Cabinet re-shuffle: the cards that keep floating to the top
Posted on May 25th, 2017

BY MALINDA SENEVIRATNE

President Maithripala Sirisena was hopeful.  He said the Cabinet reshuffle will provide a new impetus to Sri Lanka’s development.  Prof G.L. Peiris was generous.  He said that it is unfair to blame Ravi Karunanayake for the economic failures and fiscal shortcomings of the government since he operated with clipped wings considering that the Treasury was under the Prime MInister and the banks with Kabir Hashim.
Dullas Alahapperuma was cute.  He wonders why the government shifted Karunanayake after he had been named the best in the business of ministering finance just a few months ago. He also asked why Mangala Samaraweera who was showered with praise for his diplomacy was removed from the Ministry of External Affairs.  Valid points, these.  
While we wait on the relevant gazette notification there’s speculation about demands being made for control of various state institutions.  The Development Lotteries Board, SriLankan Airlines, the Colombo Stock Exchange and some sections of the Plantations Ministry have been mentioned in pound-of-flesh terms.  Apparently Karunanayake wants these.  Of course it would look utterly silly for such institutions to come under the purview of the Ministry of External Affairs and therefore there’s talk of an additional tag being conferred on Karunanayake.  It could very well come to pass because all it takes is to come up with some economy-related name and a ‘state minister’ label.  Job done.  
Let’s leave speculation aside. Let’s go with the real.  
Dullas has a point.  Prof Peiris has a point.  The President cannot but utter something optimistic.  However, as has been pointed out and not too kindly, booru kuttama mona vidihakata anuvath booruwomai enne.  ‘Booruwa’ is Sinhala for donkey (and booru would be donkeys) but in the context of the kuttama (deck of cards) it refers to the Jack.  The proper transliteration would have ‘joker’ instead ofbooruwa.  Well then, this is how it would go: whichever way one shuffles a pack of  jokers, jokers are what you would get.  
It’s a tad harsh but if it points to a certain dilemma.  There can be many reasons for a cabinet reshuffle.  If there was a loyalty-shift in Parliament and some ministers crossed lines, then of course empty portfolios would need filling.  Death also necessitates shift, depending on the size and importance of the particular ministry.  In this instance, the only possible reason is incompetence.   
Is the government telling us that Karunanayake did a bad job, as did Samaraweera?  What guarantee is there that either would handle a different subject better?  If removal from one ministry indicates inability, inefficiency, corruption etc., then shouldn’t the wise course of action be to appoint better people to these positions?  If Karunanayake cannot handle money, why is there talk of offering him some bucks-related institutions?  Weren’t there better people? 
From the point of view of the political project of this government it is hard to find fault with Samaraweera.  One may find the project itself to be sophomoric and even disastrous in terms of the territorial integrity and sovereignty of the country, but if portfolios are about briefs and delivery, he has got a pass mark.  Not so Karunanayake.  All the indicators add up to an F, even if one were to give some compensatory brownie points for ‘inheritance’ (i.e. from the previous regime — provided of course that all the horror stories told over and over again are defensible).  
If the Finance Manager of a corporate is found to be incompetent would he or she be moved into HR and the HR head be made Finance Manager?  No.  The Finance Manager would be hoofed out, with or without compensation, depending on whether his ‘incompetence’ included hanky-panky.  In this instance, incompetence seems to have been established, but Karunanayake is still a member of the cabinet and the portfolio he now holds is as important as the one he lost, one can argue.  It’s not even a punishment transfer then!
There seems to be the mistaken notion that party seniority or political clout is cause enough to demand portfolios and control of institutions/sectors.  We seem to have developed a political culture where the decision-makers have to make sure that every district, every ethnicity, every religious community, every constituent party in the case of a coalition government and even certain castes have to be represented in Cabinet.  Add to this the need for some gender-balance cosmetics and a bit of youthfulness and one cannot envy the task of the President and Prime Minister, especially since they have their own party-problems to sort out at least in part through portfolio-offer.
They cannot complain though.  The President and Prime Minister did themselves in when they came up with the 19th Amendment which included a neat escape clause for them to go around the size-limit pertaining to the cabinet.  The kind of horseplay we have witnessed over the past few weeks could have been effectively prevented had they played statesman instead of politician, especially given theyahapalana rhetoric they indulged in and the political momentum they had.  
Make no mistake, this side of radical constitutional reform, we will continue to see these kinds of reshuffles by this and subsequent regimes.  Whichever way the reshuffling is done, it will smack of pound-of-flesh demands, trying to balance necessity with the need to retain political stability by the purchase of loyalty, and ultimately a musical chairs game among the incompetent, greedy and corrupt except that the number of chairs will be a constant.  
Things can be done differently.  While conceding that different political formations with different histories and predilections produce different systems, the Swiss example does have some lessons which unfortunately our constitution-makers either ignored or were ignorant of.  Switzerland, since 1948, has had just seven ministries which together are broad enough to cover all subjects.  The titles of the ministries themselves are enshrined in the constitution.  
There are no escape clauses such as those embedded in the 19th Amendment.  There are no ministerial goodies to be offered in return for switching political loyalty.  The incompetent and corrupt cannot hide, if such be the case.  There’s no frenzied shuffling.  The competent are known and are appointed.  They have to work hard.  They can’t pass the buck.  They can’t say ‘I couldn’t do it because such and such institutions were not under my control.’  And, if anyone is found to be out of order, he or she will not be accorded the out of switching ministries with a colleague.  
We are not Switzerland.  However, since there’s a lot of talk about reforms and constitutional amendment, and since the entire cabinet reshuffle has taken the appearance of a circus, the sober thing to do would be for the President and the Prime Minister to revisit the clauses pertaining to the cabinet.  Numbers matter, of course.  Subjects however are more important.  The reshuffling exercise has established this beyond a shadow of doubt.  
Malinda Seneviratne is a freelance writer.  [email protected].  Twitter: malindasene

