The saddest victim of the Ranil Wickremesinghe style of politics has been the Cabinet. There was a pledge in the President’s manifesto to begin with a Cabinet of 25 members. This was expanded to 28, and the pledge that the Cabinet would consist of representatives of all political parties was ignored. I did point this out to the President, and mentioned that Mr Radhakrishnan too had been a victim of this breach of promise.
However I said I would get down to work, and I did so. A further shock awaited, when Kabir Hashim was made Cabinet Minister of Highways and Higher Education and Investment Promotion, but being naïve I believed him when he said he would not interfere. But given the opportunities for patronage, which seems the principal thrust of the UNP led government, he did of course interfere, and was even able to justify the efforts of his personal staff to take possession of extra vehicles as soon as I returned them.
But leaving aside the question of numbers, and the perks that go with the positions, more worrying is the absence of coherent thought in determining the constitution of the Cabinet. Kabir’s is by no means the maddest Ministry. My own favourite is Home Affairs and Fisheries, whereby in addition to his fishing responsibilities Joseph Michael Perera has to look after District and Divisional Secretariats too. Obviously, given his decision making capacities, Karu Jayasuriya, though made Minister of Public Administration, could not be trusted to play ball with regard to appointments to the largest segment of senior public servants. So, as one District Secretary put it, they were summoned to the presence of the Prime Minister’s Secretary and scolded and said they would be transferred. And of course the decisions in this regard are not make by Joseph Michael, who is clueless about the personnel involved, but by the Prime Minister and his merry band.
Perhaps in pursuit of equity, I should note that Joseph Michael has just lost responsibility for the Registration of Persons Act which, two months after the government took office, has been handed over to John Amaratunga and his Ministry of Public Order, Disaster Management and Christian Affairs. In the same Gazette, Navin Dissanayake’s Ministry of Tourism and Sports loses the National Crafts Council which is given to Rishard Bathiudeen’s Ministry of Industry and Commerce. Rishard also gets the Consumer Affairs Authority, which he may well handle with the aplomb shown by Johnston Fernando. The Ministry of Food Security is the loser, as also of the CWE and Sathosa, which are admirably suited perhaps to Rishard’s skills, given what this government seems determined to promote.
Akila Viraj, it seems has lost the National Education Commission, though where this has gone is not clear.
What someone concerned with Good Governance and the welfare of the country would have done is set up a team to determine the number of Ministries the country really needs, and assign Departments to these Ministries. This should be enshrined in the Constitution, to prevent the absurdities that occur with Departments not quite sure where they fit in, and how they related to allied institutions. A couple of weeks back, in COPE – typically only the Chairman of the Sub-Committtee and I were present, though I was told Eran Wickremaratne, who can multi-task to some extent, had been there earlier – we had the Botanical Gardens, which now come under Tourism and Sports. Last time round they were under a dedicated Ministry (which also had the Zoo, though that was not mentioned in the title) and before that they were in the Ministry of the Environment.
It will of course be argued that specifying the subjects of Ministries, in addition to the number, and also the Departments coming under them, will be unnecessarily restrictive. But this objection can be got over by having provision for the creation of upto three more Ministries, and specifying that a change of responsibility for a particular Department can be accomplished through a simple majority of Parliament, the list of Departments being put in the Schedule rather than in the main Constitution. But this should be done only after such changes have been gazetted, and opportunity given for discussion, with public representation, at the Consultative Committees of the affected Ministries, and note taken of their recommendations. Such decisions should not be made solely by the Executive.
I was horrified by the proposed 19th amendment as gazetted, given that it ignored the unanimous decision a few days earlier that the President should continue to head the government. I therefore prepared some amendments as follows, and handed them in to the Secretary General of Parliament –
- Replace (3) with The President shall be the Head of the Cabinet of Ministers, and shall hold the portfolio of Defence. The Cabinet shall consist of 25 other members whose functions shall be laid down in the 9th Schedule to the Constitution.
(The reason for this was that, as noted, the government is pledged to a scientifically structured cabinet and we must once and for all get rid of the idea of departments being shifted between ministries.)
- Defence and National Integration 2. Finance 3. Foreign Affairs 4. Agriculture and Irrigation (including Mahaweli) 5. Economic Development and Investment Promotion 6. Trade and Industries 7. Health 8. Human Resources Development (Education, Higher Education, Vocational Training) 9. Plantations 10. Energy, Petroleum and Mineral Resources 11. Housing and Construction 12. Social Services, Samurdhi, Women and Children 13. Fisheries and Livestock Development 14. Human Rights, Reconciliation and Good Governance 15. Public Order and Disaster Management 16. Transport and Highways 17. Local Government and Public Administration
- Justice 19. Lands, Urban Development and Water Supply 20. Environment 21. Ports and Shipping 22. Labour and Foreign Employment 23. Social Amenities (Cultural Affairs, Sports, Posts) 24. Aviation and Tourism 25. Media, Telecommunications and Information Technology 26. Archaeology and National Heritage
(Obviously there may be alternative suggestions, but my purpose was to bring the discussion to the table and get my colleagues to think of the issues involved, and produce a blueprint that will promote efficiency and also continuity)
Delete 43 (1) nd (2) and (3) and replace with ‘The President shall, in consultation with the Prime Minister, appoint from among Members of Parliament Ministers to be in charge of the Ministries, and may change the composition of the Cabinet of Ministers from time to time in consultation with the Prime Minister
(The draft gave the decision about appointments to the Prime Minister, and also about changing subjects and functions.)
Delete 45 (1) and (2) and replace with 44, The President may, in consultation with the Prime Minister, appoint upto 26 Deputy Ministers to assist the Ministers in the performance of their duties.
(I removed also the idea of Ministers not in the Cabinet, an absurdity introduced by President Jayewardene. Interestingly, as part of his authoritarian approach, the one change in this area apart from giving the Prime Minister rather than the President the power to appoint, is that Cabinet Ministers need a request from the Prime Minister to delegate authority to non-Cabinet Ministers. It also seemed desirable instead of allowing Deputy Ministers to multiply, to have just one for each Ministry. Where necessary the Minister could delegate specific areas to the Deputy Minister.)