People must resolve to spurn those who ‘serve’ them from the comforts of SUVs The recent fiasco regarding the intended purchase and subsequent suspension or postponement of obtaining a fleet of super luxury vehicles running into over Rs.3 Billion by the state bank (Bank of Ceylon) on behalf of the Government of Sri Lanka should [...]


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People must resolve to spurn those who ‘serve’ them from the comforts of SUVs

The recent fiasco regarding the intended purchase and subsequent suspension or postponement of obtaining a fleet of super luxury vehicles running into over Rs.3 Billion by the state bank (Bank of Ceylon) on behalf of the Government of Sri Lanka should raise more than the righteous ire of its citizenry. The shameless duplicity in hastily, clumsily, declaring a temporary suspension of such purchase on the grounds of the rising COVID-19 pandemic when the cat is out of the bag on the intended transaction is, no doubt, revolting. But disgust alone is not sufficient to stem the stench of unbridled extravagances and unconscionable waste of public resources by those who purport to serve the people.

If not for the public revelations by  a few  JVP Parliamentarians and the media, the whole deal would have gone through without a hitch amidst the rising death rate of COVID-19 which has been raging during the period. It is like the tale of the proverbial thief caught with his hand in the till. According to media reports, the Cabinet Paper submitted by the Minister of Finance/Prime Minister for covering approval for import of luxury Prados was May 18, 2021 whereas the Letter of Credit was opened by the Bank of Ceylon on April 22, 2021. The entire proposed transaction seems to be shrouded in secrecy especially the circumstances of the Bank of Ceylon opening an L/C without the approval of the Cabinet of Ministers, its function as the Lessor of such vehicles to the Lessee, the Government, what tender procedures were followed under the authority of the mandarins of the Ministry of Finance, the Minister of Finance and the actual role of the intermediary in Singapore for the sale with M/s.Toyota.

It is we, the people of Sri Lanka who are footing the bill for such financially dubious, superfluous, wasteful luxuries with our hard-earned taxed money and the remittances of migrant workers’ blood, sweat and tears. The lease of such vehicles by the Government from a state bank such as the Bank of Ceylon means the utilization of scarce foreign exchange resources of a cash strapped, debt ridden country, currently engaging in desperate measures such as currency swaps and import controls, especially low imports led by the ban on import of personal vehicles by the general populace.

The blatant half-truths uttered by some politicians that these vehicles are identified for novice Parliamentarians immediately begs the question as to who the real beneficiaries are? Perhaps simple arithmetic eludes them. Obviously the intended purchase could not have been only for the so-called few new Parliamentarians when the total composition of Parliament is 225 and 227 luxury Land Cruiser SUVs were being imported presumably for all Parliamentarians across the euphemistic divide of political parties!

In addition, according to verifiable media reports the 399 super luxury vehicle fleet includes, 17 brand new Toyota Hilux 4WD double cabs,1 brand new Toyota Land Cruiser V8, 52 brand new Hino cab Intercooler Turbos, 51 brand new Toyota Hillux, 4 WD double cabs with intercooler, one brand new Toyota Hilux 4 WD with intercooler and 50 Toyota Ambulances. Therefore, when you subtract the component for ambulances, there are in addition to the 225 luxury SUVs, a great many costly vehicles that comprise the total consignment. According to some banking sources and the politicians via media reports, while the SUV component will not be proceeded with, other vehicle imports will be pursued! This would no doubt include the above listed items for other VIPS!

Why couldn’t the existing pool of Government vehicles be used especially at a time when the pandemic is sending the economy reeling with citizens experiencing unprecedented economic hardships. Moreover, even a cursory analysis of market prices will show that the Government could go for more economical vehicles at the approx. price of at least Rs.10 million or less per unit than the SUV range of Rs. 50 million per vehicle.

Except for the town criers of the JVP, all other Members of Parliament in the Opposition including the usually vociferous SJB have remained predictably dumb on the issue. None have in fact, opposed the purchase.  This is because the import of duty free super luxury vehicles for their exclusive use, and often subsequent ownership through duty free permits by Members of Parliament remains one great unifying factor amongst all political parties. However much they rant against each other in Parliament, there is wide unanimity on matters of perks and privileges, such as enjoying super luxury vehicles at public expense. Such conduct is damning especially in the international context of world leaders and CEOs donating their salaries during the lockdown of COVID-19 to help the distressed.

To date there is not one Member of Parliament who has on principle refused the use of these opulent vehicles. The practice of milking the people dry with the enormous expenditure incurred for the upkeep of such a privileged group of Parliamentarians by way of luxury vehicles, supplemented further with housing, meals, foreign travel, financial emoluments etc. continues unimpeded over the years. The example of one politician – former Prime Minister W. Dahanayake who travelled by public transport will appear idiosyncratic to this new generation of politicians! Sadly, security concerns may make such example difficult to emulate today.

Nevertheless, the public was happily surprised to see President Gotabaya Rajapaksa discarding the fanfare of screeching sirens and retinue of vehicles accompanying his travels on the roads since assumption of office. The modesty of the highest Executive preferring a discreet and unostentatious mode of travel was heartening and an example to others.

The logic of why those law makers volunteering to serve the people should do so from the comfort of luxury limousines is mind boggling. Especially when the common man is using over-crowded public transport, precarious motor bicycles and push bikes, trishaws, modest motor cars, not to mention his bare feet! What is the so called ‘field work’ that requires these Parliamentarians to travel to their constituencies like Royalty in high-tech ‘palanquins’ when the poor people whom they are supposed to serve live in such impoverished conditions, even without the basics of livelihood, water, sanitation, proper access to or facilities in their homes, schools. On average it is common to see two to three luxury SUVs parked in front of most MPs’ residences, together with their respective hangers-on  – drivers, security entourage etc.

In the final analysis, while there is much gnashing of teeth and angry mutterings against the excesses of the 225 in Parliament, the fault may perhaps lie “not in our stars, but in ourselves!”  A vociferous proponent of the JVP has urged the people to reject any MP who travels to their location in a SUV luxury vehicle, not at the next election but then and there! Indeed it is time that the public openly demonstrated and displayed their utter disgust and rejection of these so-called People’s Representatives in Parliament. The people must remain vigilant and heed the power of whistle blowing exposures! They must have the courage and grit to spurn those who serve them from the comforts of SUVs!

Such affirmative action or People’s Power is indeed the need of the hour if we are to stop the rot for all time.

Sonali Wijeratne  Kotte

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