The Sunday Leader

Reform Not With Codes Of Ethics But Removing Perks

by Gamini Weerakoon

The recently issued Code of Ethics for Parliamentarians is an attempt to shore-up the devastation brought upon the image of our legislators by none other than the legislators themselves.

It is extreme optimism to expect a non-legally binding code of ethics to reform those who have changed even the basic law of the land, the Constitution for political gain. However if the Code of Ethics turns out to be a flop, will it matter very much? This nation has suffered much more than legislative flops but even colossal financial devastation of billion-rupee projects such as construction of harbours, which do not have ships coming in, an airport in which planes do not land and a mighty power generating plant that generates not only power in irregular bouts but regular blackouts.

Taking away the political perks may keep out undesirables and make room for dedicated servants of the public to enter politics

But the Code of Ethics may serve a purpose. It will be debated by the country’s media pundits, political pundits and intellectual bandits over TV and Op-Ed pages of newspapers till the cows come home and none will be wiser at the end of it.

Parliamentarians, till the late 1960s, ranged from those who lived simple lives on skimpy parliamentary salaries and country gentlemen who had moderate incomes to live comfortable but not opulent lives. In the sixties MPs invented the Chit System which enabled them to instruct bureaucracy to appoint voters for government vacancies and grant of illegal favours under the table that generated supplementary incomes for them.

Prime Minister Sirima Bandaranaike abolished the Civil Service, changed the system of administration that gave MPs an open sesame for interference in government establishments and corporations enhancing their supplementary incomes further but resulted in administrative chaos and entrenching bribery and corruption.


Joyous life of politicos

President J. R. Jayewardene was of the opinion that MPs should have a decent salary as well as additional perks to perform their duties efficiently. He provided official vehicles in addition to a host of new perks. From then on till today it has been a joyous life – La dolce Vita – for law makers. They have buried their bitter political differences and united for increased salaries and other payments.

Other perks of MPs include: increased pensions with salary increases; security personnel and security vehicles now not because of potential threats to their lives today but as a status symbol – ‘Thathvaya’ – to dash through streets of Colombo while the Yakkos who voted for them gaze in amazement from bus halts; star class food at the parliamentary canteen at subsidized rates; foreign junkets, insurance cover, rent for housing in Colombo, free postal facilities and even tyres and tubes in addition to a holiday bungalow in salubrious Nuwara Eliya for MPs and their families at extremely low rates. All this for an uninterrupted period of five years.


No Service

But has the service to the people – their basic duty – improved at all? It’s hard to meet a voter who has had an elected representative visiting his home and discussing his problems. The people have been shocked at the behaviour of some MPs in the holiest of the holies – the Chamber of the House – and their behaviour on public platforms and interference in government institutions, judicial affairs and even extra judicial punishments such as assaulting a TV director and tying up a government official to a tree.

Experience has shown that despite the increasing privileges, contemporary politicians have not changed their ways. If all the privileges granted won’t make them change their ways what has to be done to produce a sincere MP who will be dedicated to serve his voters? More privileges or the Code of Ethics for parliamentarians? It is known that well fed fat cats won’t forsake their milk and cheese and perform their basic task of catching rats.

The way to make a fat cat to catch a rat is to starve him. If the enticing privileges of MPs are done away with, will those who desire the La dolce vita contest the elections again? It is quite unlikely that sans the perks they will opt for a simple life dedicated to the service of the people. Such a move could result in the emergence of a class of politicians dedicated to serve the public coming forward rather than those seeking an opulent life through politics. If the new constitution is framed to halt privileges for MPs enabling the jolly and happy life at state expense and instead provide a reasonable income and facilities for them to lead a comfortable but non opulent life enabling to serve the people, the basic objective of good governance may be achieved.

It may be a way Sri Lankan politics, now abhorred by the people, could be cleaned up.

‘Ethics’ is defined as moral principles that influence or control a citizen’s behaviour. Our politicians, all of whom are supposed to be adherents of one of three great religions, should be in possession of moral principles not only to guide them but use them in the interests of their voters.

Many of them clad in pure white National Dress carrying trays of fragrant flowers in their hands or sacred relics on their heads with (TV cameras in pursuit) enter the sacred temples and take a vow to abide by the great code of ethics, the Panchaseela – the Five Precepts: Refrain from: killing, robbery, sexual misbehaviour, lying and consumption of alcohol.They squat on the floor and with bowed heads listen to the monks preach the Four Sublime States: Loving Kindness (Metta), Compassion (Karuna), Sympathetic Joy (Muditha) and Equanimity (Upekka) as a way of life.

But the behaviour of many of them within the chamber of the House, on public platforms and in public life belies their commitment to adherence of this code of conduct and guides to behaviour.

Other great religions too have their rules of conduct steeped in laws of moral adherence which many of their followers who swear obeisance in public flout them for personal gains. If these ethical codes of conduct do not bind our lawmakers, would this newly announced Code of Ethics hold back them from their political hijinks?

We have heard pleas for a change in political culture and need for basic educational qualifications for entry into politics. They are not implementable in the current context. Taking away the political perks, opulence and the buckshee making potential of office may keep out undesirables and make room for dedicated servants of the public to enter politics?

2 Comments for “Reform Not With Codes Of Ethics But Removing Perks”

  1. Trevor Jayetileke

    It is said that “Voters get Parliamentary representative they Deserve”
    So “Lotus Eaters get Bigger “Lotus Eaters”, and its a chain reaction.
    There is a Tamil adage that “Sinhalaya Modaya ,Kavum Kanda Yodaya”.
    Tamils under these circumstances deserve Self-Determination in some form which is justified before someone runs away with the Speakers “Mace”.
    GAMMA ( my University Mate) we can go on and on till the cows come home, but nothing changes in Independent SL. Most Politicians/Bureaucrats are corrupt to the Core, and now we have the Panama Papers and 1% vs 99% to deal with.
    However Sri Lanka is Blessed with the “Alms Bowl of the Buddha”. Jayawewa.

  2. Sathees Navaratnam

    In this information age, the voters are not educated enough to distinguish the culprit from genuine politician (if such caliber still participates in election). What can we educated do about it?

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