Only a handful of the leaders of the country seem to know the real purpose of the Cabinet reshuffle that was carried out on May 22, the country’s 45th Republic Day, after several months of bickering in the media. Hence many people have their own versions and theories about it.
However, it is clear that the government has totally forgotten its promise given to the nation during the 2015 presidential election to appoint a relatively small Cabinet on a scientific basis. Under the election promises or pledges, the number of Cabinet ministers was to be limited to 30, but it has risen to 47 now with the new inclusion of Tilak Marapana with a new portfolio called Development Assignment. The government that assumed office in January 2015 with the professed aim of establishing good governance in the country went back on its words on April 28, 2015 with regard to the size of the Cabinet with the passage of its first major Constitutional reform, the 19th Amendment allowing the government to appoint any number of ministers in the event of a “National Government” being installed.
Leaders of the government could point out this Constitutional provision to justify the present inflation of the Cabinet. But how can one understand the need of varying the number of ministers for a country under an ordinary government and a National Government? The requirement of ministers for the country cannot vary despite the government consisting of one political party or many parties. In fact the concept of National Government has been used as a ruse to increase the number of ministers. Leaders of the present and the future governments have been given legal permission to bribe the members of other parties with portfolios under the guise of a National Government so that it could survive in office.
The government had allocated Rs.1,200 million since March this year for luxury vehicles for ministers, each worth more than Rs.30 million and Rs.40 million,while tossing out just Rs.1,000 million for thousands of people to reconstruct their houses destroyed by the floods
This inflation of the Cabinet and the number of deputies and state ministers has undoubtedly puffed up the cost of maintaining them. This happens not by way of their salary which is far below that of many employees in the private sector. It is through the perks they are awarded that the ministers become a burden to the public coffers. A recent newspaper report said the government spends Rs.7.5 million a month for the maintenance of a minister. We have nearly a hundred ministers including deputies and state ministers.
The government had allocated Rs.1,200 million since March this year for luxury vehicles for ministers, each worth more than Rs.30 million and Rs.40 million,while tossing out just Rs.1,000 million for thousands of people to reconstruct their houses destroyed by the floods, rains and landslides in the Kegalle District last year. And it is a well-known fact that most of the duty-free permits for these luxury vehicles are being sold and many politicians dare to openly justify it. However, the Govt. has been compelled to postpone the purchase of these vehicles for one year due to public pressure.
They promised to appoint a Cabinet on a scientific basis. But how can they justify, under the concept of scientific allocation of portfolios and subjects to the ministers, the appointment of State ministers, a portfolio introduced in Sri Lanka by former President Ranasinghe Premadasa in 1989, apart from the appointment of deputy ministers. Through the latest cabinet reshuffle Fisheries Minister Mahinda Amaraweera has been assigned the additional portfolio of State Minister of Mahaweli Development.
We have a Ministry of Policies and Economic Affairs under the Prime Minister. This ministry had under its purview even the subject of rural infrastructure development. But at the same time we have a Development Strategies and International Trade Ministry under Malik Samarawickrama. We also have a Regional Development Ministry under Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka and Development Assignment ministry under Minister Marapana, while there are many ministries tasked with the development of certain provinces such as the Western Development and Southern Development. The recent Cabinet reshuffle added one more to the list, the Sabaragamuwa Development under Labour Minister John Seneviratne. What is the scientific basis in these appointments? The inevitable question people would ask is, “whither good governance.”
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