Bonanza for MPs: Architects of current govt.demand austerity measures


By Shamindra Ferdinando

The National Movement for Social Justice (NMSJ) and Purawesi Balaya yesterday said the Parliament should explain recent decision to sharply increase allowances given to members.

Those struggling to make ends meet have a right to know what was going on in parliament, NMSJ convenor Prof. Sarath Wijesooriya and co-convenor of Purawesi Balaya Saman Ratnapriya told The Island.

Both organisations backed Maithripala Sirisena’s candidature at the last presidential election and actively campaigned against those loyal to former President Mahinda Rajapaksa at the parliamentary elections last August.

They were responding to media exposure of a unanimous consensus among political parties on a range of allowances to members, including Rs 75,000 to maintain an office.

The head of the Sinhala department, University of Colombo Prof. Wijesooriya said that he couldn’t comprehend parliament deciding on such extravagant spending against the backdrop of the UNP, SLFP, JVP as well as the Joint Opposition agreeing that the national economy was in mega crisis. He urged parliament to issue a detailed statement in respect of perks and privileges received by them.

Ven Maduluwawe Sobitha’s successor said that the media had revealed those who were present at a party leaders’ meeting where the decision to enhance allowances was taken.

Among those present were Speaker Karu Jayasuriya, Deputy Speaker Thilanga Sumathipala, Deputy Chairman of Committees Selvam Adaikkalanathan, Leader of the House Lakshman Kiriella, Leader of the Opposition R Sampanthan, Chief Government Whip Gayantha Karunatileka, Chief Opposition Whip Anura Kumara Dissanayake, Ministers Mahinda Samarasinghe, Dr Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe, MPs Dinesh Gunawardena, Douglas Devananda, Shanthi Sriskandarasa, MA Sumanthiran, Secretary General of Parliament Dhammika Dassanayake and Deputy Secretary General Neil Iddawela.

The outspoken activist said political parties should be ashamed of what he called unfair and arbitrary decisions. The party leaders had obviously forgotten the parliament being warned of the country needing IMF assistance to overcome the impending economic crisis, Prof. Wijesooriya said.

In accordance with the party leaders’ decision MPs will be paid Rs 75,000 each to maintain an office in his or her constituency. All members will receive a monthly allowance of Rs 50,000 each for telephone, internet and overseas calls. It was also agreed to pay Rs. 50,000 each as a housing allowance to the MPs who are not resident at the Madiwela MPs housing complex. These allowances will be in addition to the ones currently being paid to the members.

The party leaders agreed to continue to provide MPs with stationery free of charge.

 The MPs who attended the meetings of the newly established Sectoral Oversight Committees of Parliament on non-sitting days would be paid Rs. 4,000 each per sitting and chairmen Rs. 5,000 each per sitting, sources said.

Rs. 2,500 each will be paid to the MPs who attend the meetings of the Constitutional Assembly.

Prof. Wijesooriya said the government recently proposed to abolish pension rights of those recruited to the public sector beginning this year. Likewise, the government should have proposed the abolition of pension to those elected to parliament beginning this year, Prof. Wijesooriya said, alleging that politicians had turned a blind eye to suffering of the ordinary people.

The parliament had failed to give an example to various other state sector institutions accused of squandering public funds.

Prof. Wijesooriya said the late Ven. Sobitha believed that members of parliament shouldn’t be given a pension. The erudite monk felt that it was unfair as vast majority of public sector workers worked under difficult conditions until they reached the retirement age, Prof. Wijesooriya said.

Obviously members of parliament as well as the staff had been given special status in a country where the vast majority were experiencing difficulties, the Prof said.

Saman Ratnapriya said the political parties’ move couldn’t be justified under any circumstances. Ratnapriya said the decision to increase VAT to 15 per cent revealed the gravity of the situation. Instead of taking much needed austerity measures to tackle the crisis, political parties had sought to enhance allowances received by members.

Ratnapriya urged the Joint Opposition to reveal its stand on the perks and privileges. The trade unionist said that the Joint Opposition seemed comfortable with party leaders’ decision though it opposed everything else proposed by the government.

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