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Thursday 25th May, 2023

The outcome of yesterday’s vote in Parliament came as no surprise. The government secured 123 votes for its resolution to oust Public Utilities Commission (PUCSL) Chairman Janaka Ratnayake. The Opposition could muster only 77 votes. The government can now install one of its stooges as the PUCSL head and have all its decisions rubber-stamped.

As for winning against the government, Ratnayake had the same chances as a badger engaged in a fight with a pack of mastiffs.

There will be no official with a backbone to oppose unconscionable power tariff increases hereafter, and it will be smooth sailing for the government. The power sector has become a metaphor for corruption in this country, and all governments go to any lengths to ensure that they can cut shady deals. So, the incumbent dispensation must be thinking that it will be able to do as it likes with the PUCSL as a mere appendage of it. Ruling party politicians and their crooked cronies must be on cloud nine.

The SLPP-UNP combine is obviously elated that it has demonstrated once again that it has a clear majority in Parliament. Some Opposition MPs were not present in the House at the time of voting, yesterday, according to media reports. Did they back the government by being absent and thereby ensuring that the Opposition would not be able to muster enough numbers to defeat the resolution?

Parliamentary majorities, however, are deceptive. A government can retain its parliamentary strength by engineering crossovers or entering into pacts with other political parties. It can also use ministerial posts to lure Opposition MPs. One may recall that the UNP-led Yahapalana government had a working majority in Parliament even after the SLFP’s breakaway in October 2018; the UNP even succeeded in scuttling the then President Maithripala Sirisena’s attempt to form a government with former President Mahinda Rajapaksa as the Prime Minister. But the UNP suffered its worst-ever defeat at the general election that followed.

Government politicians may be able to enrich themselves further thanks to the outcome of yesterday’s vote in Parliament, but they cannot dupe the public into believing that it is politically strong, for it is gripped by a fear of elections.

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Unholy broken promise

The government is drawing heavy flak from some prominent Buddhist monks, who insist that it has reneged on its promise to make funds available for the State Poson festival scheduled to be held at the Mihintale Raja Maha Vihara. Chief Incumbent of the historical temple, Ven. Valawahengunawewe Dhammarathana Thera has expressed his displeasure at the government’s failure to allocate money. He says he is left with no alternative but to beg for funds.

This problem would not have arisen if the government had made a policy decision to stop funding festivals. Now that it has undertaken to fund the Poson festival at Mihintale, it has to honour its pledge. Some ruling party politicians have said money has already been allocated, but Dhammarathana Thera has denied their claim.

All ceremonies that cause a severe stress on the public purse must be cancelled in view of the current economic crisis. The government should have called off the Independence Day celebrations (2023), saved funds and put them to a better use like purchasing essential drugs for the state-run hospitals. It also held the Republic Perahera in Kandy!

An outspoken critic of the government, Dhammarathana Thera, unlike most other monks, is known for his courage to tell the self-important political leaders who visit him some home truths. One wonders whether this is the reason why government assistance for his temple is not forthcoming.

It behoves the government to stop quarrelling with Dhammarathana Thera and take action to ensure that his grievances are redressed and the State Poson Festival will be held as scheduled, and, more importantly, decide against allocating funds for festivals, religious or otherwise, thereafter.

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