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I wrote last week of the corruption that this government has engaged in, quite contrary to the President’s commitment to stop mega corruption and wastage. This week I would like to look at how the manner in which this government is working on that commitment has stopped the development activity the President hoped to increase.

They have done this by terrifying public servants out of their wits, in penalizing them for the excesses that occurred. Some weeks back Dr Nalaka Godahewa, in writing convincingly about problems in the government’s development strategy, noted how a particular tender was not awarded because the person responsible wanted someone more senior also to sign. That person in turn wanted to pass the buck higher up, and of course in each of these stages files sit for ages on a desk without being attended to. The upshot is that no work has been done.

I thought he exaggerated, but the story did remind me of the mess Ranil caused in education during his last stint as Prime Minister, when he appointed a hopeless Secretary to the Ministry. In fact the committee he had entrusted with the task of proposing names had recommended Lalith Weeratunge who had been an excellent deputy to Tara de Mel (and though I could understand Charitha Ratwatte gibbering when I suggested they reappoint Tara, because she was associated too closely with Chandrika Kumaratunga, even Chari had agreed that Lalith would be a good choice).

But Ranil had a personal problem with Lalith, and instead sent a character called V K Nanayakkara. Lalith promptly moved on to other things. I asked him to stay on, but he said working with Nanayakkara was impossible, for if you went to him with four signatures recommending a course of action, he would ask for a fifth. Read the rest of this entry »

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I discussed last week the absurdity of how appointments are made to the cabinet. But the problem goes deeper than that, in that we have completely perverted the whole concept of cabinet government, and then multiplied the problem by having massive cabinets. Indeed the 19th amendment, contrary to the pledge in the President’s manifesto, practically entrenched this, by introducing provision for what is described as a National Government, with no effort at all to define what that might mean.

So we now have a government that certainly does not represent the nation, since it is clear that parties representing a majority of the Sinhalese and a majority of the Tamils are not in government. Only the Muslims can claim that, and even that perhaps may soon be in doubt, given the breach that has developed between Rauff Hakeem and Hassen Ali, who is one of the few Muslim politicians who can claim to be a man of principle. He was one of the five members on the government side who did not vote for the impeachment of the then Chief Justice, the only member of the Muslim Congress who stood firm.

In Sri Lanka the cabinet has become a reward for getting into Parliament and having pleased those in power. Being a Minister does not however necessarily confer power with regard to policy making, but this is not a problem for most Ministers because they are not really concerned with policy, and few have the capacity to understand policy and planning. Rather, they see ministries as providing them with perks, as the excesses of the last few weeks have made clear, the massive sums the country now has to fork out for yet more vehicles for yet more ministers. Read the rest of this entry »

Good Governance 9Minister Mangala Samaraweera’s defence of his taking a young man with him to New York was entertaining, but it was also very sad. Instead of concentrating on the problem of public funds being spent on private predilections, he engaged in a defence of what he evidently thought was a slur, if not on his character, on that of the young man in question. As a defence to charges he evidently took seriously, even if they had not been articulated, he claimed that the person in question was happily married and had a beautiful daughter.

This seems to imply that, had the youth not been married, or had he been married but childless, there would have been legitimate grounds for worry. But in thus diverting attention to what should be an irrelevancy, the Minister ignored the fundamental problem, which is that public money is spent on private convenience. This should not be acceptable, even when the person involved is a wife (whether with or without beautiful children).

Some years back I realized how absurd the situation was when I criticized the fact that a particular Minister had appointed his wife as his private secretary. The excuse offered was that he could then take her with him when he travelled, and that the cost to the country was less, since they could share a room. I do not suppose that was the reason for my predecessor as Minister of Higher Education appointing his wife to his private staff, or my erstwhile superior Kabir Hashim appointing his brother-in-law to his private staff.

 

Such individuals may be considered dependable – as was Kabir’s sister-in-law when he himself was non Cabinet Minister for Tertiary Education in 2002 (she was certainly honest, for she told me, when I complained about how the then UNP government was giving in to the LTTE at every turn, that they could not back out of the Ceasefire Agreement since that would be electorally disastrous). But the country should not have to pay for individuals a Minister finds dependable, unless they actually fulfil a task the country needs. And certainly the provision that a Minister can take one of his private staff with him when he travels is absurd, unless he can show that some public purpose is fulfilled.

During my brief career as a Minister, I was appalled at the perks that were available. I did not take all these up, and I believe the private staff I appointed did serve a public purpose. I had for instance, as Management assistants, two Tamil translators, in a situation in which the entire Ministry had only two people able to function in Tamil, and they at senior levels so they could not be used for day to day translations. As a result the Ministry website was functional in all three languages, which was I believe almost unique for any Ministry website. Read the rest of this entry »

good governanceI have sent the letter below to the Minister of Good Governance, along with the schedule beneath it. I realized how appalling the situation was when I was Secretary to a Ministry, and the personal staff ran riot (including ensuring the election of Mr Thevarapperuma).

 

Dear Mr Jayasuriya,

I had written to you before about simple measures that could be taken to promote Good Governance and I hope we might be able to meet soon to take things forward, There seems to be too little interest in this at present, and that might lead to the people losing faith in us.

 I gather the JVP has already drafted a Code of Conduct, and I am sorry this has not been shared with party leaders and with parliamentarians in general. But pending that, I will send you some ideas which I hope will be incorporated. My first suggestions are with regard to Personal Staff and perks given to Ministers, which are often not used for Ministry work. I realized how bad the situation was when the Secretary of the Ministry I held commended my staff. None of them is related to me, and they have all been working full time at the Ministry since I took up responsibilities.

Let me add that, if the changes I suggest below in the Schedule are made, I will not take advantage of the additional support for Parliamentarians. Otherwise it will be claimed that I would like to get back some of the advantages I have given up in resigning from the Ministry – though obviously I do not need them since I do not have a constituency.

The cost to the country will be about the same, and more Parliamentarians will have less incentive to obtain executive office for the sake of the perks and privileges.

Yours sincerely

Prof Rajiva Wijesinha, MP

 

 Schedule

One of the reasons for everyone wanting to be a Minister is the perks Ministers enjoy. These are often used for personal gain, but in addition they are used for political advantage. This also badly affects productive work. The general principle followed it seems, in forming a Cabinet, is not to select those who understand the subjects allocated to them, but rather to give portfolios for the purpose of ensuring electoral success – both to keep people happy so they will not change sides, and to give them resources to fight elections.

The Minister for Good Governance thought we have an unfortunate political culture and that it would be difficult to change, but we must start now. I would suggest therefore that we adopt a principle of distinguishing between the executive and the Parliamentary roles of politicians and limit them using Ministry resources for electoral or personal purposes. I believe there will be less need of excessive resources when we change the electoral system. But even then, what we should do is give ordinary Parliamentarians a bit more, while cutting down on the waste now.

These measures will also reduce the assumption that the main purpose of a Ministry is to be able to give jobs to people, with little regard for qualifications or ability.

I therefore suggest the following – Read the rest of this entry »

Rajiva Wijesinha

October 2017
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