10 Responses to “Cabinet re-shuffle: the cards that keep floating to the top”

  1. Sarath W Says:

    A lot has been said about the corruption, incompetence and selfishness of our politicians by various commentators, but nothings will change as long as the present system exists. Sixty nine years of independence has taken the country backwards. Political goons and incompetent fools have taken over the parliament and looked after themselves and made fortunes for themselves at the expense of the poor masses.

    It shows the Sri Lankan voters are idiots. They have been fooled over and over again by the same lot of conniving and selfish politicians. The sad thing is most of these crooks do not even have GCE O/L qualifications and continue to fool twenty two million people.

    What is the future of our country? Is it to get rid this bunch of stupid crooks and elect the stupid crooks from the other side? To me the only solution is a military take over for a short period and get rid of these morons from the parliament.
    Politicians should not be ministers. It should be like America, secretaries with qualifications and experiences should take over these important positions.

  2. Ananda-USA Says:

    Sarath W,

    While I sympathize with your sentiments, I cannot agree with the your statement that “politicians should not be ministers”.

    Politicians reflect the platform of values and objectives that the voters want to be implemented to serve their benefit. Who has more public recognition and acceptance for that purpose than the politicians who campaigned to be elected on that platform? Qualified technocrats of un known political leanings?

    Therefore, a more correct statement would be that “Politicians should have at least the necessary minimum educational credentials and subject matter experience to qualify to serve as ministers”.

  3. Ananda-USA Says:

    Continuing….

    The problem we have with the current crop of Ministers is exemplified by the fact that Avamangla Samaraweera is a thrice GCE O/L failed clothes designer and intellectual midget. He was totally ignorant of world history and the ramifications of entering into international agreements and traps set by foreigners, and committed Sri Lanka to war-crimes trials in Geneva. He was either ignorant, or did not care, about those implications. In either case, he was a totally inapproriate person to serve as Foreign Minister. On the other hand, he was a totally malleagle puppet eager to serve his foreign masters and gain a few western accolades by betraying his Motherland.

    Our esteemed Finance Minister, newly crowned by the Banker magazine as the Best Finance Minister in Asia to prop him up until the shakedown of Sri Lanka’s asets could be completed, is also an intellectual midget from the minority Catholic community who could be relied on to help stuff the coffers of the UNPatriotic party.

    I recall that Barack Obama was given awarded an UNEARNED TOTALLY UNDERSERVED Nobel Peace Prize immediately upon his election to the Presidency in a similar effort to co-opt his politics and prop him up to serve the Neo-Liberal cause.

    In Ravi Karunanayake’s case it was also like asking the proverbial FOX to mind the HEN house, given that there were one or more court cases pending regarding financial misapproriations in his previous jobs. Furthermore, he only has an Accounting credential which hardly qualifies him to dabble in Economics and High Finance on the National Level.

