By Rajeewa Jayaweera –
Several newspapers reported a recent Gazette notification of the reversion of Development Lotteries Board (DLB) and National Lotteries Board (NLB) to the Finance Ministry.
These two cash rich institutions, since inception, have been vested under the Finance Ministry. In a surprise move, both were vested under the Foreign Ministry three months ago in May, when one-time Finance Minister moved to the Foreign Ministry.
Both DLB and NLB have now reverted to the Finance Ministry after the recent resignation of the Foreign Minister.
In the 100 days Good Governance cabinet, a minister was appointed designated Minister for Foreign Affairs, Telecommunications and IT on January 12, 2015, which included the cash rich Sri Lanka Telecom (SLT). Due to the minister’s very busy travel schedule, he could not visit SLT for six weeks till March 23.
In some countries, subject of Foreign Trade is known to be combined with Foreign Affairs. However, vesting institutions with subjects not having even the remotest connection to Foreign Affairs such as telecom, IT and lotteries is unique to our Paradis Isle.
In terms of prestige and status, so important to our worthy politicians, Foreign Affairs take precedence way over Telecom, IT and Lotteries. That being the case, what was the thinking behind our good governance leaders, the President and Prime Minister, in vesting cash rich institutions under the Foreign Ministry headed by senior party loyalists? Was it to enable them to make some money on the side as Foreign Affairs is devoid of opportunities such as tenders, development projects etc.? Was it to enable them to provide employment for unemployed supporters who hung flags and pasted posters in their electorates prior to elections? Or was it some other grand plan?
For a short period prior to and after 2015 Presidential elections, the public were told, ministries would be allocated ‘scientifically’. All that went awry after the constitutionally mandated 30 ministries had to be exceeded to form a ‘National Government’ since the electorate did not give either of the two leading political parties, a clear mandate to govern. It resulted in the bizarre combination of subjects under portfolios such as Policy Planning, Economic Affairs, Child, Youth & Cultural Affairs, Foreign Affairs, Telecommunications & IT, Highways, Higher Education & Investment Promotions, University Education & Highways, to name a few.
The current Prime Minister has been a regular visitor to western democracies over the last several decades. He is also an avowed liberal democrat. Our politicians, both in government and opposition, avail themselves of every opportunity, besides creating numerous opportunities to travel abroad at state expense, even on flimsy pretexts. Many undertake study tours to observe democracy at work in western countries.
Nevertheless, none of these worthies, despite all their study tours abroad have even suggested a system of a shadow cabinet for the opposition.
The benefits of such a system are many. Key among them would be of having one opposition member to monitor workings of each ministry and raise issues related to assigned ministry in an educated and intelligent manner in parliament. Another benefit would be the gradual availability of a group of members of parliament familiar with workings of ministerial portfolios assigned to them. They would be the obvious choice for cabinet appointment if and when the opposition party is voted into office in the future. They would be able to make a far better contribution to governance than a majority of square pegs in round holes, currently holding office.
Needless to say, for such a system to prevail, the opposition need be elected by the people and not selected by the government in office, as is the case at present
Presidents, Prime Ministers and governments are elected by the people. They are but temporary custodians of the nation, mandated to govern for a fixed period, after which they need to revert to the people for a fresh mandate.
Allocation of ministerial portfolios and state institutions need be carried out responsibly. The state’s best interest and not those of their political and personal loyalists must essentially determine such allocations.
Ministries and state institutions is not the patrimony of leaders to be bequeathed upon political loyalists, friends and relations.
In the years gone by, the Foreign Ministry was headed by a politician, now no longer among the living. He devised an ingenious plan by having a sibling, a former Price Control Inspector, appointed as the country’s ambassador to an oil rich middle eastern state. Another sibling owned and operated a recruitment agency in Colombo. It was a perfect axis. Over the years, several thousand from Harisspattuwa area secured employment in the middle eastern state. Since many of them lived in a particular area, the area became known as Hameedpattuwa among Sri Lankans in that country.