Would you believe it!? A question raised in our so-called sanctum sanctorum, otherwise known as the House by the Oya, has not been answered for one year. And who is the culprit responsible for this crass neglect or indifference? Why who else but the country’s highest office, the Presidential Secretariat. This is not a sign [...]


Making history in this land like no other


Would you believe it!? A question raised in our so-called sanctum sanctorum, otherwise known as the House by the Oya, has not been answered for one year.

And who is the culprit responsible for this crass neglect or indifference? Why who else but the country’s highest office, the Presidential Secretariat. This is not a sign that the promised yahapalana government has sunk to the lowest depth. That happened several moons ago — and like Humpty Dumpty it can never be put together again.

But before political rigor mortis sets in and this presidential period terminates in ignominy at the butt end of this year, can one good deed emanate from this office, for which millions of rupees are allocated each year?

The money granted to this office is grabbed with glee and spent lavishly to entertain and to travel abroad. But when it comes to answering genuine questions, those wizards of the yahapalana president’s office remain deaf and dumb. Some of them are probably dumb anyway.

It is true that the people of this country were misled into believing that they would be the beneficiaries of clean, open and accountable government when Maithripala Sirisena sat at the apex of government. What they got, instead, was a president who had forgotten he made such promises.

Like so many other things, nobody seems to have told the holder of this exalted office that he held forth many promises to the people before the 2015 presidential election. Since suffering from failed memory seems a common malaise among politicians of this country, Mr Sirisena should have appointed a Memory Officer to keep reminding him of one thing and another. But now it appears they have forgotten to do even that.

It was just last week that Parliament was alerted to the fact that a question directed to the Presidential Secretariat one year ago remains unanswered. It related to the number of foreign trips made by Sri Lanka’s Presidents since 2013.

That period would cover two presidents — Mahinda Rajapaksa and the incumbent, Maithripala Sirisena. This would cover two years of Rajapaksa and three years of Sirisena.

On several occasions in the last few years, this column has raised this issue of presidential travel. That was because Sirisena had become a frequent traveller and appears to have spent more time in the air and in airport lounges than any previous Sri Lankan president.

When Sirisena started accumulating air miles like no other, this column asked for an accounting of these visits, the purpose of travel, what benefits, if any, accrued to the country as a result, who accompanied him or was included in his party, whether family members also joined him at some stage of the visit if not from the start, the money expended on the visit for president and others etc.

We also asked why MPs appeared to be fighting shy of asking these and other questions when Parliament is responsible for public finance and it has a responsibility to inquire into how public funds are spent.

Ultimately, when the question was posed to the Presidential Secretariat by JVP Parliamentarian Bimal Ratnayake, those worthies who inhabit that office ducked the issue and ran for cover.

One could quite understand Ratnayake being peeved at the lack of response from the secretariat. As he pointed out, the question was first asked in June last year. Last week was the second time the same question was raised. And what pray was the answer? That was simple enough. Another six months please to provide the information.

Well that was crafty enough. In another six months, Sirisena would no longer be president. That is if the presidential poll is held by early December and he does not pull another stunt that will bury yahapalana more than six feet under. Stranger things have happened. Why, in October last, President Sirisena tried to oust his prime minister and plant his predecessor in the prime ministerial chair, probably as payback for the egg hoppers he ate at Temple Trees that night before he played Brutus to Mahinda’s Caesar.

That political/constitutional coup misfired, as have some other Sirisena dreams like his promise sometime early this year to hang a few drug pushers peddling their wares from their prison cells and to do so in a couple of months.

Personally, I think it was a good thing Sirisena forgot his pledge and nobody told him about it. One does not like to see people hanging around waiting to be killed even by judicial fiat.

JVP leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake made it quite clear how important the information required was.  “This is an important question, whereas Parliament should know where he went, for what he went, and what benefits the country received from the particular trip, in addition to the names of those who accompanied the President on these trips, as well as the cost incurred. It is unfair to seek another six months. Why would it need one and a half years to answer with the details of foreign trips of the President?” he asked and quite rightly so.

I gave up covering Parliament several decades ago — in mid 1985 if I remember correctly — after some 20 years. But I cannot remember an occasion when any minister waited for one and a half years for a responce to a question.

Whoever it is that keeps postponing the answers, it is not because it is time consuming but because they want to avoid divulging information that would prove to be a shoku, as the Japanese might say. Some of that information is most likely to leave a dirty smell in the civic nostril.

There is still another way of extracting that information as I had suggested in a previous column. The question should be referred to the secretariat under the Right to Information Act which sets time limits by when answers need to be made available, unless the authorities refuse to answer them when the matter could be raised before the RTI commission.

These cover-ups, especially with regard to allegations that public money has been spent on family joy rides, should be made public so that the citizenry is aware of political chicanery.

Talking of history in the making, the Education Minister has entered our country’s history books. Or should one say crept into the books surreptitiously? It appears that the minister wanted to educate school children by having his picture along with a statement published in school textbooks.

I do not know what the books are and what the minister’s photograph is doing there. But what the effect of this epoch-making decision has been on young minds can only be discerned by referring them to an appropriate medical institution.

Imagine a young child opening his or her textbook at night and seeing a picture of the minister. Personally I would have been frightened out of my wits. One can imagine the effect on a student. If he fails in whatever subject it is, it is surely understandable. And that student will never want to study that subject again.

This waste of public money should be charged to the minister. After all, when this book is handed down to others, it is another generation of student that would have to undergo medical research tests. And more students will come to hate whatever that subject is, possibly forever.

If Akila Viraj Kariyawasam wishes to go down in history, would he please find another way of doing so? Perhaps by resigning and saving the younger generation so much grief.



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