18 September, 2020

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Non-Partisan Boards Of Ministers For Provincial Councils – Good Bad Or Indifferent

 By R.M.B Senanayake

R.M.B. Senanayake

It is usual for public spirited citizens to bemoan the partisanship of the political process and suggest that the parties should get together to run the Administration after the rivalry and posturing of the political parties at the election is over. Mr. Ranil Wickremasinghe has echoed the same sentiment and suggested that the Board of Ministers in the Provincial Councils should be drawn from all the political parties on the plausible argument that it will ensure less division and more co-operation among the parties in the Provincial Council (PC). He is of course referring to coalition governments at the PC level.

But this is to ignore the fundamentals of human nature. The rational model of behavior by politicians who will put the public interest ahead of their personal and private interest has been exploded in the literature of economics. Politicians are as much driven by self interest and extraneous interests like other human beings and to expect a nobler ideal from them is naïve. This point was shown by the Public Choice theorists like James Buchanan the Nobel Laurelist.  George Washington despised political parties and some the Founding Fathers of the American Democracy thought political parties should be abolished. But this has not happened. They are as much a part of representative democracy.

It is generally argued that single majority party governments are better than coalitions because they enable faster and decision making since all the Ministers belong to the same political party, while coalition governments find it difficult to reach decisions and to co-ordinate policy decisions. The Ministers will be accountable to different party leaderships and the political process affects the governance process as well. Power will be further divided if there are Deputy Ministers drawn from a different party than that which the Minister belongs to.

What is important to consider is whether the governance process will be more likely to work in the public interest if there is a coalition government rather than a single party government at the sub-national level. Judging from the way the present regime has formed coalitions through the offer of Ministerial posts which carry many perks and allowances which the public are called upon to fund, this is unlikely to make things better for the people. They will have to cough up more money to fund these dudes. Of course if a single party does not get an outright majority coalitions are inevitable. But to think it is an ideal is wrong.

There is not enough information available about how the Chief Ministers and the Board of Ministers in a P.C functions. Is the Chief Minister acting like a Prime Minister in the Westminster model or like an Executive President in our Presidential system? If it is the latter then the Board of Ministers are a mere aide playing a subordinate role in governance. How important is the Board of Ministers in a PC?

Any Board of Ministers as a policy making body at the PC is likely to lack the knowledge of the subjects at issue as well as the necessary operating and management experience. Much will depend on the bureaucracy. If the bureaucracy is appointed on political patronage then it would be below par and it will be a case of the blind leading the blind. A Coalition is more likely to use patronage to staff the bureaucracy. The Ministries are not fixed by law and the present regime has shown how their number can be increased without any administrative or functional rationale. So there seems to be no particular merit in the proposal of R.W.

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Latest comments

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    The members elected being the representatives of the people, the ministers being those who implement policies and directives of the council as a whole, it would not matter as to which party they belong as long as they deal even handedly with all members and electorates.

    Hence it would be preferred that ministers be honest, of good character and capable of getting things done. It is neccesary that ministers adopt a multi partisan approach when dealing with the electorate rather than giving preference to their own party supporters and members.

    The selection of nominees by the parties must emphasise on the honesty and charcter of the individuals. At present thugs and murderers have crept into PC’s and Parliment as rewards for favours done. Dishonest people and criminals are not suitable to be peoples representatives. The people will get an administration they deserve.

    RW would do well to promote a code of ethics for members of PC’s and Parliment, including declaration of assets and having a record free of criminal prosecution. You can have all the systems you want but if the people running them are crooks they will not achieve their purpose.

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    “There is not enough information available about how the Chief Ministers and the Board of Ministers in a P.C functions. Is the Chief Minister acting like a Prime Minister in the Westminster model or like an Executive President in our Presidential system? If it is the latter then the Board of Ministers are a mere aide playing a subordinate role in governance. How important is the Board of Ministers in a PC?” (RMBS)

    I am not going to argue on the need for PCs for governing SL because the focus of RMBS’ article is RW’s proposal to have a Board of Ministers representing all political parties having elected representatives in the Council.

    Is it necessary to have a Chief Minister and a Board of Ministers for a PC? Why cannot it be a Regional Development Council comprising one representative of each political party elected at local council elections? The RDC’s role is better be the preparation and implementation of regional development plans with due acknowledgement of national development needs, national physical plan and local aspirations.

    Concurrent and devolved lists can be done away with and by doing so duplicity can be avoided. In regard to human resource, a provincial public service will not be required and a small Project Management Unit comprising professionals drawn from relevant sector development institutions of the state. They can be paid well because the funds wasted on maintenance of “white elephants” and duplicity are saved for increasing productivity at project planning, designing and implementation levels. Further it is very important to reintroduce the Local Government Service because the Human Resource of the Public Service is a misfit for local governance.

    Main problem in the Provincial Board of Ministers is not the lack of participatory governance but the large number of subjects in the concurrent and devolved lists, which cannot be comprehended by the Provincial Ministers and Councillors. The number of Councillors are totally insufficient to serve on Committees even if Committees are appointed for each subject. Therefore I agree with RMBS that “there seems to be no particular merit in the proposal of RW.”

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