respect must be earned, not demanded
Empirical evidence suggests that the British people are fast losing
faith in parliament and other public institutions that are the cornerstones
of democracy. This has led to a serious dip in public respect.
other day Geoff Hoon, Leader of the Commons, lamented in a newspaper
article that "Parliament is facing a crisis of respect."
"There is a popular myth," he wrote, "that MPs should
be regarded as a bunch of second-raters who are in it for what they
can get. This is grossly unfair, but it is worrying that people
myth? No, on both counts. May be — and I say may be —
that most British MPs might not be sitting in parliament "for
what they can get."
Sadly the present government has contributed much to this decline.
Fortunately for Britain, however, conduct in the Commons has not
descended to the level of behaviour so amply displayed by some of
those in the house by the Diyawanna Oya.
raucous, unruly behaviour of Tamil National Alliance politicos in
parliament this month and other MPs in recent years only serves
to lower whatever reputation parliament has in the public mind.
The impression left in the minds of school children and others who
witness such disgusting conduct could hardly enhance the reputation
of parliament or its MPs.
it would be unfair to paint all MPs with the same brush, there is
a growing public perception that many enter politics not to serve
the country but themselves and their kinsmen, for "what they
How apt is that old Sinhala saying: When you have the spoon serve
are due to get duty free vehicles once more, while the public are
slapped with ever-rising prices. Among other accoutrement considered
intrinsic to their role as parliamentarians are laptop computers.
Whether these are for their personal use in the performance of their
parliamentary duties or whether anybody including their ayah ammas
is permitted to push a few keys here and there, remains unexplained.
Over the years our MPs have been accumulating a sizeable package
of goodies from fat salaries and numerous allowances to pensions,
mobile telephones, subsidised food, fuel and the lot.
and their deputies, of course, collect more than mere MPs of which
not many remain on the government side anyway.
What is the cost to the state of the several thousand police and
service personnel that provide security to all these wonderful politicians
and the government vehicles allocated for it?
the public might ask why so many men and material should be diverted
for security when the ministers and MPs have been popularly chosen
by the people, those better acquainted with the workings of our
political system would only smile at such naivete.
elections politicians run for office. Once elected they run for
cover, leaving behind a trail of broken promises. So the security
is to protect the politicians from the people, often the very people
who voted them into parliament.
popularity of a minister, deputy or MP could perhaps be gauged by
the number of bodyguards that guard each body.
But it is not merely broken promises that cause this loss of faith
with politicians. The reasons are too well known to be spelt out
in capital letters. The shenanigans of Sri Lankan ministers and
parliamentarians need no reiteration. I read in a Sri Lanka newspaper
recently that some MPs had still not declared their assets as required
confidence in our politicians has plummeted so much that even when
politicians appear to be clean, there are lurking suspicions that
lily-white tops and cloths or trousers do not make a Mister Clean.
the early 1990s, the word "sleaze" appeared in political
debate in the UK (in Sri Lanka we already knew of it). The day Neil
Hamilton, Minister for Corporate Affairs, resigned for having accepted
a free stay at the Ritz Hotel in Paris from its owner Mohammed Al-Fayed,
Prime Minister John Major appointed Lord Nolan, a Law Lord, to inquire
into standards in British public life. The inquiry was to cover
the standards of conduct of all holders of public office including
ministers, civil servants and advisers, MPs and UK MPs of the European
Lord Nolan heard evidence, it became clear there was increasing
public cynicism in the conduct of MPs and parliament. "As long
as the people of this country have confidence in the House of Commons
then I believe that nothing much can go wrong. Without that confidence
nothing much can go right," Lord Nolan said in March 1995.
Among Nolan's recommendations was the establishment of a Parliamentary
Commissioner for Standard and a Code of Conduct for MPs drawn up
by a new select committee.
countries where respect for its political leaders and institutions
is still valued though there has been a perceptible drop in standards,
attempts will be made to restore such respect through public inquiry
or by reformation from within.
the Sri Lanka public ever expect its leaders to order such public
inquiries and try to cleanse public life when to do so might undermine
their own hold on political power?
know only too well that moral turpitude, bribery, corruption and
the abuse and misuse of power have become endemic in our society.
Corruption goes below the level of politics to officialdom and the
ministers travel in first or business class comfort, stay in some
of the best hotels in the foreign capitals they visit and spend
public money as though they came of the world's richest countries,
no questions are asked, no answers are volunteered.
British minister Hamilton resigned because he had enjoyed the hospitality
of the Ritz Hotel owner. How much hospitality do our leaders enjoy
and how many of the gifts they receive should really be public property.
Will they ever resign even when such unsavoury and unacceptable
conduct is exposed in the media or elsewhere? If there has been
one public figure in Sri Lanka who has done so, we would like to
know. He or she deserves a shrine.
Sri Lanka is ever going to cleanse its public life, then those holding
office must be made accountable and those guilty of bribery and
general malfeasance removed.
must have a system whereby every minister, deputy minister or politician
who goes abroad on official business makes a declaration to parliament
on where he had been, what he did, where he stayed with a break
down of his travel and other expenses while on official business.
should appear in Hansard or elsewhere for public information. The
same should apply to bureaucrats on official business who should
declare to an independent Ombudsman with the necessary powers to
investigate any violations of ethics and standards of conduct and
the right to demand all necessary information about their wealth.
are so many stories circulating about the misuse of tsunami funds?
Because increasing ethical lassitude has made society sceptical
of those in public life — whether it be in politics or in
commission made on every contract will fatten somebody's bank balance
in Switzerland or Australia. But it will also increases public distrust
measures are needed to return a modicum of respectability to public
life. But who will bell the cat?