It is high time all the religious dignitaries and opinion leaders got together and told politicians with one voice that an immediate end be put to the on-going senseless waste of public funds. High ranking government officers, too, need to be asked to do likewise. They are no better than their political masters in abusing state vehicles. It was pointed out by none other than President Mahinda Rajapaksa himself at a meeting with media heads last week that during the April holidays this year the Nuwara Eliya town and its outskirts had been awash with government vehicles that had carried top state officials there for holidaying. Their heavy presence had been one main reason for the non-availability of rooms in hotels and guest houses for other visitors. Needless to say that it is the harried public who are finally made to pick up the tab for such profligacy.
The Sunday Divaina said yesterday the state fleet accounted for 40 per cent of fuel consumption in the country. As if that were not enough, the government issued a large number of duty free vehicle permits to certain categories of state employees thus causing thousands of more vehicles to be imported. They have constituted a drain on the country s foreign reserves and sent the national fuel bill up at a time the government is urging the public to cut down on fuel consumption! Most of those luxury vehicles are powered by diesel and their owners, too, will benefit from the so-called diesel subsidy!
What contributions have politicians of all hues made to the campaign to reduce the massive fuel bill that has taken a heavy toll of the economy? We don t see any. They are only urging the public to reduce consumption, which the latter are already doing due to unbearable fuel prices.
It is alleged that the government has ordered eight new super luxury vehicles obviously for the use of some politicians. How can a government that indulges in such wasteful expenditure on vehicle imports and fuel motivate the people to make sacrifices?
The people, especially the fixed income earners, are already going through hell and are without any means of tightening their belts further. Their frustration knows no bounds. It is no exaggeration that they feel like making use of the nutritional value of flabby political torsos fattened on public funds when they receive thumping water, electricity and telephone bills or go marketing. They have reached a stage where they have to skip a meal or two and do without some essential purchases.
The CEB has got something right for once. It has decided against the provision of power for public events free of charge. CEB Chairman Udayasiri Kariyawasam deserves public plaudits for his bold decision. We hope he won t buckle under political pressure. If political nincompoops want to boost their egos by holding public functions, let them pay for at least electricity without passing the cost on to the consumer already paying top dollar for power and energy.
The wisdom of the government in readjusting time which former President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga had changed in consultation with experts to save daylight stands questioned, given the present power crisis. Her move also had the blessings of the likes of the late Sir Arthur C. Clarke.
There are no quick-fix solutions to the present crisis and harebrained projects such as the proposal to reduce the number of school days by one per week are likely to be counter-productive in the long run, though they may look attractive to politicians seeking shortcuts. The only way to keep school vans off the road is to improve public transport and attract the public who are being fleeced by school van operators. Even if schools were to be held only on four days a week, as proposed, parents would be made to pay the same fees. They already pay vans even during school vacations! Private tuition centres, too, would make a killing by availing themselves of the extra holiday.
Political leaders must not only make sacrifices at this hour of crisis but they must also be seen to be doing so if they are desirous of motivating the people to follow suit. That was what the Bolivian President Evo Morales and his men did a few years ago. They took pay cuts in a bid to share the suffering of the Bolivian public . That is proper leadership!
All state functions save those of national significance must be suspended forthwith together with foreign jaunts of politicians. Why should occasions like the opening of a flyover built with public funds be turned into political events where asinine politicians find a captive audience to wax eloquent? Funds expended on the maintenance of political institutions like Parliament and the President, too, need to be slashed.
As for the Malwatte Maha Nayake thera s admonition to the governor, the suffering public, irrespective of their faiths, will say in unison, `Sadhu, sadhu, Sadhu!`