Although some comments made by President Maithripala Sirisena during his Independence Day speech yesterday might be inappropriate to the occasion, the view he expressed on the move by the Government to increase the number of Ministers hiding behind the term National Government might have been endorsed by the majority of people in the country.
He said that attempting to increase the number of Ministers through a National Government with a political party which had only one member in Parliament was ethically wrong. And bewildering the country he stated that he got to know about this move through the media.
What is the difference then between the President and the ordinary people in this country? People were also informed by the media on Friday that the Leader of the House Lakshman Kiriella had handed over a motion to the Secretary-General of Parliament to form a National Government with 48 Ministers, under the 19th Amendment to the Constitution.
It is ironic and puzzling when the President, as the head of the Cabinet, was not aware of the matter beforehand. Did the Government present this motion bypassing the Cabinet? However, the stand taken by the President on the matter is correct. It was the United National Front (UNF) that on behalf of their Presidential Candidate Maithripala Sirisena promised the country during the last Presidential Election that it would limit the number of Ministers to 30.
Yet, when the 19th Amendment to the Constitution was introduced in April 2015 by the new UNF Government, an Article which can be misused by any future Government to increase the number of Ministers was also introduced to it. According to that Article, the political party that has the most number of seats in Parliament together with other political parties can form a National Government and increase the number of Ministers.
It is obvious that one or the other political party would definitely get the highest number of seats in Parliament after any Parliamentary Elections and that party can form a coalition Government with some other party or parties, as happened after almost every election in the past and increase the number of Ministers above 30.
Thus, the purpose of the Article on limiting the size of the Cabinet has been negated by another Article of the very Constitutional amendment. The Government, after being sworn in December last year, following the 51-day Constitutional and political impasse appointed a 30-member Cabinet. But, during the process, it attempted to increase the number of Ministers at least by two, claiming that the number of Ministers did not include the President and the Prime Minister.
Later the Government played another trick by appointing a new category of Ministers called non-Cabinet Ministers, but with the same powers, privileges and perks as those enjoyed by the Cabinet Ministers. Now the Government is attempting to further increase the number of Ministers (mis)using the Article in the Constitution on the National Government.
No party in Parliament, other than those that are already in the Government, seems to want to join the Government. Hence, the Government is said to be planning to form the so-called National Government with the member of the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) who was the only member returned under that party’s symbol and was already in the Government.
The legality, as well as the ethics of forming such a National Government, is highly questionable. Despite Batticaloa District Parliamentarian Ali Zahir Mowlana having been elected under the SLMC’s Tree symbol, several other members of the party including its leader have been elected under the UNP’s Elephant symbol.
On the other hand, the Government is attempting to appoint a number of Ministers by coalescing with a single member of a party and that clearly points to the purpose of the so-called national Government. Even if forming a National Government with a single member of the SLMC is legal, it is clearly unethical.
Besides, what is the need for more Ministers? It is a well-known fact that this is nothing but a move just to satisfy the members of the UNF, at the expense of the masses.