15 March 2014

I don’t like tree-cutters and am wary of big-spenders

These are electioneering days.  Poster-days.  Almost four years ago, there was a General Election. The following was written around that time.  So it's 'dated' in that sense. Still, the argument about posters and trees, funding and spending etc., remain relevant.

I, Malinda Seneviratne, citizen of Sri Lanka, nondescript and unknown in the poster-pasting, cut-out putting and cutting, ad-taking, loud-speaking, fire-cracking electioneering firmament, humbly request that you vote for me at the upcoming General Election.

I think I have about 10,000 rupees that I could spend on an election campaign.  There are very few people I can ask, but I think I should be able to collect around 50,000 rupees if I had a few weeks to go around with some lay equivalent of a begging bowl.  I think I could do a one time ad in a single newspaper.  Just a quarter page ad or else a leaflet which I could distribute in some corner of the smallest electorate in the district.  My chances would be close to zero, right?   

I can’t even take heart from Dullas Alahapperuma’s success story.  Dullas, already known as an excellent writer/journalist, just distributed a single leaflet and got elected from the Matara District.  I write in English and most people who read English newspapers in Colombo are unlikely to identify with the political positions I subscribe to, are mostly kepuwath-kola types and even those who are not would not ‘waste’ vote on an independent candidate.  Am I correct?

I am a realist.  I know what’s possible and what’s not. So please don’t take the first paragraph above seriously.  Instead read it again, please, and then reflect on the guys and gals soliciting your ‘valuable’ vote in the coming weeks.  I would suggest that we all meditate a little on the in-your-face issues that few candidates are willing to talk about.

There are people who think nothing of plastering your wall with their ugly mugs.  They don’t seem to worry about the time, money and other hardships you had to undergo to build that wall and to paint it.  They desecrate school walls, most of which are built using money collected from and by school children.  That’s vandalism.  That’s arrogance. That’s thuggery. 

Now let’s ask ourselves a simple question: ‘Will Duminda Silva, Rohitha Bogollagama, Wimal Weerawansa, Niroshan Padukka, the ‘Nommara Eke UNP kaaraya’ turned ‘Hathara-watenma-Muzzammilta’ Muzammil, Bandula Gunawardena, Maharoof, Jeevan Kumaratunga, Gamini Lokuge, Sunethra Ranasinghe and other poster-boys and poster-girls who don’t give second thought to desecrating your wall and don’t care about the fact that your tax money will have to be used to clean all the public spaces they vandalize, really care about your concerns?  

There are other implications of this marked readiness to vandalize.  It shows a disregard for both law and decency.  Arrogance in campaigning will necessarily be augmented if elected.  It is a short distance from desecrating wall to destroying garden and from there to pillaging your house.  Rape can’t be far away either. 

Second point for reflection: money.  Where does the money come from?  I calculated recently that the big spenders dish out about 100 times more during a campaign than they would earn as parliamentarians.  Why spend so much for so little?  To serve the nation? Well, for that there has to be some minimum complement of skills, right?  None of the big spenders have shown anything to indicate skill.  Indeed it is ironic that the ‘poorer’ candidates seem to be the ‘doers’. I am thinking of Dinesh Gunawardena and Champika Ranwaka.  Thilanga Sumathipala is an exception in that he is rich and he ‘does’, although a lot of what he has done has come under query.  Milinda Moragoda is an exception in that he has the bucks but he’s not defacing my wall.  And how can we forget Rosie Senanayaka, a pretty face who can’t seem to get anyone to put up a poster?  Is it because some big-name politician is purchasing all her foot-soldiers? 

Yes, we need some answers about where the bucks come from?  The only way we can ascertain ‘decency’ in this business of splashing money around is through asset declaration and disclosure of campaign finances. We need to know who contributed and how much was given.  That’s one way of figuring out what a candidate’s true agenda is. 

We are talking about millions of rupees. Sorry, over hundred million rupees spent by the big boys.  Are you sure you want to vote for someone who spends that much money without having the decency to tell you where he/she got that money from?   We all know that many people in power rob the Treasury and indulge in all kinds of corrupt activity.  This is why we tend to think that money spent electioneering is nothing more nothing less than ‘investment’. 

There’s a third point, which I have alluded to in previous articles but which is so important that it needs to be repeated: trees.  The Minister of Environment and Natural Resources, Champika Ranawaka said recently that approximately 300 big trees have to be felled to make the paper required for the poster campaigns of the big spenders. I think in this regard Duminda Silva probably has cut more trees than all others put together. 

We, the citizens, need to send a strong message to tree-fellers.  It’s simple arithmetic.  If a tree cutter is not elected, we are not going to have the country going down the tube.  However, it takes decades to ‘replace’ a single tree.  What would you rather have, the tree or the politician? 

I am thinking about it and I am thinking, ‘TREE-CUTTERS OUT!’

I think, also, under the circumstances, it is safe to pick the poorest candidate.  Or the candidate whose face we are least familiar with. Chances are he’s lived a far more principled life than the in-your-face money-flaunter. 

I am not going to contest, let me repeat.  It would be a waste of time and my 10,000 rupees can be put to better use.  I think I will invest it right away.  A nursery would be good idea, what do you think?