When the German Liberal Foundation, the Friedrich Naumann Stiftung, first asked me to conduct workshops on Liberalism in other countries in South Asia, they provided me with training materials which I found enormously useful. One set related to the functions of government, and involved discussion with participants as to what it was essential that government be in charge of. We used to find then that, though Liberalism believes in limiting the role of government, there were many areas where government, even though small, had to be strong.

Areas that required a decisive role for the State related primarily to Security. This however had to be interpreted broadly, and included not just physical security, but also areas in which citizens had to feel confident of equal protection. Thus almost invariably we would decide that there were several areas which required Ministries that both made policy and implemented it. Included here are also areas where a supervisory role is needed for other layers of government, and in particular to provide training and skills development

  1. Defence

  2. External Affairs

  3. Justice

  4. Finance

  5. Energy and Petroleum

  6. Labour

  7. Ports and Aviation

  8. Public Administration and Local Government

There were also areas where clear policy decisions were necessary, for implementation throughout the country on a uniform basis. Some of the following, such as Environment, did not seem as important then, but I include them here together with areas that are of particular importance to Sri Lanka. In some cases what are now separate portfolios are combined since, while Central Government must develop policy and enforce it through careful monitoring, actual implementation will be the responsibility of other layers of government. As noted previously, in many areas the responsibility for implementation should be entrusted to small units that can ensure people participation in their work.

  1. Health

  2. Human Resources Development

  3. Infrastructre and Economic Development

  4. Environment and Disaster Management

  5. Human Rights and Reconciliation

  6. Land and Urban Development

  7. Archaeology and National Heritage


Then there are areas where government does not need to make policy as a whole, but where an overview is essential, and where selective interventions are required. These are areas in which essentially we should empower citizens to function on their own, bearing in mind that subsidies may be needed to nurture activity, and that training and skills development and support for marketing are often needed. In some of these areas government activity may also be needed, though more important is regulation to promote private sector initiatives on an equitable basis

  1. Agriculture and Irrigation

  2. Fisheries and Livestock Development

  3. Industries

  4. Mineral and Natural Resources

  5. Trade and Cooperatives

  6. Transport

  7. Posts and Telecommunications

  8. Media

  9. Home Affairs


This last is a portfolio that should have an overview of civil affairs, including matters such as excise where a uniform policy that promotes protection is vital. It could also cover areas such as mediation and rehabilitation, since we have suffered for too long from an adversarial and retributive view of justice. While the existing Court system is essential for criminal and constitutional matters, and for civil matters where other measures cannot be applied, we should provide justice through consultation and consensus where possible for civil matters, and also explore counseling and rehabilitation for minor offences that now bring to bear the whole weight of a punitive judicial system.

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