25 June, 2022


All-Party-Government And The Size Of It

By Hema Senanayake – 

Hema Senanayake

Hema Senanayake

In brief, nothing happens without the presence of the necessary conditions. A French mathematician and philosopher namely Pierre-Simon Laplace documented this phenomenon in 1814 as the causal and scientific determinism. What does this mean? Let me explain it through a simple example. If you want to make a plane fly, then you need to set the aerodynamically necessary conditions in order to make it fly. This is exactly what aeronautical engineers do; they set the necessary conditions. In science Laplace’s above hypothesis is an important one. Subsequently this idea transformed to be known as “cause and effect” principle.

Venerable Maduluwawe Sobitha knows the idea of determinism in a different perspective. Being a Buddhist monk he knows well that the Buddha had told that, “There is a cause for everything that comes into existence and it ceases to exist when the cause ceases to be.”

In view of both scientific and Buddhist philosophical perspectives the sudden change that has been occurring in the political landscape must be the outcome of being set the necessary conditions. Venerable Maduluwawe Sobitha and a host of civil society activists including many professional organizations and trade unions have set the necessary conditions for this transformation. The society collectively demands “good governance.” Accountability is the basis of good governance. Everybody, including president himself must be accountable; the media should play the pivotal role of holding everyone accountable. The truth must be told about the president or anyone else.

Cabinet&DeputyMinistersThe Opposition has promised to establish an All-party-government, if Maithripala Sirisena wins the election on 08th January 2015. What should be the size of the government? This is not the exact question in mind of Ven. Sobitha and other civil society activists. Rather they are concerned with the administrative part of the government and essentially not about the size of the government. For example JVP wants a larger government but a smaller administration. The UNP favors for a smaller government and a smaller administration. But none favors for a lager administration. Extensively large Cabinet of Ministers is symbolic for a large administration. On top of it there is an Executive Presidency which is costly as is alleged by JVP relentlessly. The common symptoms of such a government are waste and corruptions. Should this end?

A fairly young UPFA parliamentarian Vasantha Senanayake has been convinced that the concept of larger administration should end. A couple of months ago he suggested to reduce the number of ministries to around 25. He submitted this proposal direct to the President and tried to bring a bill to the parliament but due to whatever reason he himself withdrew the bill when it was taken up for debate. This was happened when he was with the government. Subsequently, he crossed over to the opposition side. The said proposal was to limit the number of Cabinet Ministers that could be appointed by the Head of the State through a constitutional amendment. This idea was well resonated with Ven. Sobitha and other civil society activists. It will be well resonated with many people even in the future.

However, in the MOU signed by and between the common candidate of the opposition and others, there is no clue as to the number of Ministers in All-party-government. But this is quiet understood since the MOU is a broader policy document. However, Prof. Rajiva Wijesingha writing an article recently said that the number of Ministers to be appointed by Mathripala Sirisena could increase from 25 to 35 initially. I am not agreed because of moral principles. Twenty five must be twenty five not thirty five. If they are concerned with providing opportunity for all constituent parties to participate in the administration then rotational arrangement would do the necessary compromise between the requirement and morale principles. However, the issue of morality is not what I wanted to write; instead I want to write about the economic fundamentals of the size of the government.

In general, the size of the government is determined by the size of the national budget. However the quantitative figure of the national budget is not good for comparison and for policy planning purposes. Therefore economists use the ratio of “budget to GDP”; whereas GDP stands for Gross Domestic Product. In 2008 Zimbabwe had the biggest government. Its budget to GDP ratio was over 90%. In 2014 this ratio for Sri Lanka is around 21%; in Denmark the value of the said ratio is 56%. The United States has a ‘budget to GDP ratio of 41%. It seems the picture is complex. Sri Lanka has a smaller government as at now in compared to all OECD countries. So, is it fair to complain about having a larger Cabinet and “costly” Executive Presidency”? Why this question is not answered by Dr. P.B. Jayasundera or other economists in the government or in the opposition? I do not have an answer for the last question but I may try to reply for the question one before the last.

