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One of the saddest aspects of the political culture we have developed over the years is the total rejection of continuity, a simple necessity if a country is to move forward smoothly. The present government seems to have rejected this principle completely, in the manner in which it has replaced personnel wholesale. Though it has shown some understanding of the need for experience, it has displayed this by calling back into harness ancient figures from the past.

Mr Paskaralingam being brought back as an Adviser is perhaps the most ludicrous example of this, though he was an efficient Secretary, in Education in the seventies and then to Prime Minister and then President Premadasa in the eighties. But he will be 80 next year and, though he had some experience of Sri Lanka the last time Ranil Wickremesinghe was Prime Minister, he is no longer in a position to know how and through whom to make things move. Then Mr Bradman Weerakoon, who is 84, is an adviser to the Minister of Resettlement, a field in which perhaps he is thought to have experience. He was Commissioner General for Essential Services for a year after the ethnic riots of 1983, before heading back to London.

Comparatively younger, being only in his mid-seventies, is Wickrema Weerasooria who, in addition to advising the President on Banking and Finance and Racial Harmony and Media Freedom, is now also a member of the University Grants Commission. Unlike the other two, he was not a career Civil Servant, but a political appointee in the Jayewardene administration. He served as Secretary to the Ministry of Plan Implementation until 1986, but presumably did not contribute to the increasing problems with regard to Racial Harmony and Media Freedom in those days. He was recycled during the last Wicrkemesinghe Administration, to work with Kabir Hashim’s Ministry of Tertiary Education and Training as well as the Central Bank.

It is perhaps understandable though that this represents continuity for a Wickremesinghe administration. Sadly there was no effort to engage with leading figures in the last administration, many of whom are capable Civil Servants who only need liberation from the politicized approach of several administrations. That has to be done through structural reforms.

Though the Rajapaksa government took this politicization to unparalleled heights, it has been going on for ages. The Jayewardene government began the process of giving enormous powers to political appointees and advisers, Weerasooria, Rakhita Wickramanayake at Air Lanka, Stanley Kalpage at the UGC, Nimal Karunatilleke at the SLBC, and of course Ravi Jayawardene, who set up the Special Task Force. Bu, the culture had been sanctified as it were by the previous government, which had abolished the concept of Permanent Secretaries and handed over those appointments to the Cabinet. Read the rest of this entry »

Rajiva Wijesinha

November 2019
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