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The need to shun extravagance

The need today for all concerned, therefore, is to come down to earth and attempt to conduct lives of simplicity and frugality in keeping with the true backward state of the country. The vast sum of money allocated to ensure comfortable and luxurious lives for those at the helm of affairs should be whittled down and the funds thus saved should be utilized for supplying the crying needs of the people.
by Milinda Rajasekera

(June 21, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) A foreign news item says Swaziland King Mswati III has cancelled plans for a lavish “Silver Jubilee” in the face of a “serious financial crisis” the country experiences today. The news item further adds that Mswati had been expected to host posh celebrations in September to mark the 25th anniversary of his rule, with 1.2 million Euros set aside for the party. The media also say, “Mswati drew international scrutiny and public discontent in 2008 when he held his "40-40" celebrations to mark both his 40th birthday and 40 years of Swazi independence. Riots broke out in the capital Mbabane in response to the lavish festivities after the king splashed out on a fleet of 20 new BMWs for the party.”

Although the background scenarios are different, certain similarities could be observed between the situation in Swaziland and the action taken by our Health Minister Maithripala Sirisena to instruct his ministry officials not to hold any ministry events in Five Star hotels in the future. Minister Sirisena had issued these instructions after considering the large amount of money paid to Five Star hotels to organise functions, workshops, seminars, conferences and other programmes.

The minister has pointed out that the government has constructed many modern auditoriums and halls to hold functions, workshops, seminars and conferences. ”All state institutions can use such places located countrywide. Apart from these places, the minister has said that all Provincial Councils have auditoriums with modern facilities, adding that ministry officials should organize events in places that ordinary people can visit easily. It will provide a better service to the people while saving millions of public funds, he has said.

This action on the part of Minister Sirisena should serve as an eye-opener for all other ministers, state officials and members of local government bodies who show no qualms about spending lavishly the monies paid by poor tax payers in this country. They indulge in such spending sprees in various ways. They purchase luxury vehicles, use a number of back up vehicles and a host of security personnel in their trips around the country, put up or modernize residences and offices at high cost, make foreign trips, more often than not, with their kith and kin and organize all kinds of ego-boosting functions and projects frittering away national resources.

They thus bask in such lifestyles while millions of citizens live in misery for want of their basic needs. The categories of people who contribute much to the country’s development and progress by hard and dedicated work are made to satisfy themselves with the crumbs falling from the tables of exploitation by privileged classes. Their families lack adequate education, healthcare and housing facilities. Schools and other educational institutions that require urgent renovations to their buildings, facilities for children’s education, transport and numerous other needs are overlooked. It is the reaction to these shortcomings that one observes in constant protests and demonstrations by aggrieved sections. The privileged classes are apparently oblivious to the effect of poverty on society. It is said that out of the many hindrances to human welfare none is more destructive than poverty. Poverty, evidently, fetters people’s lives; vitiates happiness, and evokes resentment and bitterness, and the struggles it create eternal social unrest.

The tribe of Dahanayake and Wanninayake type politicians who used public transport and led simple lives has lamentably vanished. There could well be rare specimens of this tribe still left among the present huge army of politicians. But they are apparently ignored, even by the media whose duty is to highlight their exemplary lives. A good example was set recently by Minister Vasudewa Nanayakkara who walked into his ministry office as other officers did, on his first day in office, without the usual time-wasting ceremonies. A few days ago, Deputy Minister Rohitha Abeygunawardena was reported to have arrived in his office on a motorcycle. If this type of rare acts become routine practices of political leaders, without being restricted to publicity stunts, then the rising tide of public resentment against politicians will be reduced.

One of the reasons for today’s politicians and officials to develop luxurious lifestyles is the perception created among people that the country has become affluent and that it is moving fast to be Asia’s wonder, the huge debts, budget deficits, loss-accumulating state enterprises etc., notwithstanding. This example of politicians is followed by state officials and even by ordinary people to live lives beyond their means. They put up grandiose houses, buy luxury vehicles, spend lavishly on grand weddings and other functions, and even on religious events - more often than not incurring heavy debts.

The need today for all concerned, therefore, is to come down to earth and attempt to conduct lives of simplicity and frugality in keeping with the true backward state of the country. The vast sum of money allocated to ensure comfortable and luxurious lives for those at the helm of affairs should be whittled down and the funds thus saved should be utilized for supplying the crying needs of the people. The priorities have to be correctly assessed for allocating funds for various projects and purposes.

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