The Government seems to be rather coy, shying away from a rather unpleasant act of its which it knows only too well is not viewed with favour by the general public. It has opened Letters of Credit (LCs) to import brand new vehicles for Members of Parliament, and those in Government. With an impending backlash [...]


Vehicles for MPs driving the people up the wall


The Government seems to be rather coy, shying away from a rather unpleasant act of its which it knows only too well is not viewed with favour by the general public. It has opened Letters of Credit (LCs) to import brand new vehicles for Members of Parliament, and those in Government. With an impending backlash from an angry populace, the Government seems to have suspended rather than cancelled the order.

All this under the cover of the free falling COVID pandemic situation, while millions of ordinary people are undergoing immense hardships in their daily lives in lockdown conditions and imploring the Government for an increase in the Rs. 5,000 token to tide over their difficulties. Then there are the millions clamouring for vaccines and pharmaceutical importers being told by banks that they don’t have the dollars to open LCs. And when car imports are stopped to stem the outflow of those precious dollars remaining, that Rs. 3.7 billion or thereabouts in foreign currency was reportedly to be spent on the import of the new vehicles was a bitter pill for the public.

There is the customary bipartisanship always in this kind of exercise. This is the time, and probably the only time, the Government and the Parliamentary Opposition come together for a common cause. The Cabinet spokesman was visibly uncomfortable when he was questioned on the matter the other day. A poker-faced Minister couldn’t, however, mask his discomfiture as he tried to wriggle out of the line of questioning by the media saying something like; “what to do, LCs have already been opened. And it would compromise the credibility of the banks if they were cancelled”. To hell with the credibility of the Government!

The Cabinet is now said to have reversed this decision contrary to what the Cabinet spokesman said. Our news story on Page 1 has the details as we know it for now. This is typical of the dysfunctional Government that was the hallmark of the former Administration. Government high-ups tell this newspaper that the order is off — but only for now.

No doubt some MPs may genuinely need a vehicle to commute and attend to the needs of their constituents. Today, an MP has a district to cover, not just an electorate. One MP recently complained that he has to sometimes go about on a motorbike and in fact came to Parliament by bus. He must be a rare species of the modern breed of MP. That was how MPs travelled in the good days of representative government — many using public transport with warrants as a matter of course.

This facility now given to MPs has not always been utilised to attend to their official needs in recent years, but to sell their duty free permit to a local businessman and pocket a few million rupees without even seeing the colour of the vehicle. It was a total abuse of the system and the worst possible example of leadership.

The Government is begging and borrowing from every nation possible for funds. So many official vehicles are lying in vehicle graveyards these days or have been allocated to Provincial Councils and are now rotting in garages. The Government made a hue and cry that they will repair these high-end vehicles imported by the previous Government. Handa athey thiyana-kota kaagen ahannada (there is no need to ask anyone to serve yourself when the spoon is in your hand) is the famous quote attributed to a Sri Lankan Prime Minister of the 1950s. Nothing seems to have changed. The more the Governments change, the more they remain the same.

The rape of our sea: Beyond the sinking ship

During the course of an interview over the X-Press Pearl shipping disaster, the Chairperson of MEPA (Marine Environment Protection Authority) made a pertinent point, almost a by-the-way remark to what damage had been caused to the sea and its environs by the sinking vessel.

She referred to the amount of public discussion there is to the rape of Wilpattu or the Sinharaja rainforest and the widespread environmental damage caused by sand mining and deforestation on land, but said that there’s very little attention given to environmental hazards to the sea that surrounds this island nation. She even referred to the hordes of picnickers who throng the beaches and throw their rice packets and water bottles into the sea before leaving.

Not only are tons of plastics and cellophane ruining the coastlines of Sri Lanka, but discarded fishing nets out at sea (‘ghost nets’) have mammals getting entangled in them. Marine environmentalists point out to many other factors threatening sea life from noise pollution to rising ocean temperatures bleaching corals.

Often, fishermen themselves are partly to blame for what is happening in the country’s waters. By resorting to practices such as dynamite fishing, they look for short-term gain resulting in long-term loss. Over-fishing is another major issue. In the northern Palk Straits and the Gulf of Mannar, illegal fishing practices (IUU) such as bottom-trawling by Indian fishermen continue to ravage the ocean’s marine and plant resources. Sri Lankan Governments of recent times have been unable to stop, or afraid of stopping this carnage as the Indian side runs rings round the Colombo administration with delaying tactics.

It is a pity that though a distinguished Sri Lankan diplomat of yesteryear chaired one of the UN’s largest working groups that saw the enactment of the Law of the Sea Convention and Sri Lanka had the legal expertise, diplomatic skills and the political will during the tenure of Mrs. Sirima Bandaranaike’s Government to secure sovereignty over the disputed islet of Katchchativu and declare a 200 nautical mile Economic Zone at sea, the country has not invested enough in safeguarding the country’s maritime interests.

Disasters to marine and ocean life are happening every single day around the land mass of Sri Lanka, though not always with the drama of a ship on fire and sinking. But they are disasters nevertheless that should be heeded.



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