The Elections Commission (EC) has revised upwardly its estimated cost for the forthcoming general election from Rs. seven billion hoping to keep it below Rs. 10 billion. With 16,263,885 registered voters for the scheduled August 5 elections, it will work out to about  Rs. 614,000 per voter to elect 225 members of Parliament, i.e. Rs. [...]


Rs. 44 Million to elect one MP


The Elections Commission (EC) has revised upwardly its estimated cost for the forthcoming general election from Rs. seven billion hoping to keep it below Rs. 10 billion.

With 16,263,885 registered voters for the scheduled August 5 elections, it will work out to about  Rs. 614,000 per voter to elect 225 members of Parliament, i.e. Rs. 44 million to elect one MP! That is the price of a new Parliament. All this, on top of having already spent some Rs. seven billion to elect a President.

In all the learned debates and analysis on the Executive Presidential system, the issue of costs to the public purse in having two separate elections to elect a Head of State and Government (Executive President) and a Legislature (Parliament) was hardly, if at all, discussed.

Still further costs are incurred in elections every so many years to Provincial Councils and Local Government Councils. Sri Lanka ranks very high in the people’s elected representatives to citizen ratio unlike for example the cardiothoracic surgeons to patients ratio, which would be a better indicator of a country doing well by its people.

When calculating the cost of elected representatives to the national economy, the sum is not limited to holding an election, but includes the capital expenditures like buildings, offices, vehicles and concurrent expenditure of allowances and duty free permits for vehicles for the Honourable Members to flog in the open market and pocket the difference. It is the rest of the population that has to carry this heavy burden of representative government.

What is the cost-benefit to the country from all these elected representatives is a question commonly asked by the public in every tea kiosk chats. There is growing disenchantment on what is on offer to the voter even though 7,452 are taking part in the lottery of August 5 for the 225 seats in the national legislature. The attraction of those seats, however, has not waned for some, in fact, it has only grown. Those vying for those seats are, after all, with apologies to Mark Anthony’s reference to Brutus at Caesar’s funeral; all “honourable men (and women)!”

Despite these 7,000 plus candidates on offer for the voter, it looks increasingly like more of the same as the last time; Hobson’s Choice in a sense.

Still, there is no argument over the need for a Parliament whoever gets elected to it and whatever the drawbacks in the selection process. A Parliament, whether it functions properly, whether its members are corrupt, whether it has arrogated to itself powers and privileges it does not deserve and however deep its fault lines run, it is a Parliament and can only reflect the ethos of the nation, a vignette of its society.

Clearly, whether this country calls itself an Executive Presidential system or a Parliamentary Democracy, party leaders have failed all along to scout for, and nominate suitable persons to fill the National List that was specifically meant to supplement an elected Parliament that could end up short of proficiency and competence, with high quality professionals and experts to bridge the deficiency.

Where there has to be cost-cutting is the question so that this country can afford an elected and essential representative Democracy. The national debate on the abolition of the Executive Presidency will now be on the backburner if not at all. The incumbent President is here to stay his full term and what was the number one civil society demand calling for its abolition is now mute.

One election that can be dispensed with is to Provincial Councils (PCs) if only that worthless system that was forced on the country in 1987 can be recalibrated to merge with local councils. Separate elections for both are an absurdity. PCs and elections thereto are mere barometers to judge the strength of political parties and of little administrative value.

To spend Rs. 44 million to vote one member to Parliament sounds terribly excessive, if not an absurdity given the returns to the people. But as they say, it is an evil-necessity the country must endure unless it falls into the trap of a worse fate of a country with a rubber stamp parliament.

Japan – the setting sun?

The Presidential outburst at the Central Bank this week and an earlier verbal rocket to state banks to follow Government policy come in the immediate backdrop of an alarming report that JICA, the Japanese foreign aid agency has suspended supporting a major project, seeking clarification on Government financial policy.

The sting in the Japanese missive to the Treasury is the questioning of the Government’s debt policy and the request for a debt moratorium from Japan. It means the Government’s requests to various world capitals for debt moratoriums are no longer sans scrutiny.

Neither the Central Bank nor the state banks can hardly be blamed for this new development even though the state banks are indeed culpable of adopting the age-old policy of “banking without risks”. They have been over cautious in supporting Government policy to lend a helping hand to those businesses hit by COVID-19.

Japan had been the No. 1 aid donor to Sri Lanka for many years. It came in a big way in the J.R. Jayawardene era, partly as a genuine token of appreciation to the Sri Lankan statesman’s San Francisco speech at the end of WWII. That Japan has raised a red flag at Sri Lanka does not bode well for this country.

The Japanese ire is not pure economics. It also has a geopolitical flavour to it. They are asking questions about Sri Lanka’s (non-existent) Energy Plan. They want to know about the LNG project and the underground cable project from Kerawalapitiya to the Colombo harbour.

They are asking about the Light Rail (overhead) project that the government seems to want cancelled. After months of negotiations to which JICA agreed on a loan with an interest rate as low as 0.1 per cent with a 12-year grace period, they may seem to feel — something they don’t say publicly — that certain parties in the new Government have questionable motives in cancelling it and converting it to a Public-Private-Partnership from another country citing low returns. If it is low returns, will a private enterprise walk in — unless there’s more to it than meets the eye?

These are not matters where the blame can be apportioned to the banks. These are matters that can well be a precursor to other foreign donors, especially Western donors raising red flags on Sri Lanka; something the Government will have to take serious cognizance of in these perilous economic times.

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