he current debate over the number of ministers in the Cabinet is ridiculous and ironic. It is ridiculous because it is vividly clear that the debate is not in the interest of the people of the country. It is purely a matter of satisfying various politicians by appointing them as ministers at the expense of the people. The debate is ironic because even the people are divided over the issue with one section of the tax payers wanting the Government to appoint more ministers with perks worth millions of rupees which is their hard-earned money.
While attempting to increase the number of ministers as they wish using the National Government tag, the leaders of the Government are debating whether it is 30 or 32 ministers that the Government can appoint when it is not a National Government. This points to the fact that how hell-bent are the Government leaders, who once boasted about good governance, to increase the number of ministers by at least two.
A National Government, according to the Constitution is “a Government formed by the recognised political party or the independent group which obtains the highest number of seats in Parliament together with the other recognised political parties or the independent groups.” But what is the need for a National Government when there is neither a national disaster or a problem such as a war or a nation-wide epidemic to be solved nor a national programme collectively prepared by political parties to be implemented?
It was clear that the only need for the so-called National Government in 2015 was the need to ensure the survival of the UNF led Government which had obtained only 106 seats in the Parliament by doling out ministerial portfolios to the members of the UPFA. And now the UNF Government is mulling about a National Government just to lure the members of the other political parties in order to secure again its survival. In other words, the Government is attempting to ensure its survival by spending millions, if not billions, by way of appointing more ministers.
What is the rationale behind the appointment of any number of ministers in the name of National Government? If an ordinary Government can manage the affairs of the country with 30 ministers, why cannot a National Government do the same without increasing the number of ministers?
Answer is clear. MPs belonging to other parties would not join the party that has obtained the highest number of seats to form a National Government, unless they are given portfolios. Clearly it is a bribe out of public coffers. And ironically the 19th Amendment to the Constitution has provided for it. In other words, it is a constitutionally sanctioned bribe.
Now, the Government is attempting to increase the number of ministers by at least two, arguing that 30 ministers of the Cabinet should be counted excepting the President and the Prime Minister. This is a ridiculous argument since the President and the Prime Minister are members of the Cabinet. The Constitution says “The total number of ministers of the Cabinet of Ministers shall not exceed thirty.” Hence, there is no room for the Government to increase the number of ministers including the President and the Premier above thirty. After a bitter struggle to uphold the Constitution, it is not appropriate for the government leaders to find loopholes in the Constitution in order to increase the number of ministers.
There have been Cabinets in Sri Lanka in the past with less than twenty ministers. Even when the plantation industry was the main revenue source of the government, we did not have a separate ministry for that industry then. Despite the population having drastically increased since then, the sectors or the subjects to be handled by ministers have been remaining the same. However, after 1978 President J.R.Jayawardene while breaking up the existing ministries into three or four, appointed new ministers such as State Ministers and District Ministers, totalling over hundred ministers. Later other governments too followed it.
A recent newspaper report said that Government spends Rs. 7.5 million a month for a minister, despite the salary of a minister being not even Rs. 100,000. Hence, it is a crime to increase the number of ministers without a justifiable basis.