An Open Letter to His Excellency the President and All Parliamentary Group Leaders
By Chrishmal Warnasuriya
Why do I even bother:
I had actually decided to bite my lip and keep quiet, simply out of absolute disinterest akin to what is common now; but then my “public spirit” got the better of me. I’ve been asked by several people why I don’t just let the status quo be (like most of us do and just forget it, get-on with life); well the answer lies in the thoughts of some socio-political greats:
Plato states – that “the price good men pay for indifference to public affairs is to be ruled by evil men.”
Orwell states – that “in a time of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act.”
George Bernard Shaw sums it up, when he states — Some men see things as they are and say, “Why?” I dream of things that never were and say, “Why not?”
There is also a fundamental duty of every citizen of this Republic under A 28(d) of the Constitution — “The exercise and enjoyment of rights and freedoms is inseparable from the performance of duties and obligations, and accordingly it is the duty of every person in Sri Lanka – (d) to preserve and protect public property, and to combat misuse and waste of public property.
So I really have no choice in the matter. I suppose some of us are just “manufactured this way”, we have to speak up; even in the face of obvious perceived peril. Therefore if as a result I were to suffer some sudden ill-fated “accident”, those reading this and continuing to accept “things as they are” must find an answer from within – is it really worth it!
We had attended a family wedding in Kandy and were returning to Colombo on Sunday morning. Those familiar with the route know that at most places vehicles travel single-file until there is no visible obstruction from oncoming traffic to overtake. Out of the corner of my eye I noticed an absolute circus in the rear view mirror, an entourage of vehicles careering down the road at breakneck speed, with a patrol vehicle (in front) making wild gesticulations for those in front to move away – I ask you, WHERE the dickens to?
Several of us did move to some corner finally (I suppose more out of fear of the heavily armed personnel than anything else) which almost ended us up in the culvert, allowing this obviously “important personality” to proceed. Having assumed this ordeal was over and stopping for the habitual lunch at Ambepussa we continued, but lo and behold, once again the same fiasco was repeated (possibly “the important personality” too would have lunched) and once again it was us in the culvert, the “important personality” and his entourage of 3-4 vehicles (and several others who even follow an ambulance carrying a dying man these days) proceeding at the speed of light leaving us lesser mortals behind!
Some Questions (for those of you in authority):
This incident compelled me to pose these questions, hoping that someone in authority over this would offer an answer, if they feel that the general public deserves an explanation; if not of course, then there must be others “more enlightened” than us and that we simply do not qualify!
What would necessitate this sort of vehicular movement during noon on a Sunday, mostly since we are now said to be a nation not at war but at peace?
Is it correct, by any moral or legal standard to treat the citizens in this manner?
What solution will you (as leaders and parliamentarians) offer to ensure that we will not be subjected to this form of feudalistic behaviour by your members, or should we just expect this to continue?
Mr. Member of Parliament — What IS your rush, Where IS the fire?
My dear Hon. MP (or Hon. Minister) on the Kandy road – pray tell us what was your sudden rush? Why was your journey more important than those of the others you forced off the road? Was it some urgent matter of national importance, a life and death situation? Some general inquiries from known persons (from both sides of the ruling and opposition benches) has revealed, at least in so far as they were aware, that there was no urgent parliamentary sitting that Sunday afternoon; if there was some other such urgency I do believe the general public who were traveling on that road deserve an explanation?
You have led us to understand that the former enemy (terrorism) has been completely wiped out now and we shouldn’t expect attacks any longer; if this is so, why is there a need for such travel? It seems that “security details” are becoming more of a “social-fashion” rather than a genuine need. The more security (or the more commotion it creates) seems to be the measure by which someone’s importance is evaluated! It was Bernard Shaw who repeated Aristotle’s philosophy – “Democracy is a device that ensures we shall be governed no better than we deserve!”
Denial of Equality – Powers Held “In Trust” for the Public:
I heard on the radio that only around 15% of this country own vehicles. In such a backdrop, shouldn’t being amongst that privileged few alone (being granted a vehicle) be sufficient to “feel important”? Is there a further need to feel even more important by resorting to unnecessary disturbances of vehicular movements on our roads?
All citizens are guaranteed the Right to Equality by Article 12(1) of the Constitution, the violation of which by the government is remediable in the Supreme Court. Doesn’t such arbitrary use of the road network and obstructions caused to citizens constitute this violation, of the equal rights of citizens to enjoy the privilege of using the same road network? Also most of these vehicles would have been paid for by public funds, by direct loans or through waivers/discounts on what otherwise would have been taxable/dutiable income for the budget. Most of those security officers are paid to wave their arms (one with the left glove and another with the opposite glove from the other window) by us; not to mention the fuel and maintenance. Are these resources being actually used “in trust” for the public?
The Mahavamsa (68.8-13) quotes, striking upon the importance of protecting, not wasting public property – “let not even a small quantity of rain water go to the sea without benefiting man…” and referring to the king himself “… it does not become persons in our situation to live enjoying our own ease, unmindful of the interests of the people…”
Disproportionate Use (or abuse) of Authority:
WE (the people) vest our sovereign power in parliament, expecting it to be exercised within the parameters of its intended objectives; loosely speaking this is the legal principle of proportionality! So if ensuring the security of a MP is the parliamentary privilege/ entitlement meant to be achieved under whatever legislation (Public Security, Emergency Regulations or otherwise), then one would need to evaluate whether placing the road-user citizens in difficulty, danger and peril is proportionate to those intended objectives; if such a fiasco is not required then it must fail upon the test of proportionality.
I sincerely believe that someone responsible for approving or authorizing these security details must enlighten us, the general public by explaining why MPs cannot be a bit more considerate to other ordinary road-users, simply travel with whatever limited security is needed inside their own vehicle (with adequate safeguards such as glazing or tinting)? What is this great need to actually attract more attention to yourself (which itself is a security threat) and make such a big racket on the road?
Is it simply to announce that someone “really important” is traveling? If there is an actual threat, why not simply use a helicopter? I for one would gladly approve such expenditure, which I’m sure won’t be much compared to all the personnel and vehicles being used otherwise; but then of course, there will not be that “attention factor”!
We do not wish for any security breaches:
Lest these writings be misconstrued, please note that we do not wish any ill to befall ANY of you due to security lapses; God forbid, Sri Lanka has lost enough politicians over 30 years of terrorism to last us a lifetime! So in appropriate cases (such as when His Excellency, the President needs to travel) we will happily forego a bit of our “freedom of movement”; as obviously there may be more important things for our Head of State than us! Then there may also be some other exceptionally “targeted” personality deserving such additional security; these we the citizens will understand and appreciate and will have no qualms about. However when everybody does this across the board making it the norm rather than the exception (like my Sunday afternoon), then it does become a bit tiresome.
As such please consider this the right time to make individual evaluations of perceived security requirements of everyone and set down some standards and guidelines, so that there is some rationality in the use of these resources which are meant to ensure security; not as a fashion statement for the loose minded or their kith and kin! This way we will have proportionate security provided for those who need it, whilst at the same time ensuring that others who also contribute equally (or perhaps even more) to the Republic are not unduly inconvenienced nor treated unequally by such security needs for a limited few!