By Rajeewa Jayaweera –
The proposed national government by the UNP headed by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe is the latest jiggery-pokery of our politicians. Those from both sides of the political divide have become masters at twisting facts to suit their political agenda.
The Editor of The Island in his editorial on February 4 has explained this travesty in plain English.
During a committee stage debate, the then subject minister had defined ‘National Government’ as a government formed by political parties with the largest and second largest number of elected members. This definition had been deviously amended to a government established by the recognized political party or the independent group which obtains the highest number of seats in Parliament together with the other recognized political parties or the independent groups at the time of incorporation of 19th Amendment to the Constitution. Since numbers are not quantified, at least theoretically, even one MP will suffice for the purpose.
A similar travesty took place in 2015 when the wording in the draft bill of the 19th Amendment approved by the Supreme Court had been changed during committee stage debates. The subject was the transfer of Executive powers to the Prime Minister. It was explained in detail by Prof. Rajiva Wijesinhe in his article ‘Confused and Confusing 19-A’ in The Island on December 21, 2018.
The UNP is all out to form a national government even by co-opting one solitary SLMC MP to the government and thus overcome the constitutional restriction in the number of ministers permitted.
The leader of the House and Public Enterprise, Kandyan Heritage and Kandy City Development Minister Lakshman Kiriella had told the media, this was an exercise to protect democracy, provide relief to people and settle loans obtained by the Rajapaksa administration.
Minister Kiriella has taken citizens of this country for imbeciles.
Every Tom, Dick, and Harry is aware, this is an exercise to buy over a few MPs. It will enable the UNP to appoint over a dozen additional cabinet ministers and many more Deputy and State Ministers to satisfy the cravings of their MPs. Some of them are threatening to decamp unless appointed as ministers, deputy and state ministers.
No doubt, horse trading must be currently underway to entice a few more MPs, especially from the SLFP, a breed who would even sell their mothers and spouses for a cabinet position. The going rate for crossovers last November as stated by President Sirisena himself was half a million rupees.
If the proposed national government were to become a reality, it would be the death knell for the restriction of the number of cabinet ministers stipulated in the 19th Amendment. It will enable every future government to co-opt one or a few MPs from minority parties and appoint jumbo cabinets on the pretext of a national government.
In mature democracies such as the UK, crossovers in return for cabinet positions are unheard of. The last national government in the UK was from 1931 till 1940 during the Great Depression. Since 1940, UK has had only coalition governments which included Winston Churchill’s coalition government from 1940 till 1945 to deal with WWII.
National governments are not for immature democracies such as Sri Lanka. Today, we are paying the price for not holding snap elections immediately after 2015 Presidential elections and opting for the farce of a National Government, formed on January 9, 2015.
The only solution would be the prohibition of MPs from being appointed as ministers and permit the President to select his cabinet of ministers from the vast pool of academics, professionals, industry captains and members of the general public in the country. Such a system must necessarily have a mechanism to prevent the appointment of family members and relatives by the Executive, no matter how qualified they may be. Selecting a cabinet of 25 to 30 ministers and an equal number of deputies from a pool of 21 million citizens is bound to produce better results than selections made from a pool of 225, mostly crooks, drug peddlers, bootleggers, bribe takers, murderers, shysters, plunders to name a few. Not to be forgotten are the 94 failures of GCE ‘O’ levels examination.