    Meanwhile, many more suitable people (eg. Prof GL Pieris, Dr. Dayan Jayatilleke, Dr Harsha De Silva etc) with far better educational credentials and subject-matter experience remain frustrated and excluded from consideration, both in and out of government. At least in Dr. Commataswamy we got a qualified individual, a citizen to boot unlike Arjuna Mahendran, to be the head of the Central Bank!

    It has been reported that EVERY MINISTER is allocated funds to hire a subject-matter expert as an deputy, but those funds are invariably used either to employ a relative in need of a job, a political hack of the party, or even a car driver, instead of the needed subject-matter expert who can help ro help keep the ignorant minister coached, and out of trouble!

    Anichchawata Sankara, Yamapalanaya!

  4. Lorenzo Says:

    Now RK will be in charge of the WAR CRIMES matter!! That is worse. Remember this man ridiculed ALIMANKADE-PAMAKADE, KILINOCHCHI-METHAVACHCHI?

    Don’t be too confident about EDUCATION QUALIFICATIONS.

    Wimal, Basil, etc. and MOST JO MPs are uneducated too. I don’t think MR passed A/L. He became a MP before going to law school.

    It matters LITTLE.

    The problem is DEMO-CRAZY as it is in SL.

  5. ranjit Says:

    By look at your comments Lorenzo it seems that you Also in the same boat like Awamangalya who failed o’level thrice . It’s ok you keep on going marketing to Sira and clan as usual. We know that you are a double agent in politics like the current yamapalakayo.

    I agree with Sarath”Sri lankan voters are idiots” also with Ananda ” politicians at least should have the necessary minimum qualifications and subject matter experience to qualify as ministers”.

    My question is how can 75% uneducated thieves make rules and rule a democratic country? What is the example they can give to the people? Shuffling of Ministerial posts won’t bring any good to the people. Pack of cards have one joker but in this Yamapalanaya all are jokers. The biggest joker is Mr.Bean Wicky. We need a leader who have guts to say to our enemies”mind your own business”. I dream to see a prosperous Lanka with real democracy.

  6. Lorenzo Says:

    Ranjith,

    I don’t.

    I changed from Tamil medium to Singhala medium during school but passed O/L including Singhala and optional Tamil (7Ds and 2Cs. C for Art and Christianity). Not difficult. A/L in English so no problem. So I have studied in ALL 3 mediums!!

    Sirisena did NOT sit A/L. He did the 1971 riot instead!! He spent some time in JAIL and was released. Lets be fair.

    But look at the bigger picture. The problem is current DEMO-CRAZY. That is what ELECTS these people into parliament!!

    SAME treatment should apply to ALL politicians IF education qualifications are used. You cannot have SOME without them and some with them. That is discrimination.

    The biggest problem in SL is this ROTTEN PARTY POLITICS SYSTEM and BLIND followers. IF voters are idiots, they were idiots in 2010 too!! They cannot SUDDENLY turn idiots in 2015.

  7. ranjit Says:

    Bravo!!so you are a qualified political analyst great Lorenzo? Anyway we like to see good educated smart honest people to represent us in the parliament not third class idiots who don’t have any principles or love for the Motherland and don’t have any sense on issues faced by its citizens. Voters are idiots for not selecting the proper candidates to represent them and talk about their problems. From 2005-2014 we had a leader who never bends but now we have a leader who bends like Beckham in front of Mr.Bean Wicky, Bandit queen and the world community. Disgrace.

  8. Christie Says:

    Malinda, I am sure Chandrika the Governor was there. (that is what I heard). And then one of her mother’s Peon (administrator who moved to Flower Road in 60-70 ) has been consulted. Lastly approved by the Emperor (who I am sure during his visit).

  9. Lorenzo Says:

    Since NEW YEAR SL is going through a bad patch. Now floods. We are saddened by the loss of life and suffering.

  10. Naram Says:

    SL has been going through bad patches, wrecked by floods, malnutrition, ill health, terrorism and rebellions, every day of my life.

    I would not say it is my birth that caused the misfortunes; if one looks dispassionately at the post colonial countries around, of similar vintage India, Burma, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Kenya, Uganda, or even Sierra Leone with a longer period or Zimbabwe as a shorter one as an independent nation our lot is not unenviable in the fields like health and education.

    However the depressing fact is that the income distribution has become top heavy particularly after the 1977 JRJ constitution with political masters making vast fortunes even in a short spell as an MP and the corruption has now brought the country to a halt.

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