The Elections Secretariat dishes out large sums of money to the police to remove unlawful posters, banners etc in the run-up to each and every election. It has allocated funds once again for that purpose as we reported yesterday. The legality of this kind of exercise cannot be contested but such expenditure gives rise to a serious question of morality. Money being thus wasted to clean an unholy mess that politicos create belongs to the poor people of this country.
The local government institutions are maintained at a massive cost to the public purse and it is their duty to keep areas under their jurisdiction clean. They must be made to remove posters and banners by using their own personnel, most of whom idle away the hours. The Colombo Municipal Council is terribly overstaffed and it is a crime to hire labourers to clean the city walls.
There has been a proposal from some of our irate readers that election posters be smeared with tar. This method is certainly easy and cost effective. But, it is sure to aggravate visual pollution in that given the zillions of posters at every nook and corner of the country, a tarring mission will leave all wayside walls, lamp posts, public conveniences etc raven black!
On the other hand, posters appear in ceaseless waves, day in day out and the police are not equal to the task of having all of them removed or tarred on a daily basis. Theirs is an exercise in futility. Some candidates are said to have had container loads of posters printed in India and brought here.
If the Elections Commissioner and the police are genuinely desirous of tackling the problem, they must implement the law properly. The display of posters and banners in unauthorised places amounts to a clear violation of the law. Before such unlawful material is removed, the candidates responsible must be dealt with legally. If people are punished for unauthorised parking and smoking in public, those who deface wayside walls and cause environmental pollution by pasting posters must also be made to pay for their offence.
President Mahinda Rajapaksa declared recently that the UPFA candidates who broke the law and antagonised the Elections Commissioner would be denied ministerial portfolios in the event of their election. If the President really means what he says which we doubt very much the Polls Chief could help downsize the next Cabinet in case of the UPFA`s victory in April, by submitting to the President a list of the UPFA candidates who violate the law by putting up posters etc.
The Ministry of Environment introduced a new tax on mobile phones claiming that the polluter had to pay for the disposal of electronic junk. A similar tax is called for on election posters as well so that their removal will not be a burden on the public. An alternative may be to increase the amount of money candidates are required to deposit with the Elections Department and to make deductions from the deposits of the errant for removing posters and the like.
However, if it is a lasting solution that we seek, the electoral system must be changed. The Proportional Representation is the root cause of this unholy mess. A district is too vast an area for a candidate to cover in his or her election campaign and the preferential vote has worsened the situation. The constituency-based representation with some MPs appointed on the basis of PR will greatly reduce the burden on candidates both in terms of electioneering and campaign costs. The elector will also have a representative responsible for his or her electorate.
It is hoped that the government will seriously consider implementing proposed electoral reforms at least after the April polls.