By Rajan Hoole –
The governance of this country has long been set on a course where merit receives its due place mainly by accident. A good example is our higher education. The chairman of the University Grants Commission is a political appointee and plays a major role in picking fellow commissioners. He advises the president on the appointment of the vice-chancellor of a university out of three names sent by the university council – there is bound to be one who can be trusted to be politically safe. About half the members of the council are outsiders recommended to the UGC chairman by the vice chancellor. This would in turn ensure that persons recommended by them are politically safe. An appointee who rocks the boat is out when his three-year term ends. It is not hard to see how merit is undermined down the line by a system of patronage intended to make the system safe for the rulers.
Parallel to this phenomenon is the demand for the multiplication of cabinet portfolios. President Kumaratunga in her second term, like Premadasa and Jayewardene before her, has found it expedient to grant ministries or state ministries to more than 70% of the MPs supporting her in Parliament. What most of these eighty odd ministers, including forty odd cabinet ministers, want and do needs no guessing.
This is a framework for undisciplined government. The country piles up foreign debt that is passed on to the poor through inflation and devaluation of the rupee. There can be no credible national plan of any shape. Concerned professionals have described this as a ‘Vacant Economy’ rather than an ‘Open Economy’ as it is mistakenly called. It is an economy where local sectors and skills are vacating. Violence and lawlessness are endemic to the arrangement, which goes back to 1977. Apart from ministers themselves, the right to contravene the law with impunity appears to be regarded as their patrimony by their offspring and cronies too. A conscientious law enforcement officer may suddenly find himself dropped by the system and his life imperilled. The system lacks the ability to accomplish basic tasks of urgent national interest.