Prospects Of The Gargantuan Cabinet
Posted on September 15th, 2015

Courtesy The Sunday Leader

The gigantic number of cabinet, state and deputy ministers keeps mounting with such frequency that it is quite a difficult task to keep pace with the expansion. At the time of writing the collective number is nearing a century.

With nine provincial councils comprising chief ministers and ministers for various subjects, Sri Lanka could possibly claim a place in the Guinness Book of Records for the number of ministers to look after the interests of only 20 million people. Critics have pointed out that India, with a population of 2.1 billion and being a sub-continent stretching from the Himalayas to Cape Comorin, has only 31 cabinet ministers and 39 ministers of state.

Giant-sized cabinets are not a new political phenomenon in this little island. The previous government set a precedent with an equally gargantuan-sized cabinet and a swarm of state and deputy ministers of the same multitude. The Sri Lankan tradition of following bad precedents has been followed.

The bureaucratic and security backup for these legislators could far outnumber the ministers and the financial burdens placed by them on public expenditure which could, if diverted, help alleviate quite a number living in poverty. To these unfortunates, glib politicians have pledged to alleviate poverty ever so often.

It could be argued that this large number of ministers is justified because of tremendous development plans envisaged in election manifestos of the constituent parties. But the public will have doubts about the capabilities of very many of them going by the past performances they are known for: creating rumpuses both inside and outside parliament for petty political gains.

If the politicians can contribute a worthwhile service to the people, the funds and resources devoted to them would be justifiable but previous experience gives no such hopes.

This gargantuan cabinet, with their equally large number of junior ministers, begs the question: What kind of public services are this army of politicians with their bureaucracy going to provide or are capable of?

There are qualified professionals both in the UNP and SLFP ranks who understand the kind of development called for to match economic development abroad. Some young politicians have displayed their talents on TV, the print media and the pubic have placed their confidence in them by returning them to parliament with unprecedented majorities. For the benefit of the country they should not be covered by the pall of their seniors who are less competent or be pushed to the background by electoral rejects who are now ministers.

The cabinet of ministers, as well as their junior ministers, have already been sworn in but there should be no reluctance to re-shuffle the cabinet or re-allocate posts of junior ministers if the occasion demands.

The large size of the cabinet and appointment of rejected candidates by their electorate have been justifiably criticised by the public including the Ven. Maduluwawe Sobitha Thero, who was the spearhead in the breakup of the previous regime and the formation of the new government. Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and President Maithripala Sirisena have not reacted to these criticisms as yet. It will be prudent if these leaders give ear to such criticisms which have been levelled while the government is in its infancy.

The issue of defeated candidates and unnecessary enlargement on the number of junior ministers seem to mainly involve the SLFP faction of the government. Rumblings within the SLFP are heard loud and clear. Whether the intake of ‘loyalists’ who have been his bitter critics and supporters of Mahinda Rajapaksa can assure him loyalty and security is keeping well wishers of the National Government wondering.

The welfare of this National Government is of prime importance to the welfare of the nation. Criticism directed at it is made with the best of intentions.

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