Without looking at the economic efficiency factor we cannot answer this question. Economic efficiency is what matters the most. You may have a large government with high efficiency. That is the case with Denmark. Or you can have a larger government with rampant inefficiency. This was the case with Zimbabwe in 2008. Sri Lanka has a relatively smaller government (the ratio is 21%) in compared to India (the ratio is 27%) when determined by the “budget to GDP” ratio. Is MR’s government efficient than Indian one? Or how do we know that any government is inefficient? Let me explain briefly.

Economically the role of the government is to produce common interests for the wellbeing of the society. Education service is a popularly known common interest in Sri Lanka. The government is to produce this service. Whatever the expenditure incurred on the Ministry of Education is duly added up to the GDP calculation. But the wellbeing of children is determined by the quantum of service they consumed or used. The use of service is really taking place in the classrooms in the schools or in Universities or in any other institute. This is the service part what matters to the wellbeing of society. Also there is an administrative part without which the service cannot be produced. This part consists with the administrations of schools or Universities and on top of it the relevant Ministry. Now let us add another Ministry to this system. Is the wellbeing increased? No. Is the GDP increased? Yes, because the additional Ministry’s expenditure added to the GDP calculation. So, is the efficiency of the economy increased? No. Put another few Ministry’s to take care of the education. You now know what would happen to the economic efficiency and to the country’s GDP figure. In this example, when inefficiency increases the GDP too increases. Truly, that is the case with highly inefficient system of government.

Put all the Ministries and the Executive branch together; cut the administrative expenditure by half and put that half to produce real consumable services at the point of “consumption”; then you have the same GDP as before but the wellbeing of the members of society is reasonably increased. That is economic efficiency.

Therefore, in general, it is not the overall size of the government what should be concerned with by Ven. Sobtha and other civil society activists, when Maithri’s administration is set up hopefully. Instead, it is the shear administrative part which should be concerned with. So that, the civil society would be able to set the necessary conditions to have an efficient government. Explaining the economic efficiency factor is not fully over. But this is the beginning.

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Latest comments

  • 4

    I think, in Sri Lanka there is an inherent error component of lack of efficiency and accountability because of the way it is implemented. Because, all these ministers, deputy ministers and ministries and corresponding provincial ministries and ministers are there to duplicate the services and their areas of responsibilities are overlapped. Al these are for just 64,000 KM area and 22 million people.

    What do they do with all these human resources at the top, when there are that many politicians and bureaucrats there to look after this small society. How can we have national policies or development strategies when different groups sail along different routes.

    How do they become effective ? It is just a top heavy tree. It is unstable. Lot of branches need to be slashed in order that to be efficient and accountable.

  • 4

    Mr Senanayake is a very brave man indeed.

    The river is still five miles away, and he has got out his swimming trunks.

    Still, there is no harm I suppose in a bit of harmless speculation.

    Truth to tell, the size of the cabinet is determined by the number of sycophants who need to be kept ‘busy’. By any yardstick, twenty competent and honest members could deliver a very workable cabinet for a country of our size and population. Then again, with these smart cowboys managing the show, what are the idle Indians going to do?

  • 2

    Then, let’s hope that Gota and the military are around to give maximum efficiency to the smaller admin.

  • 2

    Good analysis. But..but. Who said that Ma Ra will lose for sure ?..MaRa losing is very slim based on the political history since 1948.
    Why it is slim ? Reasons are many. He knows he has to win by hook or by crook.

    So what things he is doing and will do ?

