By Ameer Ali –
One of the horrendous legacies of the ousted MR regime was an economy burdened with oppressive debt, a culture of rampant corruption if not outright thievery, and gargantuan projects of colossal waste. The Mattala airport is the best example of such a project. Therefore it should be an obvious priority to the regime that just came in to take steps immediately to bring down the debt to manageable proportions, eradicate corruption and cut down the number of or cancel all wasteful projects. Prudence in public expenditure should be the first step that the government should adopt to move along that path.
The appointment of forty-eight ministers and thirty-seven deputy minsters, not because these minsters and their deputies are extremely talented and will contribute to the productivity and growth of the economy but just to reward party supporters and loyalists goes against the very grain of economic prudence. Is Sri Lanka such a huge and complex polity and economy that it demands the service of that many ministers and deputies with enormous salaries and perks? Can anyone tell the people the estimated total cost of this colony of artificially elevated political gentry? Will they fulfil their tax obligations? Who will check on their profligacy and punish for their incompetency and dereliction? Is there a mechanism to measure their performance and productivity?
In the past and long before the MR regime a much restricted number of ministers assisted by very able civil servants like for example, Dharmasiri Pieris and Bradman Weerakoon, only to name a couple, took the country and its administration from strength to strength even in the midst of political and economic crises. Is the country bereft of such civil servants now? If the answer is yes, then it conveys a sad tale about the recruitment procedure of the public servants. An amalgamation of small departments, appointment of able public servants and restriction of the number of ministries will prune down the cost of administration and waste.
It is the ordinary income-tax payer and the common people, who will not be able to escape the onus of paying all indirect taxes – the favourite weapon to raise public revenue under neoliberal economics – that will have to foot the bill for salaries and perks of the minsters and their deputies. In fact, the waste has started already under the national government even before submitting its first national budget.
In an earlier piece that I wrote (Colombo Telegraph, 24 August 2015) I referred to the “scandalous abuse” of the national list provision in the constitution and said that it has made democracy a mockery in Sri Lanka. Now to anoint them as ministers and deputies is to add insult to injury caused to the voting public.
What is more, it is a historical fact, that the larger is the size of a coalition cabinet the more difficult and cumbersome will it become to protect any cabinet secrecy and maintain the principle of collective responsibility. Leakages from cabinet discussions are bound to occur. The media will be looking out for such leakages and will publish them. But the government, weakened by internal squabbles and finding unable to control its cabinet members will resort to the dictatorial path of clamping down the media outlets and punishing journalists as it happened during the previous regime. I wish I be proved wrong.
The challenges facing the National Government are huge. The economic front both at home and abroad does not allow much room for public finance looseness. Is it too soon to expect a cabinet reshuffle and administrative restructuring to achieve economy and efficiency?