Come hell or high water, Parliamentarians have served themselves yet another allowance and the Government has found the money for it by raising the price of diesel sending food prices of common folk still higher. It is a widespread belief that MPs no longer live in a pecuniary state and that they don’t live by [...]


MPs must lead by example


Come hell or high water, Parliamentarians have served themselves yet another allowance and the Government has found the money for it by raising the price of diesel sending food prices of common folk still higher.

It is a widespread belief that MPs no longer live in a pecuniary state and that they don’t live by their salaries and allowances alone; not surprising when one sees their lifestyle – and those of their brood. To say that MPs need more cash in hand to pay for wedding gifts and funerals of their constituents is a pathetic justification for an increased allowance. A better move might have been to give MPs some Research Assistants who can prepare them to make more substantial contributions to Parliamentary debates.

Ask any old-timer interested in Parliamentary affairs and they would tell you how Advanced Level students and undergraduates were often encouraged by their teachers and professors to read Hansard, the official record of Parliamentary proceedings, to widen their horizons in the field of economics, agriculture, world affairs etc., Today, in Parliament, most contributions are a mere cacophony of voices and carbon dioxide, often bordering on the unprintable.

If Parliamentarians wish to give to themselves a ‘living wage’ which takes into account their spending obligations vis-a-vis their constituents, there has to be a quid-pro-quo; a corresponding cap on allowing them to accept so-called party funds and campaign contributions (which are IOUs), and kickbacks for liquor licences and stop them making a quick buck by selling their duty free car permits. This week’s additional allowance is on top of all of this. MPs are now given all the allowances under the sun, and permitted to make hay while the sun shines as well.

While it is true that low pay packages for MPs leave them vulnerable and in situations where they can be easily influenced, if MPs are to be considered leaders of the people, they must surely set the example in frugality. Jumping the queue and serving more and more onto their plates first when senior-most judges, public servants and the ordinary public sector workers have to wait their turn to fill their empty plates, is not leadership by example.

Human rights chief versus Trump
World Human Rights Day falls on December 10 with a pall of gloom descending over several United Nations agencies in New York and Geneva with the widespread belief that US President-elect Donald Trump is going to give Human Rights a kick up the bottom and just do what is best for the American people.

The UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) chief, a Jordanian Muslim prince who has been the bugbear of Sri Lanka as well, shot himself in the foot by publicly demonising Mr. Trump as a “populist, demagogue and political fantasist” before the billionaire businessman was surprisingly elected. Now, the UNHRC is bracing itself that if it does not call out its most powerful member-state for straying from universally accepted Human Rights principles, the rest of the world will be emboldened to ditch them. (See ST2 Page 8).

Not that US double-standards are prevalent even today and now Sri Lanka is seeking to get Mr. Trump to drop the UNHRC jointly sponsored resolution against the country. Given that it might be Mitt Romney who famously called Mr. Trump a “fraud” who may be his Foreign Minister, the UNHRC chief’s words too may be just water off his back.

The passing away of Fidel Castro, the charismatic Cuban leader signals the end of an era. As a young revolutionary, he and his idealistic band of guerrilla fighters overthrew the US-backed dictator, General Fulgencio Batista who had turned the Caribbean island-nation of Cuba into one big corrupt, decadent state. The revolutionaries then established a Marxist state in 1959. Backed by the former Soviet Union at the height of the Cold War, Cuba confronted the mighty United States next door eyeball-to-eyeball to see who would blink first. Too close to the end of World War II, neither of the Super Powers wanted by then, a possible nuclear fallout.

That moment in history; that stand-off by the young Cuban leader and his later crusades together with his even more charismatic comrade-in-arms, Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara to spread their brand of revolution is modern history. In Latin America their moral power continues to live. In Africa they backed Nelson Mandela’s anti-apartheid African National Congress (ANC) to the hilt; he sent his troops to defend Angola and also embraced Yasser Arafat and his anti-Zionist PLO. Asia was not immune to this mesmerising influence and left-wing, mostly bearded young University students and workers, cynically called ‘cardboard Castros’ paraded the streets shouting the slogan; “Cuba-wata atha thibboth gori godai” ( Hands off Cuba or face the consequences).

The so-called ‘Imperialist pigs’ as the socialist camp called the West at the time got ‘Che’ killed in Bolivia, but several attempts to have Fidel assassinated came to naught. No different to his predecessor though in persecuting opponents, Castro went on to rule with an iron fist purging ‘counter revolutionaries’ by the hordes, eliminating some, throwing others in jail while thousands fled as refugees to nearby Miami, USA in ramshackle wooden boats. Those who survived, and their families hated Castro’s guts, cursed him each day, and finally, celebrated his death last week at street parties in Miami’s district known as ‘Little Havana’. They even oppose efforts at rapprochement between the US and Cuba, a process initiated by the Obama Administration.

Castro turned Cuba into a model Marxist state, but it was a model of failure no different to its mentor, the former Soviet Union which collapsed in 1991. A ruthless decades-long economic embargo imposed by the Unite States as retribution, slowly but surely took its toll on Cuba. With sole mentor and provider, the Soviet Union in ruins and then no more, Cuba too fell on hard times.

The country’s education programme and even more so, its health system were the only example of a successful socialist welfare state in a nation that was otherwise gasping for economic survival. Castro’s successor, Raul his brother, saw the writing on the wall. He was forced to be more pragmatic and opened a window to better relations with their bête noir, the US.

With the passing away of the legendary Castro, doors not windows will open but only if the President-elect of the US agrees to bury the hatchet. This will then be the last chapter of yesteryear’s Cold War.

Reviled by the West, and revered by those in the so-called Third World, Castro headed the Non Aligned Movement taking over from Sri Lanka in 1979. The late President J.R. Jayewardene while handing over the mantle in Havana told Castro that Sri Lanka’s tea mixed well with Cuba’s sugar. At each turn when Sri Lanka was in need of help, were it to fight malaria and dengue, doctors during the tsunami of 2004 or more recently at the UNHRC, Cuba under Fidel Castro always stood shoulder-to-shoulder with Sri Lanka and her people.

Many Sri Lankans who paraded those streets in support of Castro have long abandoned the Revolution themselves, and wisely so. What remains is a romanticised memory of a proud revolutionary David who stood up to Goliath, who spread the revolutionary zeal around the world, but eventually was not able to deliver all the goods to his own people.

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