    1.He will appeal to the Sinhala Buddhist majority that he is the only protector of them and the country.
    2.He is already saying that his enemies are planning to send him to the electric chair when he is dethroned, forgetting that he has his current term until 2016 as correctly pointed out by his son Namal.
    3. Also if he wants to avoid I C C, the 18 th ammendment is on his side and he can continue more than his 3rd term provided people elect him . This applies to his brothers and their children.
    4. So why he called for an early election ? The credible and simple deduction is after the elections it is going to be one party system with more military involvement and control. So no one can question his regime on corruption, nepotism and cronyism, and law and order
    5. He has already started to take a U turn on the ” Files issue ” he brought up.
    6. His regime’ s plan is to visit every house 3 times to canvass and win votes for him. What are the hidden goodies there or subtle emotional appeals.

    As a seasoned politician he knows that his victory depends on the majority of the ordinary people of the Sinhala Buddhist majority.

  • 2

    Very well balance article, that is call responsible writing. love it, “, the civil society would be able to set the necessary conditions to have an efficient government. Explaining the economic efficiency factor is not fully over. But this is the beginning.”

  • 2

    Must read both:

    Sri Lanka’s Secrets, by Trevor Grant is chronicle of genocide

    Book review by: Bruce Haigh is a political commentator, retired diplomat, who served in Sri Lanka and former member of the refugee review tribunal.

    Read more: http://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/books/book-review-sri-lankas-secrets-by-trevor-grant-is-chronicle-of-genocide-20141201-11shqn.html#ixzz3L6HyqhpR

    Read more: http://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/books/book-review-sri-lankas-secrets-by-trevor-grant-is-chronicle-of-genocide-20141201-11shqn.html#ixzz3L6Hhp2OD

    • 0

      Thiru you multi-posting clucking idiot. You diaspora terrorists fool nobody. You prove that you people cannot be trusted.

      • 2


        “You diaspora terrorists fool nobody.”

        VP did fool many in the majoritarian South for about 30 years and the Diaspora Suren Suren fooled 20 Million stupid people only two weeks ago.

        It is a shame that Sinhala/Buddhists are still not aware of the fact that they have been fooled by their Sinhala/Buddhist parties, state and its rulers over 66 years.

        Hence Sinhala/Buddhist are doing a better job than the stupid Diaspora Tamils.

  • 4

    This is a very valid write-up, Infact most of the people still dangle in ambiguity, not knowing the reality after the Mithree win? How will they accommodate members from all these parties coming together to form the new Government? Needless to say most of the politicians will be throwing the towel as their political careers will come to an abrupt end, especially the chaps who decided to stay back with MR. Whatever the new President decide he must keep the Hela Urumaya and the JVP carders in the cabinet to see a proper check and balance. We know UNP members are also not Saints from a Holy book.

    Its is vital and so imperative that the New campaign,every rally must be used as an opportunity to convey the new plan to the masses, rather than just using hollow words like “Rajapakse Regimaya” “Ekadipathi Viyaruwa”..so on. What is your road map at least a general path needs to be explained. Ask people if they have seen a million rupees, use the wastage and the pilferage as a comparison for the simple man to understand,use this opportunity to educate the people for the forthcoming General elections as well.This is a golden chance.
    Stealing 134 thousand cement bags from “Maga Naguma” Thats approximately 355 forty foot container lorries taken away free from the people !.. show a tangible value to the normal man, so many people are living in half built houses covers with tin sheets and black polythene covers dreaming to have their own house. Quantify what you say and let the people feel the impact if not again They will be washed away with this pseudo patriotic jargon. We saw this happening in every election.Food for thought.

  • 1

    According to theorists in Public Administration a Minister should be in charge of a department or departments or a function. In 1915 Britain established a Commission to study the problem, called the Haldane Committee. They discussed the issue of the grouping of departments to achieve a common objective and the need for co-ordination. They suggested 20 Ministries. Northcote Parkinson in his witty book found that the average size in developed European countries was 20-25.MR has been using the appointment of Ministers not on the basis of need but to bind MPs to him by offering perks and privileges but gave them no power- a form of political bribery.

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