A binary choice



Friday 8th September, 2023

The Opposition’s no-faith motion against Health Minister Keheliya Rambukwella is scheduled to be put to the vote in Parliament today. Perhaps, the SJB would not have caused it to be taken up for debate early but for humiliation it suffered at the hands of President Ranil Wickremesinghe recently in the House. When the SJB persistently demanded that the local government elections be held without further delay, the President asked it to go ahead with the no-faith motion against Minister Rambukwella if it wanted him to take its call for elections seriously.

The government MPs have sunk their differences and circled the wagons around their beleaguered colleague. That they would opt for the testudo formation before going on the offensive was a foregone conclusion. They know that a setback for the government at this juncture will adversely affect their political future. They do not want to let go of power, which is as addictive as heroin. It is only natural that they are as thick as thieves.

By going all out to defeat the no-faith motion at issue despite the availability of evidence of rampant corruption in the health sector, the government has unwittingly helped prove Opposition’s allegation that it shields the corrupt.

It is claimed in some quarters that the state health sector is so corrupt that the removal of the Health Minister will not help put it right. This argument is not untenable, given the sheer number of corrupt elements in the key positions of the health sector. But that is no reason why an attempt should not be made to remove the Health Minister under a cloud.

There are corrupt officials in every sector, and they are also responsible for the ruination of the institutions under them. But they cannot carry out their sordid operations without political patronage. Hence the need for the ministers who protect them to be removed.

There is the possibility of the government trying to placate the public by reshuffling the Cabinet so that Rambukwella can get a different portfolio without losing face, but it is highly doubtful whether the people will fall for such tactics. Only a thorough shake-up of the Health Ministry will help assuage public anger to some extent. This task requires the removal of not only the incumbent Health Minister but also top health officials accused of corruption and various other malpractices. Their removal is a prerequisite for sorting out the state health sector, which is on the verge of collapse.

The current financial resource squeeze is not the only reason for the rapid deterioration of the publicly-funded health service. Corruption has stood in the way of the rationalisation of expenditure in the health sector. Trade unions have exposed numerous instances where substandard drugs and equipment were procured at higher prices. It will not be possible to have these corrupt deals probed as long as Rambukwella and the officials loyal to him remain in control of the health Ministry.

Odds are stacked against the Opposition where today’s vote is concerned. The government has a working majority, which it has secured by engineering several crossovers. Besides, it has the wherewithal to win over some more Opposition MPs of easy virtue. So, it is not difficult to guess the outcome of today’s vote; ayes are highly unlikely to have it.

However, it is only wishful thinking that the government will be able to leverage its wins in Parliament to gain traction on the political front. The resentful public is waiting to get even with it for the suffering it has inflicted on them. The SJB has effectively tapped their anger to give its anti-government campaign a turbo boost by collecting signatures for a public petition against Minister Rambukwella.

As for their convictions, if any, the choice the MPs have today is a binary one: a vote against the no-faith motion will be a vote for corruption.


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