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CaptureI was delighted to see last week that ‘The government is now planning to extend the “Amity Schools” concept, commencing from “Year One”. This is presented ‘as another gigantic medium to a long-term move in supporting national reconciliation amongst communities’ whatever that convoluted justification might mean.

It is also splendidly ironic, since the concept of Amity Schools was killed by Ranil Wickremesinghe when his government replaced Chandrika Kumaratunga’s at the end of 2001. Amity Schools had been the term used in the concept paper I had prepared for Tara de Mel when she accepted my suggestion, in the middle of 2001, to restart English medium on a large scale in government schools.

We had been introduced by Jeevan Thiagarajah at a seminar at the British Council, and when I broached the subject of English medium she told me she planned to start it in two schools the following year, one in Colombo and one in Kandy. She had already started Advanced Level Science in English in some schools.

I welcomed these initiatives but told her that it was not correct to confine English to an elite. She needed to make it more widely available. When she told me there were not enough teachers available, I told her there were enough to start in enough schools to set the ball rolling. Read the rest of this entry »

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One aspect of politics that draws criticism but little analysis is the phenomenon of large cabinets, with Members of Parliament imagining it their right to be appointed to Executive Office on the grounds of seniority alone.

This is nothing new, though the opposition affects to forget the massive numbers to whom President Jayewardene gave executive positions, which is when the trend really began. Not all his appointments were to the Cabinet or to Deputy positions, since he also had 25 District Ministerships to play around with, in addition to the Project Ministries he had instituted. The result was that at one stage he had over 100 Ministers of various types, in a Parliamentary group of around 140.

It is true that Ranil Wickremesinghe tried to restrict numbers, at a time when the topic had been raised by the JVP, which had made it a condition of the probation period they gave President Kumaratunga in 2001 that she restrict her Cabinet to 20. Unfortunately they failed to insist on a Cabinet amendment to this effect, and Mrs Kumaratunga in fact made it 22, though this did not help her to stay in power.

Mr Wickremesinghe adopted the expedient of appointing 40 Ministers, but putting only 20 of them in the Cabinet, and managed in the process to leave out the Minister of Human Resources Development. He claimed this was an oversight, though in fact it contributed to his favourites, Kabir Hashim and Suranimala Rajapaksa, as Project Ministers of Higher Education and Education respectively, settling themselves in their respective Ministries and exercising equal powers with Karunasena Kodituwakku who was in theory their superior. It was only three months after he first constituted the Cabinet that Ranil expanded it to include Kodituwakku and some others. Despite his claims to be cutting government expenditure, he evidently had no qualms about establishing Ministries which seemed to have no work, for some of his Ministers had no operational funds, receiving only establishment costs in the budget.

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Rajiva Wijesinha

September 2019
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