Another Cabinet reshuffle is the talking point these days. Health Minister and Cabinet Spokesman Rajitha Senaratne said on Sunday that there would be a Cabinet reshuffle before May 1 with the portfolios assigned in a scientific manner.
This is not the government’s first Cabinet reshuffle and also not the first time that Dr. Senaratne assured the country on behalf of the government that the portfolios would be assigned in a scientific manner. It was during the 2015 presidential election campaign that the leaders of the incumbent government promised to appoint a 30-member Cabinet on a scientific basis.
But the new government never kept that promise -- it neither maintained the limit of Cabinet ministers to 30 nor were they assigned on a scientific basis. We now have a 47-member Cabinet including the President and the Prime Minister, 24 State ministers and 24 deputy ministers
The proposed Cabinet reshuffle if carried out would be the fourth of its kind since the Yahapalana or Unity Government assumed office. The first reshuffle was carried out on May 22 last year after the startling revelations about the nexus between politicians and those implicated in the Central Bank bond scam. The Finance portfolio was assigned to Managala Samaraweera and Ravi Karunanayake appointed Foreign Affairs Minister making this a major change in that Cabinet reshuffle.
In the aftermath of the humiliating defeat suffered by the two main constituents of the government -- the United National Party (UNP) and the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) -- at the February 10 local government elections this year, a Cabinet reshuffle was carried out with the main among them being the assigning the Law and Order portfolio to Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe. However, he held the post only for a few days till it was assigned to Ranjith Madduma Bandara.
Then again President Maithripala Sirisena appointed four acting ministers on April 12 this year in place of the six ministers along with nine state and deputy ministers and the deputy speaker who resigned after voting in favour of the no-confidence motion against the Prime Minister.
Government leaders have never defined the term ‘scientific’ Cabinet. However, one can gather from their criticism against the former regime for appointing ministers in a haphazard manner that the term means related subjects coming under one ministry. However, it was under this government that the Central Bank was removed from the Finance Ministry, Highways and Higher Education portfolios were placed under one minister, two lotteries boards were assigned to the Foreign Affairs Ministry and interestingly, a Buddhist was appointed as the deputy minister in charge of Muslim Cultural Affairs. This shows not only that they have not been serious about their pledge to the people, but also that they were prepared to insult the intellect of the people.
It was this government that limited the number of ministers of a single party government to 30 under the 19th Amendment to the Constitution while introducing provisions to the same Amendment to form National Governments under which that limit can be removed. Thus the present so-called National Government has 47 Cabinet ministers. And there is no sign of the government reducing the number of ministers from 47 at this week’s proposed reshuffle. How can a Cabinet be scientific when the number of its members varies - from 30 to 47-?
National Governments are meant to be formed when the nation is faced with national crises such as wars and foreign invasions and not because of the inability of political parties with reduced mandate to form the government. Offering of ministerial portfolios by one party to another party to form the government is nothing but a political bribe. Nevertheless it has been legalised under the 19th Amendment.
The main problem with the government is that it does not have a “scientific” programme for economic development. It must first prepare such a programme and then assign the functions (portfolios) accordingly.