By Nishthar Idroos –
Conceptualize, Strategize & Rationalize Ministerial Portfolios Consistent With A Defined Vision For Sri Lanka
Another cabinet reshuffle is in the offing, so said a news item in one of the dailies. Like always many portfolios will be up for grabs. A good portion predictably would go to placate coalition partners. Few to comrades connected via respect and reciprocity. For sure there will be a portion reserved for that inimitable bunch of vocal protagonists ever ready to brandish their rapiers to preserve and protect the coalition. Amongst them deal makers and those that lost the election yet managed a swift re-entry via the back door. Not forgetting those habitually disgruntled and for sure the sheer radiance and eloquence of those who consider themselves entitled. I am sure I may have missed out on some if not many.
A simple question arises here? How can we employ the best team of ministers when support, loyalty and connections by far remain the sole criteria for allocation of ministerial portfolios? This debility is rooted tradition increasingly earning the vestige of a malaise in Sri Lanka. I suppose will remain so for a long time to come. There is nothing wrong in someone postulating refreshing cavalier type audacity to challenge this status quo. This paradox has to be challenged, In fact its high time forces coalesced to direct a U-turn to this kind of superficiality and untenable myopia.
Dreams are reached via the efficacy of people, policy and processes. Doubtless there is no substitute for human resources. Democratic politics implies the voter is intelligent. The irony is, party hierarchy led relegation of capable members of parliament, cretinous and obtuse demeanor of a few and expansive amounts of tolerance afforded to inure morons pose an intelligence challenge to the voter. By extension reduces the glitter of participatory democracy as an effective political tool. Also contracts the strain adopted in Sri Lanka to a derisory spectacle validating the proverbial claim of cynics.
How can a government blustering good governance and ambitious economic development weave incongruity and incompatibility in the structuring process of a cohesive, pragmatic and comprehensive plan matching candidates to tasks? This is fundamental and has to be done right. Fitting policy, people and processes is sine quo non for a system to function efficiently.
We lost to South Korea and Singapore. We lost to Malaysia and Thailand. We lost to Vietnam and Cambodia. Atleast let’s try and give a reasonably good fight to Bangladesh and Maldives. A lamentably sobering fact.
A meaningful and systematic process of envisioning a desired future for the country and translating this vision into broadly defined goals and objectives vis a vis each ministry is necessary. The government should not just promise transformation but deliver it palpably. Let’s hope a realistic thought process is worked out towards this end.
The situation is even challenging in the context of a cohabitation government. If selection and replacement of ministers is on the basis of government’s political calculations and not merit or strategic vision there can arise major misalignments, disconnections and attendant inefficiencies. Such an approach goes contrary to the tenets of creating a truly vibrant economy.
The most deserving jockey must be given the seat, not the one who got the highest number of preferential votes or the one who brokered the best deal cajoling seemingly rebel and opposition members of parliament. Time has come to eschew and shun lopsided policy which is nothing but a mockery.
Post-liberalization Sri Lanka had leaders of stature. Leaders who had good traits of leadership. Lalith Athulathmudali, Gamini Dissanayake, Ronnie De Mel, A C S Hameed to name a few. The country needs better leaders today, much better leaders because the landscape is different, the realities are different and so are the opportunities.
We need leaders who are strategic thinkers who could identify a clear niche for Sri Lanka. Leaders who can also uphold sound social policy by shaming communalists, propagandists and downright charlatans for their fanaticism, demagoguery, and general crime unleashed at the expense of working indefatigably for the common good of the people.
A culture needs to be built where excellence is not only rewarded but hatched and nurtured. Mediocrity too should receive its due place – zero tolerance.
Now let’s try and look at an example of how the planning process for a grand project needs to be initiated. Quick, convenient and safe mobility is integral for a burgeoning economy like Sri Lanka. None would deny this. Transport is the life blood of a nation. There is no nation on earth that had made vast strides in economic development without a vibrant transport system. An essential forerunner to an effective transport system is a futuristic policy plan. The lack of one is quite evident in Sri Lanka.
Sri Lanka never had a grand, holistic, sustainable and strategic vision for transport & allied infrastructure embracing the entire length and breadth of the country. A situational analysis of the reality, future demands, the ever escalating pollution levels, accidents and its attendant horror and other financial costs are matters that would need comprehensive deliberation for the road transport and infrastructure sector.
In Canada where the writer lives, just four months after being elected to power Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government’s Transport Minister Marc Garneau tabled the report of the Canada Transportation Act Review in Parliament. Minister Marc Garneau a former astronaut and first Canadian to go to outer space. Served as president of the Canadian Space Agency from 2001 to 2006. Mind boggling credentials for a Transport Minister. In April 2016, the Minister of Transport began consulting Canadians, stakeholders, and provinces to hear views and discuss ideas for a long-term agenda for transportation in Canada.
Marc Garneau’s theme of balancing economic, environmental and safety issues echoed the message of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau who had consistently emphasized the need to boost the economy whilst taking environmental issues seriously.
Minister Garneau travelled 18,000 kilometers from coast to coast to host roundtables with more than one hundred key industry representatives, academics and thinkers and indigenous groups across Canada. This is how a G8 member and Transport Minister of the world’s second largest country in the world works. He better, if not he’ll be thrown out at the next election.
Minister Garneau focused on five themes:
Safer Transportation – How can we keep travelers and communities safe?
Trade Corridors To Global Markets – How can we get the best economic benefits from Canada’s key trade routes to global markets?
Green And Innovative Transportation – How can new technologies help us?
- Minimize the impact of transportation on our natural environment?
- Make our transportation system safer, more secure and more competitive?
The Traveller – How can we provide Canadian travellers with better service as well as more, and more affordable choices?
Waterways, Coasts and the North – What improvements to the marine transportation system do you think would balance economic growth, greater environmental protection, and boating safety?
- This includes ideas to improve vital connections within and to the North, to advance or unlock its economic growth potential.
- Improve environmental performance,
- Maintain transportation safety.
- Protect the sensitive northern environment.
The aforestated framework is being expeditiously translated to policy. Implementation hopefully will commence after due ratification.
Sri Lanka needs this kind of policy and action plan. One need not necessarily be a grand professional to head a ministry. A talented visionary would be quite sufficient. Vision, policy and planning are indispensable. It would be ideal if the current administration could conceptualize in these lines for a super ministry for Transport & Infrastructure. This is hugely necessary for the long term wellbeing of the nation. Bringing the following subject areas under one roof would be quite meaningful. This approach reflects a collective, cohesive and concerted effort to realize a vision with multiple synergy.
- Road Transport & Infrastructure
- Railway Transport & Infrastructure
- Inland Transport & Infrastructure
- Ocean Transport(Shipping) & Infrastructure
- Air Transport (Aviation) & Infrastructure
- Green & Hybrid Transport & Infrastructure.
This ministry could have six or more equally talented deputies and any amount of state ministers if necessary depending on how the subjects are structured.
Intelligently construed and delineated subject areas and matching them with suitable candidates regardless of the numbers is a praiseworthy act, than giving ill-conceived, hastily prepared and enigmatic job specifications to energetic pole vaulters who spend most of their precious time warming “Made in Malaysia” Executive chairs at the same time paying obscene rents for their plush offices.