A Cabinet reshuffle had been one of the main topics discussed in the media during the past few weeks and the politically-minded people were keen to know how the reshuffle would pan out. Finally it became a reality yesterday. However, many of the ministers are still unsure as to the real purpose of ministries being shuffled from one minister to another.
Various reasons were given for Cabinet reshuffle. There have been clashes between ministers who represent the United National Party (UNP) and those representing the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) while there had been differences between the ministers of one party in the government and his deputy or state minister of another party over the allocation of subjects among them. Days before the Cabinet reshuffle, State Minister Sujeeva Senasinghe, who was in the forefront of the the UNP’s campaign at the 2015 presidential and parliamentary elections was quoted last week as having said that his status in the ministry was worse than that of a peon. Most probably the Cabinet reshuffle might have been mooted to mitigate these kinds of issues.
At the presidential election the political leaders, who conceived the yahapalana concept, assured the voters that they would appoint a Cabinet on a scientific basis where ministers would be assigned combinations of related ministries and subjects. But post-election and entrenched in power these and other promises made to the people were conveniently forgotten. The subject of National Integration was handled by one minister while the subject of National Co-existence was handled by another and Education and Higher Education handled by two different ministers. The then much hyped scientific basis for allocating Cabinet portfolios is not evident in the new Cabinet either.
The former Media Minister Gayantha Karunathilake told the media on Sunday that ministers who held powerful portfolios would be allocated equally powerful portfolios in case of any changes to their previously-held portfolios. What did he mean by powerful ministries? It is said that ministers prefer ministries that handle billions of rupees or the ministries having job opportunities which can be distributed among their party supporters. Was it what he meant? The minister also said that the UNP and the SLFP ministers would exchange their ministries among their respective party ministers. What is the scientific basis in such a move?
Nevertheless, it is clear that the Cabinet reshuffle was not a demand made by the people because for most of them these ministries meant little or nothing or they even knew of their existence. For instance, despite the fact there are ten ministers and ministries handling transport in the country including the nine provinces, it is no secret that the public transport system is in a mess. For example, none of the transport ministers during the past several decades had been able to operate trains according to a timetable or able to prepare a timetable that was practical. In the case of the bus service, especially the private bus service is virtually operated by a mafia which takes bus passengers hostage once they board buses.The transport ministers since the 1980s have pathetically failed to compel the private bus owners to issue tickets to passengers which is extremely important in case of an accident while drivers and conductors are often rude to passengers. Decency is something totally alien to the transport sector.
Rising inflation has for decades been an unchanging phenomenon in the country despite there being finance and trade ministers with incredible perks and privileges which are beyond the grasp of the ordinary masses. A recent newspaper report said the government spends Rs.7.5 million a month to maintain a minister. National Integration, Law and Order and the Religious Affairs Ministers are maintaining a deafening silence amid mounting religious tension in the country as happened during the last three years of the Mahinda Rajapaksa regime.
Ordinary masses do not believe that any Cabinet reshuffle would change this sad state of affairs. Only millions of rupees from public coffers would be wasted for refurbishment of ministry buildings according to the taste and whim of the new ministers after the merry-go-round. However, it is the bounden duty of President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe to show that they mean business by walking the talk.