There are times when making ridiculous statements seems to have become a profession among Sri Lanka’s politicians, but the latest crack by Education Minister Bandula Gunawardana takes the cake. The assumption that a measly sum of Rs. 7,500 is enough for a family of three to survive on is not just a gross understatement, but shows the complete lack of knowledge and empathy politicians have about the plight of the common man.
The fact that such a nonsensical statement can be made by the Education Minister of all people, and a former tuition master at that, makes one turn grey with worry over the state of the education sector in the country. That fact that politicians are a few apples short of a barrel is obvious to everyone, but the insensitivity of the comment from a person that was elected to office to serve the people makes this statement all the more unforgivable.
It is perhaps strange that Sri Lanka’s brand of democracy elects people to serve the common man and then immediately distances him from the very public he is meant to serve through a complicated, and one might say wholly unnecessary, set of perks and privileges. Ministers who whizz by in their motorcades complete with multiple flunkies, fat salaries and a plethora of other benefits can hardly appreciate the day-to-day struggle of the masses.
Yet, where this ignorance becomes harmful is that these are the same people who are part of the Cabinet and therefore the highest policymaking body of this country. If the Government exists to regulate society and provide fairness and inclusivity to the average man, then its members must know what existence is eked out by them. Without this knowledge, they cannot make intelligent and empathic decisions that impact the daily lives of millions of people in this country.
Moreover, as a Minister who has the responsibility of educating the future generation of this country, such a statement borders on empty-headed rhetoric that the public should not be subjected to. Not only should there be a public apology, there must be steps to ensure that the Minister in question takes a lesson by living like the people he claims to represent.
Sri Lanka’s public has taken too many silly statements lying down. Whether they be election promises or random statements made at public events, the situation has gone far enough. There must be some level of probing the truth behind these statements and an attempt to make top public officials responsible for the remarks that they make. If not it would make far more sense not to listen to them in the first place.
At a time when people are protesting for higher salaries and the economy is struggling to maintain its post-war momentum, what Sri Lanka and the three-member family the Minister mentioned need are pragmatic and realistic policies. Politicians in the country are already responsible for much of the wastage and corruption that plagues it; let at least their words serve where their actions do not.