If any voter thinks that of over seven thousand odd candidates in the parliamentary fray, there is at least a single person who seeks political office, driven by altruism and love for the masses, he or she should make a beeline for the psychiatrist s couch before exercising his or her franchise. All those ambitious men and women are engaged in a frantic scramble for power, throwing as they do a great deal of money around, because politics is the best business which yields returns disproportionate to investment, with power to rise above the law to boot. Deprive politicians of an opportunity to line their pocket at public expense and be more equal than others before the law and they will leave politics posthaste.
Opposition and UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe has promised to probe the assets of his parliamentarians to be elected on April 8 as well as those of their kith and kin annually. The assets that his MPs and their near and dear ones fail to account for will be confiscated, he has said. We cannot but praise him for his pledge, though it is doubtful whether he really means what he says and whether he will be able to carry out his promise even if he really wants to.
First of all, let the UNP leader make his candidates declare their assets and liabilities to the public presently. It is not only the Elections Commissioner and the religious dignitaries who should have access to their asset declarations but also the voting public who really matter at elections. Candidates spend millions of rupees on expensive advertising campaigns and therefore certainly have ways and means of revealing their assets to the people as part of their propaganda campaigns if they have nothing to hide.
We hear from some UNP stalwarts that a wealthy government minister who even did not possess a bicycle when he entered politics has become filthy rich. That the government ministers, their progeny, siblings and cronies have made money at our expense is fairly well known but we would like to know whether it was bicycles or cars that the present-day affluent UNP politicians had before they took to politics. How they amassed their wealth too needs to be divulged for the UNP to have a moral right to be critical of the ill-gotten wealth of government worthies, who must be probed.
Likewise, the UNP leader ought to counter some serious allegations of financial misappropriation in his party. Two prominent UNP defectors, S. B. Dissanayake and Johnston Fernando, have accused the UNP leadership of having bankrupted the party which, they say, is not even in a position to settle telephone and electricity bills at its headquarters, Sirikotha. Former UNP ministers Dissanayake and Fernando were also the party s National Organiser and trade union chief respectively. So, their accusations cannot be brushed aside simply because they have switched their allegiance to the government. They claim that the UNP receives billions of rupees for elections from various sources but only a fraction of those funds is expended and the balance siphoned off. They say that the UNP Working Committee is kept in the dark about the management of party funds.
Therefore, while UNP leader Wickremesinghe s pledge to probe the assets of his parliamentarians and their kith and kin is welcome, it behoves him to counter the allegations of financial irregularities in his own party. It is not only the assets of politicians and their relatives that need to be probed but also those of their cronies who have built business empires allegedly with party funds. Politicians also maintain offshore accounts taking refuge in banking secrecy and how to probe them is the question.
Charity, they say, begins at home!