President Sirisena recently said Members of Parliament having an Honour prefix before their names should not be charged PAYE tax, because of the honourary nature of their duties. This is certainly confused thinking, not flowing from the 100-day programme he now knows nothing about today.
Let’s get this straight. The “Hon.” Or ‘Garu” prefix is because they are considered Honourable Members of Parliament, a tradition coming from the House of Commons. They are expected to be Honourable in the performance of their duties, tasks and services – for which the country pays them a decent wage; as such they are taxable. There are others who have the “Hony.” prefix for the honorary – unpaid – work they do, such as office-bearers of clubs, professional associations, and other voluntary societies.
It is good to recall the old days before the JRJ Presidency and Proportional Elections, when the names of members of parliament were not used in parliamentary debates or proceedings. They were called Honourable (Hon) Members of their electorates – Hon Member for Kandy, Jaffna, Matara, Colombo Central, etc. Names are now not mentioned because they represent districts, having several electorates, and get votes from the whole district. So let’s put that presidential confusion over Hon. and Hony to rest.
But we are facing a much bigger on the honorability of members of parliament today. With the dirty cash flow of the Bond Scam there are huge questions being raised about MPs and the right they have to be considered Hon. Members. Honourability is not being disposed to cheat or defraud; not deceptive or fraudulent. The Speaker is worried about the list of 116 or 118 or whatever number, spoiling the image of Hon. Members and of Parliament. His concerns are understandable. But the people do have major questions about the honour or ‘garuthvaya’ of members of parliament.
The stake has now moved from One Million given to former Minister and now Opposition SLFP MP Dayasiri Jayasekera to Three Million, through three cheques, given to UNP State Minister Sujeewa Senasinghe. The figure may be small but one cannot forget the One Lakh given to UNP Field Marshall Sarath Fonseka, too. Was his military record not worth even half a million?
The money tree that produces such ripe fruits for Honourable MPs spreads wider. The source is not Perpetual Treasuries alone. Minister Ravi Karunanayake got his millions in Penthouse rent from a subsidiary of Perpetual Treasuries. Dayasiri Jayasekera got his One Million from Walt & Row Associates, a subsidiary of Perpetual. We now have Sujeewa Senasinghe getting his three million from W. M. Mendis & Company, an associate of Perpetual. Where is this moving and or how will it end? Is this not a question of honour? What about honourable expenditures, and honourable recording of donations – Garu Manthreethumani?
We are now faced with another problem about our elected and appointed MPs. It is their forgetfulness – especially when it comes to huge donations. Ravi Karunanayake forgot how all his Penthouse rent came. Dayasiri Jayasekera does not recall how the million was spent – maybe on his election. Now Sujeewa Senasinghe must ask his campaign staff who received the 3 million, and how it was spent. Aren’t we moving into a whole new area of amnesia, forgetfulness, unknowingness or even monetary blackouts? Will parliament soon have to employ a special psychiatrist to treat its monetary amnesic members – amathaka manthri kalliya?
Are we to wait until Sujeewa Senasinghe writes another book on this flood of dirty money into the politics and elections in this country – Deshaapalu Jaraagelma?
The Presidential Secretariat is now at the receiving end of many strikes from the Chief of Staff Issue and other crooked failures. But, why should the Office of the President take any step to conceal any part of the report of a Presidential Commission appointed to probe the Bond Scam, for which the President deservedly earned praise? Are we to now think the President considers the exposure of Arjuna Mahendran with his links to the UNP and Ranil Wickremesinghe alone is enough? Sheer nonsense. That is a report given to the public, and the sovereignty of the people, expressed through Parliament, requires the full report – whether it has 116 or any number of crooked names, to be tabled in the House. The Diyawanna Chamber is certainly not known as the House of Cleanliness. But, it is certainly the place where all this stuff worth dirty millions should be revealed.
We are not far away from both a presidential election and the next general election. There is already much reporting, bickering and tactical stuff on the next presidential candidates. The emerging Perpetual and Mendis deceit, with increased bonding with MPs – of most political hues – calls for urgent action to change our election laws to face up to this major challenge to clean elections and good democracy. With the shelter they gain from the Perpetual Tree of Dirty Money, it is not likely that any of today’s MPs will be ready to initiate such action, with speed.
The amnesia of MPs, and their cheer leaders in many quarters, especially in business and purchase politics, will require the public to initiate this action for necessary changes to election laws – both presidential and parliamentary. No candidate for the presidency or prime minister today will call for this; caught as they are in the web of the corrupt. It is the task of the public, civil society, professional organizations committed to democracy and clean government, the media and journalists, and citizens or clean government, to play a lead role in what must and will be a campaign to save this country from crooked politics of all parties and colours.