Our dream parliament
Would the next Parliament be better than the last one? Some people may ask themselves this question in the run-up to the April 8 parliamentary polls. Que Sera Sera….We do not know whether we will have a better parliament as we have only a Hobson's choice; we have got to reshuffle the same pack of jokers. However, we can say one thing for sure. The next Parliament will not be worse than the previous ones we have had to put up with.
President Mahinda Rajapaksa has said while stumping the hills recently that he needed a parliament that would talk less and work more. The executive presidency may be too powerful but it cannot function without control over parliament. The president cannot fly with one wing as we saw from 2001 to 2004. The incumbent president has raised public expectations as never before and delivering his promises requires a parliament which is not only strong but also efficient. Why he is campaigning so hard to retain power in the legislature with an enhanced majority is understandable.
However, it is not only strength or efficiency that we expect of parliament.
Successive parliaments have abused their privileged position for the benefit of their members who make common cause with even the devil if that is to their advantage. They have been helping themselves to public funds shamelessly. MPs are, for all intents and purposes, public officers as they get paid for whatever little work they do. While the State employees have to work for decades until they reach the stipulated retirement age to qualify for a meagre pension, MPs and the members of their personal staff who are in most cases their near and dear ones, get their pensions upon the completion of only five years of ‘service’. Each and every MP is entitled to a duty free vehicle permit every five years, soft loans and a plethora of other perks which have been the main attraction in politics. They are also given to turning a dirty penny even at the expense of public interest.
Before doing anything else, MPs have to attend parliament, for which they are elected and paid with public funds. More often than not, one has the quorum bell ringing incessantly in Parliament as MPs scoot away even during important debates. Sometimes, ministers and ordinary MPs billed to speak go missing and the House has to adjourn prematurely. But, they get paid whether they are present or absent. What would happen to an ordinary public servant if he or she does likewise and gets caught? He or she will be immediately interdicted pending an inquiry and sacked, if found guilty.
Parliament, which had to be reconvened to extend the Emergency regulations, has sat only once so far since its dissolution on Feb. 8 and it will sit once again early next month for the same purpose before the polls. But, MPs will get their salaries and perks for two months! They are like the unscrupulous school van drivers who have to be paid in full even during school vacations.
Parliament makes a hue and cry from time to time about corruption in other State institutions. It has rightly exposed many a crooked deal in its COPE and Public Accounts Committee (PAC) reports. But, the physician does not want to heal himself! It has turned a blind eye to Auditor General's reports highlighting irregularities under its roof.
Time was when it was a treat to listen to parliamentary debates in which titans clashed in a gentlemanly manner. Today, debates have given way to slanging matches and fisticuffs. The political heavyweights of yore who used to adorn the national legislature would spin in their graves if they knew what was happening today.
Volumes could be written about the rotten Parliament but we do not wish to waste paper and ink.
We need a parliament with MPs who safeguard the national interest; desist from plundering public wealth; carry out their fiduciary and other duties efficiently without being swayed by sinister influences, both internal and external; maintain transparency in all their affairs, refrain from abusing their privileged position to rise above the law and from betraying the trust voters repose in them and, above all, conduct themselves in a civilised manner without scaring away school children in the public gallery.
We must be dreaming!