It was only last week that a Kalutara Urban Council member (UNP) demanded that the media be debarred from covering council meetings. He was incensed at newspaper reports that some councillors were planning to visit Bangkok at the ratepayers’ expense. Close on the heels of that incident, the Polgahawela Pradeshiya Sabha (PS) Chairman has declared his council premises out of bounds to journalists. He is resentful that questions that some PS members raised about the cost of repairs to his pick-up truck and the low quality of a stock of CFL bulbs purchased by the council have been reported. What else does he think the media should do?
If the Polgahawela PS Chairman thinks he can hush up what transpires at council meetings by denying journalists access to them he is mistaken. There’s more than one way to shoe a horse as they say. His aggressive reaction to media reports indicates that he has something to hide.
As if the problems caused by parliamentarians and ministers were not enough, the PS heads and members have become a law unto themselves. Most local government institutions have been in the news because of their Chairmen who are on the wrong side of the law. Some PS heads have been arrested for various offences ranging from timber rackets to murder. The Tangalle PS grabbed headlines across the world when its Chairman together with a gang of criminals killed a British national and raped his fiancée.
Sri Lankans are burdened with more than 4,000 politicians who do precious little in Parliament, Provincial Councils and local government institutions. MPs have recently drawn heavy flak for skipping parliamentary sessions and party leaders have come under pressure to make them fall in line. A similar situation prevails in Provincial Councils where most members turn up at lunch time and vanish after partaking of sumptuous meals.
Last week, hell broke loose in the Eheliyagoda PS when a UPFA member brandished a sword during a council meeting! He has been suspended for two months by way of punishment which he has gladly accepted. He should have been arrested forthwith and prosecuted for that offence. This is a country where even jaywalkers are taken into custody and fined! Everybody is equal before the law and the ruling party politicians and their goons are apparently ‘more equal than others’. When a group of UNP MPs visited the Magampura Port and the Mattala Airport last April, the Hambantota Mayor went berserk wielding a firearm which, he later claimed, was only a toy pistol!
We reported last Friday that 80 members of the Negombo Municipal Council, the Ja-Ela Urban Council, the Katana Urban Council, the Hettipola PS and the Panduwasnuwara PS had been on foreign junkets at public expense. Some JVP councillors have said funds allocated for garbage disposal had been used for the councillors’ pleasure trips. It is hoped that journalists assigned to cover those institutions won’t be thrown out for having exposed the criminal waste of public funds.
Media rights groups ought to take serious notice of politicians imposing bans on journalists. Unless stern action is taken urgently to defeat politicians’ sinister moves to silence the media, the day may not be far off when journalists will be kicked out of all local government bodies as well as other institutions, which are full of crooks.
The Polgahawela PS Chairman (UPFA) should be told in no uncertain terms that the council he heads is not his grandma’s estate. It belongs to the people and he has been elected to do a temporary job. His ban must be defied!