House arguments cost an arm and a leg | Sunday Observer

House arguments cost an arm and a leg

The above revelation was made by an ex Deputy Guv of the Central Bank, and reported in a daily newspaper of Tuesday 21 February. He said that according to his reckoning, each Cabinet Minister costs the country, and that means you, me and the next citizen, whether we have tax files in our names or not, a cool Rs 8.5 million a month. That is a stupendous amount. Multiply that by the number of Ministers and Deputies and that adds to say a 100, which means Rs 850 million a month. (Hope Menika’s arithmetic is correct. She was no Einstein in school and now with age devouring her grey cells her brain is more deplete of that which educationists call IQ or intelligence). Now, add to that the cost of maintaining the other Members of Parliament. Admittedly, each MP costs less than a Minister of State, but not very much less. Can we afford this, is what the former Deputy Governor asks, particularly, in the context of the government’s present financial predicament.

He is an expert on financial matters who appears frequently on television. So, we’ve got to accept his computations and be suitably shocked at the amount paid by Sri Lankans to keep their legislators in rice, pol sambal and much much more. The meagre meal of rice and sambal is for us ordinary folk. Those who argue by the Diyawanne have it good – Australian bees’ honey for breakfast, probably crab cooked Jaffna style for lunch, and caviar on toast as a starter at dinner.

On only one issue and one alone, are all Members of Parliament, barring just a handful like Ranjan Ramanayake, united in saying “yes” and also periodically chanting, “we want some more” and here, it’s not the bare essential to keep body and soul together that Oliver Twist risked his neck for. The never satisfied MPs, even beyond the point of satiation, ask for more perks.

Recently, as reported in newspapers, Bandula Gunawardena, MP of the JO and former senior Minister of State and ex tuition master who made that confounded statement that a family of four could live on a monthly income of Rs 7,000, (Some say he said Rs 2,500 which makes his statement all the more likely to have emanated from cuckoo land) now says, that all the perks MPs get are really justified; they deserve them. He did not use the term ‘earned’ because that is going a bit too far. Apart from their monthly salaries, MPs receive free petrol, car licences, a pension at the end of a mere five years of ‘working’ and payment for each sitting, though many just warm their seats without contributing one word to the process of law making that is on-going. Some just join in the hooting and jeering (expensive counterparts to leased out funeral mourners) and a couple snooze in their air-conditioned, comfortable leather chairs. And then, Prime Minister, Ranil W, in all generosity, gave an added allowance of Rs one lakh to each and every MP to cover expenses incurred by these poor dears in attending constituents’ family funerals and weddings. Now, that money is government money gathered by taxing even the water used by citizens and the basic necessities of life.

What takes many a citizen’s goat, meaning nerves, meaning strong disapproval is the payment of pensions to MPs after just one term of serving the country, (or not doing anything but making money) who lose their seats and have no other job. How long has a government employee of the ordinary type to work, with no breaks in service? Isn’t it 20 years after which early retirement is permitted? This applies to teachers. Usually, government servants slog at their desks from their very early, young adult age of 20 or so to old age 65 which adds up to 45 solid years. Then, they get a pension, often paltry. The writer, Menika, laboured for 20 years teaching, or trying to teach intrepid teenagers and consequently permanently damaged her delicate nerves and sensitive throat. Hence, her early retirement. What was her monthly pension? Rs 13,200. This hardly met her medical bill and hardly ever the payment of her electricity, water and telephone bills. She was paying her Woman Friday more than her pension. Thanks however, to the present government, she benefitted by corrected anomalies and she gets Rs 23,000/-

Once given, you cannot take away. As we used to chant as kids: “Giving and taking is worse than stealing” when we got a gift and the moment the giver, tired of the given, or had some accusation against her, would ask back the gift, often a birthday gift. So the piled high perks given to MPs can only be added to as time goes on, not subtracted from. Thus, Dr Wijewardena’s estimation will remain static until, to garner a few votes or to curry favour another perk is added to the already brimful load of perks – free, summa and nikan deela.

Exceptions

There are exceptions in the House by the Diyawanne. Menika has already mentioned one such – Deputy Minister Ranjan Ramanayake. He refused a duty free car and also the Rs 100,000 given recently. He is in sympathy with the thousands of Sri Lankans who are swamped by taxes and the hundreds who don’t have a square, nutritious meal, even once a day. Ministers like Rajitha Senaratne deserve the perks, they work hard for them and also bring benefits to the citizenry. But, very many others are mere joy-riders. The undeserved far outnumber the deserved in the House by the Diyawanna.

- Menika

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