anka Private Bus Owners’ Association (LPBOA) President Gemunu Wijeratne was right when he said recently that there was no need for the country to have two ministries for the transport sector, one the Transport Ministry and the other the Private Transport Services Ministry. However, apart from raising questions about Mr. Wijeratne’s real concerns in respect of the existence of two transport ministries, his remark opens up a larger vital issue, the rationale behind the appointment of ministers and entrusting them with various subject ministries.
Considering the services provided by the buses under his association, surely Mr. Wijeratne was not concerned about providing a more comfortable and decent service to the commuters when he was questioning the rationale for having two transport ministries. He was concerned about the route permits for his buses to run on expressways and the revenue drawn from the industry.
One may even question the moral right of the LPBOA to make suggestions for the streamlining of the transport sector, which operates an utterly messy private bus service purely because of the extreme greed on the part of the bus owners and the bus crews. The bus crews with the consent and in most cases, on the instructions of the bus owners waste hundreds of thousands of work hours of the bus travellers each day around the country, by way of prolonging the time at each bus halt. They do not understand the simple logic that the number of commuters on a particular bus route would not change on a particular day but only that those commuters would be spread among the buses plying on that route on any given day, irrespective of the time they waste at bus stops.
Also it is a well-known fact that the private bus service is inefficient in many aspects. The cleanliness and the road worthiness of many buses, both private as well as those belonging to the Sri Lanka Transport Board (SLTB) are well known. The language used by the private bus crews would further deprive the LPBOA of its moral right to point a finger at the ministries for the degeneration of the service. Most of the road accidents that claim thousands of lives a year would vouch for the road discipline of the private bus drivers.
Be that as it may, the point Mr.Wijeratne has raised is worth considering. Why should the country need two ministries for the transport sector? It is at least somewhat logical if we have one ministry for the rail transport and another for the road transport. But here, the Railway Department and the SLTB are under one ministry and the private bus “service” is under another.
This applies to other sectors as well. During the old days when there were only about 25 ministers in the country the subjects of transport and highways were handled by one minister. Today we have two transport ministers and a highways minister at the national level and at least nine transport ministers at the provincial level, without any coordination and common programmes. Furthermore some of the roads in the country come under local government authorities which in turn come under the purview of another ten ministries, at national and provincial level.
Sri Lanka is a unique country which has sometimes a Plantations Industries Ministry that does not have the coconut plantations under it. Today, apart from the Plantation Industries Ministry, we have even a ministry which is entrusted with the sugar cane industry. The list of examples is too long. The reason to breakdown one ministry into so many ministries is mainly because of the need to pacify supporters and not the requirement of the sector concerned. Ultimately almost the entire ruling party has today been appointed ministers and deputy ministers, burdening the tax paying people.
The rationale behind the assignment of portfolios to individual ministers too is definitely puzzling. While Mervyn Silva had been accused of attacking media houses he had once been appointed the Deputy Minister of Media, and he now interestingly holds the portfolio of Public Relations. Champika Ranawaka who is an electrical engineer was removed from the Ministry of Power and Energy. “God knows,” as a former Attorney General once said when questioned about the whereabouts of a missing journalist. Similarly “God only knows” the reasons for these appointments and changes.