Colombo Telegraph

Allocation Of Functions Of Departments To Ministries

By R.M.B Senanayake

R.M.B Senanayake

There is an interest among some political parties and civil society activists like the Ven. Maduluwawe Thero for a small Cabinet where the allocation of functions among the Ministers is based on rational principles. It is a salutary development and requires the support of those who value rationality in politics and governance. It will lead to a reduction in the present excessive cost of our political Establishment- a burden which increased unduly with the setting up of the Provincial Councils. The burden of maintaining the Political Establishment falls on the people. With the setting up of the Provincial Councils we do not now require a top heavy Ministerial outfit at the Central Government. But our national politicians are not willing to give up their power and intervention by Civil Society is absolutely essential to curb the excessive costs of the Political Establishment. Cavil Society must ensure that there is a radical re-structuring of the political Establishment at the national level now that the Provincial Councils have come to stay. A curb on the number of Ministries and the size of the Cabinet is an essential reform of our political Establishment. So a study of a rational allocation of functions among Ministers and a rational grouping of departments under Ministries is essential for rational government. It indirectly limits the number of Ministries and Ministers as well.

This problem was studied by the British Machinery of Government Committee in 1918, called the Haldane Committee. They said there are only two alternatives which may be briefly described as distribution according to the persons or class of persons to be served by the particular departments or according to the services to be performed by the respective departments. Under the former method each Minister who presides over a Department would be responsible to the parliament for those activities of the government which affect the sectional interests of a particular class of persons, say for women or for children or a Ministry for the Unemployed. The inevitable outcome of this type of allocation of functions will lead to what has been called Lilliputian administration. Further when the function is limited to catering to a particular class of persons then it is impossible for a department to engage in its particular specialized service. For example if it is the work of the Ministry to provide say a police function or the supply of public goods such as defense or law and order or national insurance or pensions then the function requires a specialized knowledge to be acquired and such function cuts across different classes of people. If we divide the functions according to the clients to be served then functions which require specialization cannot be developed for a Ministry to acquire the necessary expertise. Instead different Ministries carrying out the same function such as the provision of insurance or banking will not be able to develop the necessary expertise. Instead several Ministries catering to different classes of people will be engaged in the same function. This militates against specialization. Then the quality of the service provided by the several departments engaged in the same function will suffer. They will not be able to provide as high a service as when the service was done for all the people by a single department. Further, the Department will be engaged in providing several services required by the same class of persons. But if a Department provides just one particular type of service to all persons, it can develop greater expertise in providing such service.

So the other method of allocating functions which the Haldane committee recommended was that of defining the field of activity in the case of each Department according to the particular service which it renders to the community as a whole. Thus there will be a Ministry of Education which will be concerned with the provision of education to all the people. Such a Ministry will deal with deal with persons only in respect of education and not anything else. Of course there may be some overlap where a Ministry of Health for example deals with the education and training of say nurses. In such instances what is possible is only for consultation with the Ministry of Education where it would be useful.

In this way the business of government can be divided into say- Health, Education, Finance, Foreign Affairs, Defense etc.The Cabinet would be in over-all control of all the functions but there will be a separate Minister and Ministry for each such function. Each such Ministry would then be engaged in dealing with the same problems. Similarly there can be a Ministry of Transport to deal with road, rail and canal transport. Similarly there can be a Ministry of Defense to include the Army, Navy and the function of National Defense. Each Ministry’s functions will be distinct and different from that of other Ministres.The large number of staff employed n a particular Ministry will deal only with that function and they will acquire expertise in it.

In matters of recruitment promotion it is easier to deal with a similar class of persons in matters of recruitment, Transfer promotion and discipline. Of course even if we divide the primary functions according to such a basis there will still be the need to have a separate branch to deal with Finance or educational hygiene within the department as a secondary function of the particular Department. Co-ordination is essential within related functions to ensure efficiency. Each department cannot however work in watertight units. There is the need for interdepartmental consultation. They may have to be in close contact and in such cases a Standing Inter-department Committee is necessary which could meet regularly. In other cases it may suffice to have consultation only in specific cases.

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