By Pabodha Hettige –
upon appointing the new cabinet of the ninth parliament, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has called for progress reports at the lapse of six months. Both ministers and state ministers are expected to embark on their respective tasks immediately and showcase their capability under ‘Saubhagya Dekma Goals.’ This parliamentary talent show will review each minister’s contribution, implementation of initiatives and the achievement of targets. However, for these to be realized the ministries has to be empowered with a competent task force.
Interestingly, four members of the Rajapaksa family found their places in the new cabinet. Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa bagged a few ministries (Finance, Urban Development and Buddhist Affairs) while the oldest of the brothers Chamal Rajapaksa was appointed as the Minister of Irrigation, and Shasheendra Rajapaksa as the state minister for agriculture. If the expertise and the knowledge is to be taken use of fully, should this portfolio not have been given to the State Minister for National Heritage, Performing art and Rural Art Promotion, Vidura Wickramanayaka, who has a BSc in Agriculture? It is only a point to ponder.
The last and the fourth Rajapaksa to secure a ministry was the Minister of Sports and Youth Affairs, Namal Rajapaksa. With relatively low experience as a first time minister, the least we should expect is not organizing and winning his own sports event, not initiating car racing in front of the temple of tooth, staying away from charges of money laundering, causing damage to public property, and violating court orders for which he has been previously accused of.
As much as the Rajapaksa quadruple is seen as a concentration and consolidation of family power, it would be interesting to see how the President reviews his own kin.
Appointment of Iraj and Tehani to NYSC
Immediately after his appointment Namal Rajapaksa proved his incapability of foresight by appointing the rapper and the producer, Iraj Weeraratne and singer Tehani Imara as members to the Board of Directors of the National Youth Services Council (NYSC).
What was the basis of this appointment of these two individuals for the next three years with effect from 18th August 2020 is unfathomable to the general public given the fact that none of the candidates have a proven record of capability in handling such positions. Being heavily involved in Rajapaksa winning campaign and deep personal connections could have been an outstanding qualification. We can also never underestimate the power of “Wada Karana Ape Wiruwa”.
The NYSC is a key institution where, youth talent is recognized and encouraged, but the satire is that an individual like Iraj, who has never set an example on youth, is appointed to lead a place as such.
The sad reality Namal Rajapaksa has failed to discover better candidates to empower youth. Maybe the massive brain drain Sri Lanka has experienced in recent times drove Namal towards this decision. However, what he should remember is the NYSC is much more than the representation of singers. Hence, should we not fear the future of Sri Lankan youth?
Ali Sabry as the Minister of Justice
A lot of criticism has poured in from the hardliner Buddhists, certain monks and extremist groups for the appointment of Ali Sabry (Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s personal attorney) as the Minister of Justice.
Upon a closer analysis, the move seems to be progressive by the president despite the ulterior motives, if any.
Sabry’s competence as a practicing lawyer for 25 years, being a president’s counsel for 12 years and the president of the bar association for two years makes him an ideal candidate for the portfolio. Besides, he has pledged to put together certain remarkable reforms in Sri Lanka’s current justice system.
Amongst his top priorities will be to address the inefficiencies of the legal system, mitigate the issues of law delays and make it cost effective. He has also pledged to create necessary legal infrastructure to bring every perpetrator of the Easter bombing to the book. Also, reforms to the existing laws are on the agenda. His suggestion to regulate madarasa’s and to keep a watchful eye on their activities is commendable. Also, as a representative from a different ethnicity we could expect him to work on bridging the existing community gap.
As a moderate member of the Islamic community, if Sabry could establish a common law system affecting all the citizens equally, eradicates all the laws ethnically affecting communities like Thesawalamei, Kandyan law and Islamic law while paying attention to the much disputed Muslim Marriage and Divorce act, it would be an ideal step in the country’s forward march.
With all the expectations and all the eyes on him, there will also have the need of certain degree of patience till the deliverance of the promises. However, Sabry seems to be standing strong despite all the criticisms and what we should remember is to stand against any kind of extremism and not the nationalistic ideology of a Sri Lankan Muslim.
Wimal Weerawansa and the Secretary to the Ministry
“Birds of a feather flock together” is the best way to describe this duo. The new minister of Industry and Commerce is well known for corruption with so many allegations under his belt.
The secretary to the ministry, former Controller of Immigration and Emigration, Chulananda Perera is not less of a character than Weerawansa, who admitted before a court of law that he issued a diplomatic passport to Shashi Weerawansa, (the wife of Wimal Weerawansa), while he had clear knowledge that Mrs. Weerawansa had provided false details.
It was the duty of a responsible civil servant to lodge a complaint against the incident. However, he testified before the courts that he has issued the false passport on humanitarian grounds, while the general public is yet to comprehend Chulananda Perera’s definition of humanitarian grounds. He is also a party of a pending trial regarding the issue and such people are being relied upon to oversee the development of Sri Lanka.
Hence, what to expect out of this epic duo is a matter of controversy and it’s only in time that their true motives would be revealed.
Anil Jasinghe as the Secretary of the Ministry of Environment
It’s yet another shocking and unanticipated appointment by the president that the Director General of Health Services Dr. Anil Jasinghe being appointed as the Secretary to the Ministry of Environment. Being a well known and competent health professional, who played a key role in containing the Covid-19 pandemic in Sri Lanka, it’s highly questionable why his services are more important to his new designation rather than to the health sector.
If the expertise is given prominence in the success of segments affecting socio- economic settings, the environment’s need of a health professional is highly disputed. Considering that Dr. Jasinghe held the Vice Chair of the World Health Organization (WHO) for several months, his skills could have been better utilized in his known sector than the unknown.
Lack of a Minister for Information Technology
It is a great setback in the cabinet that Sri Lanka does not have a minister for information technology. Living in a knowledge based economy and every sector being highly dependent on technology, why should Sri Lanka not reap the economic benefits of it like the rest of the world?
President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, with reference to Viyathmaga “Future growth throughout the world will be led by innovations such as the Internet Of Things, Artificial Intelligence, Biotechnology, Big Data, Robotics, 3D Printing and other cutting edge technologies that are still in their infancy. We must strategically invest in such new technologies, infusing them into our education system and introducing them into each economic sphere.” Without a ministry to oversee the subject it’s highly unlikely that he can develop the technological sector or enable the community to contribute to the service sector through new innovations and initiatives.
The establishment of ministries to oversee and develop the traditional and small and medium industries (SME) is an appreciable initiative adding value and recognition to long ignored industries. But to keep up with the global trends not having a ministry for information technology is a great flaw.
However, we have already gotten the preview of the next six months already with related to certain ministries and we could expect more surprise packages in the coming days. Maybe at the lapse of six months the nation could even get overdosed with tons of shockers which are normal phenomena under Rajapaksa rule.