Many are those who lament the absence of consensual politics in this country. Politicians, blinded by partisan interests, are always at daggers drawn. More often than not they behave like a pack of canines near a butcher's shop fighting over bones. There is no end to their raucous brawls. They are consumed with such acrimony that it is not seldom that they come to blows even in Parliament, where a group of school children once broke down, frightened out of their wits by an un-parliamentary scrap below.
The past few months have seen turmoil in the House over the new Secretary General of Parliament (SGP). The appointment of an acting SGP has made the Opposition go at the government hammer and tongs almost on a daily basis. Recently, the Speaker had to suspend sittings twice on the same day as the Opposition staged a vehement protest against SGP's presence.
After the hurly burly was done, the House Committee met over an increase in MPs fuel allowance. Lo and behold, there was no division! Those who had been at one another's jugular moments back had sunk their differences in no time!
We thought the government was prepared to share the suffering of the people. It was only the other day that President Mahinda Rajapaksa declared that his government would slash its expenditure drastically. Rathu Sahodarayas are on the warpath demanding that the government economise in view of the high cost of living aggravated by soaring oil prices. They have made an issue of the jumbo Cabinet––quite rightly so––and called upon the government to reduce it to 30 members and utilise the savings to enhance workers' salaries. The UNP is holding street demonstrations against high fuel prices. We were treated to bullock cart gimmicks and toot-toot protests against high fuel prices, a few weeks ago. But, these parties had no qualms about helping themselves to public funds to keep themselves mobile in comfort.
So, this has been the response of parliamentarians to skyrocketing oil prices! We thought the government would say no to a demand for an increase in MPs fuel allowance in keeping with its much advertised decision to curtail expenditure; the UNP would stick to its alternative mode of transport with the help of the bovine and the Rathu Sahodarayas would take public transport in a bid to pledge solidarity with the suffering masses. That was what people's representatives did in Bolivia after the election of Evo Morales as President, as we have pointed out in these columns previously.
Morales and his team took pay cuts saying that they wanted to make a contribution towards generating employment in areas affected by a dearth of workers. Little as the amount so saved may have been, that symbolic gesture doubtlessly went a long way as the Bolivian people knew their leaders cared for them. It is a pity that the Rathu Sahodarayas who are making a public display of their Che caps, Che T-shirts and Che beards have turned a blind eye to the exemplary conduct of their counterparts in Bolivia, where the legendary Che Guevara breathed his last. Che, who devoted his life to the cause of the poor and died for them, would spin in his grave, if he knew a group here claiming to follow him was getting duty free cars and free fuel from the State! (Some of them have more than one vehicle each, as we saw in the aftermath of their split recently.)
Not many parliamentarians––of both the ruling party and the Opposition––have security threats as such. (Terrorists won't harm many politicians, even if they get a chance to do so, as those characters are a real liability to the country.) Why should the people be taxed more to grant free fuel to all MPs to travel in air-conditioned comfort?
They must be made to take either bus or train, if they cannot afford to move about in their super luxury vehicles purchased on duty free permits and soft loans. There is no harm in their mingling with the public once in a way and running the same risks as their electors. Those worthies declare from political platforms that they are prepared even to die for the people, don't they? So, they must be given an opportunity to translate their words into deeds. Then only will they realise the need to develop public transport.
If only parliamentarians cooperated with one another on other issues as well for the common good. They couldn't come together to help people even after the worst ever disaster struck the country––tsunami 2004. Initially, they held hands in public and lit candles. But, thereafter, they resumed their fights on frivolous matters at the expense of disaster victims.
Pecuniary concerns always transcend political differences. We are yet to come across a present-day politician who has refused to be party to the on-going grand theft of public funds under various pretexts. They may shout themselves hoarse in public against one another but they are as thick as thieves when it comes to feathering their nests.
Has any politician at least made an issue of the massive waste of food at the Parliament canteen, while tens of thousands of people are suffering without food? Never! They, irrespective of their political hues, have a gala time, to hell with the masses.
What a shame!