Over the last 25 years the idea of Cabinet government has become a joke. I suspect this was the intention of J R Jayewardene when he imposed an Executive Presidency on a Westminster style system of Cabinet government. In no other country in the world in which the Constitution is a serious document is there an Executive President who has to select his Cabinet from amongst Members of Parliament who continue thus to serve in a dual role. And I should add to this that, in the Westminster system, where all Ministers are Members of Parliament, there is provision generally for additional talent to be included through a Second Chamber – as we see illustrated so effectively in India today.

Adding to the problem is the tradition introduced by President Jayewardene of giving ministerial positions to almost everyone. This led to the assumption that not being made a Minister was an insult, which warranted conspiring against the government. Given that the provisions to prevent cross-overs have also become a joke, this meant that the cabinet had to be continually expanded. Even honourable retirement is now accompanied by a ministerial position, and since the criterion seems to be just age, extraordinarily able people like Sarath Amunugama and D E W Gunasekara are shoved upstairs and replaced with persons without the half of their talents. The latest anomaly, of a Senior Minister also becoming a Junior Minister, since someone of enormous ability is now needed in Parliament as financial problems mount, only serves to make clear to what a ridiculous position we have brought ourselves.

I will devote another article to this subject since it requires more extended treatment than the format in which I now write allows. That article will discuss the functions that require a Cabinet portfolio. Meanwhile the system given below may help with fulfilling the following objectives –

  • To ensure separation of Executive and Legislative functions in accordance with practice in other countries which have an Executive Presidency
  • To provide for recruitment to the Executive of the most suitable and qualified persons available without restriction
  • To strengthen accountability of the Executive to Parliament

There shall be a Cabinet of Ministers charged with the direction and control of the Government of the Republic, which shall be collectively responsible and answerable to Parliament.

The President shall be a member of the Cabinet of Ministers and shall be the Head of the Cabinet of Ministers.

The Cabinet shall consist of not more than 25 Ministers, though the President may reserve any subjects he chooses for himself.

Members of the Cabinet shall not be Members of Parliament or any other elected body, and shall not undertake any other employment. Any Member of Parliament or other elected body appointed to the Cabinet shall resign from such body.

All Members of the Cabinet shall be approved by Parliament before they take up office, and shall be answerable to Parliament through Consultative Committees and through regular appearances in Parliament to answer questions. They shall be present in Parliament during the discussion of legislation pertaining to their Ministries, and may participate in debate but shall not be entitled to vote.

Where the President reserves any subject for himself, he shall appoint a Minister not of Cabinet rank who will liaise with Parliament with regard to the subject for which he is responsible. Such Ministers shall not be Members of Parliament or other elected bodies, nor undertake any other position.