25 September, 2020

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Omnibus Cabinet & Opulent Ministers

By Ameer Ali

Dr. Ameer Ali

After weeks of no government, Ranil Wickremesinghe has legally secured his right to form one, to an embarrassing humiliation of President Maithiripala Sirisena, who was adamant in preventing RW from coming back. A president who vowed not to remain in his position even for ‘one hour’ if RW were to return as PM is now set to remain at least until the end of the rest of the term of this government. Mr. President! Never say never in politics. 

However, the RW government is really on life support, and it can lose its parliamentary majority at any time if one or more of its supporters, like TNA and JVP, decide to pull the rug under RW’s feet. Already a new tussle between the PM and President has emerged in relation to the formation and size of the cabinet. While the President wants three ministries for himself and dictating who should and should not be in the 30 member cabinet, PM and his party are trying to work out a plan to be approved by parliament, which could increase the size of the cabinet to more than thirty. Even if it remains at thirty can the nation afford an omnibus cabinet?

From just 18 ministers in the 1947 DS Senanayake cabinet, the number of ministers swelled to nearly seventy under Rajapaksa, before coming down to thirty, and again is about to blow out if RW government’s plan goes through the parliament. To put this under some perspective, let us look at the number of ministers in few of our neighbouring governments. Modi’s government in India, ruling over a giant of an economy and country, has a cabinet of only 25 ministers. India’s neighbour Pakistan under Imran Khan has a cabinet of only 21 ministers. Malaysia, with almost the same demographic size as Sri Lanka but far more affluent has a cabinet of 25 ministers. Singapore, the wealthiest nation in South East Asia has a cabinet of just 9 ministers. In the light of these figures what is the logic and rationale for the RW government, with an economy that is teetering on the verge of bankruptcy, especially after the recent constitutional crisis, to wantonly enlarge the size of its cabinet and worsen an already adverse budget situation. Doesn’t the ruling philosophy of neoliberalism advocate for leaner governments?

The most lucrative job in Sri Lanka at the moment, even for one with the least educational qualification, seems to become a parliamentarian and get a ministership or at least a deputy ministership. The opulence enjoyed by some of these ministers and deputies compared to their predecessors is shocking. The current crop of ministers, deputies and ordinary MPs are part of the rising new leisure class in the country. Can the nation afford to sustain this ballooning bourgeoisie with a precarious economy? There are nevertheless a few of them who are dedicated, honest and hardworking, but several are simply charlatans and wealth seekers. In the absence of any mechanism to measure the performance of ministers and their deputies, how does one reward the good, warn the bad and punish the ugly?

Cabinet positions have become a source of bribing crooks and cronies for their allegiance to the PM and President. This is where corruption originates, right at the top, and spreads like cancer to debilitate the entire public domain. What Sri Lanka really needs is not a large quantity but better quality of ministers. A ministry is what a minister makes of it. An able minister is an asset to the country and there had been many in the past who delivered the most at the lowest cost. Corruption in Sri Lanka is not a birth trait but an acquired one through inept politics.

In spite of all other evils accredited to British colonialism, the country is in debt to the British for three important legacies: one, parliamentary democracy, the other, a first class civil service, and a third cricket. The country just saved democracy from the brink of disappearance, and no doubt Sri Lankans will fight to their death to keep it alive and robust. The nation has also shown that it can beat the British in cricket on their own turf. However, it is in the area of civil service that local politicians have done the most damage. Over the last few decades we have allowed that institution to lose its original stature and quality. There had been a planned easing in the standards of selection to the present administrative and overseas services. The significance of this institutional dereliction should not be underestimated.

In the past, while cabinet ministers took care of policies and macro-management it was public servants from the permanent secretaries to government agents and to ordinary clerks who did the micromanagement. When minsters were honest and impartial those worked in departments under those ministries were automatically expected to set high standards. There were several instances in the past when top class, able and dedicated civil servants resigned their positions and went into academia or left the island, simply because they could not yield to unfair pressures from incompetent ministers. Today, ministers are virtually micromanaging public administration. With omnibus cabinets, incompetent ministers and deputies, public service has become the politicians’ playground for winning influence and prestige. Corruption, no doubt, has become rampant. Ultimately it is the quality of the cabinet that determines the quality of public administration.

No reform of public service is possible without improving the quality of government cabinet. A leaner cabinet with ministers of high calibre is the need of the day.  Behind the East Asian Miracle touted by the World Bank in the 1970s was the technocratic make up of those countries cabinet of ministers. Sri Lanka has a lesson to learn from that experience.  Unfortunately, that is not possible under the current government and its Rajapaksa opposition. Will JVP make note of this?               

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    This comment was removed by a moderator because it didn’t abide by our Comment policy.For more detail see our Comment policy https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/comments-policy-2

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      Dr. Ameer Ali,

      RE: Omnibus Cabinet & Opulent Ministers – In a Land Like No Other!

      “A president who vowed not to remain in his position even for ‘one hour’ if RW were to return as PM is now set to remain at least until the end of the rest of the term of this government. Mr. President! Never say never in politics. “

      Thanks for the write-up

      Sirisena’s balls dissolved away, then the parliament was dissolved illegally and unconstitutionally The Supreme court unanimously ruled on that. Ranil has rotten balls

      Sirisen is still there When will he resign? —He Won’t, because he is a liar.

      Sirisena is like a leach. You will have to pee on him He won’t drop So, need a lighted cigarette butt, and burn his but, because he is a butt-head

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    29 ministries and add to that scores of deputy ministers.
    One of the largest cabinet of ministers in the world for one of tiniest country in the world.
    It can only happen in Sri Lanka the Miracle of Asia

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    Mr. President! Never say never in politics.

    He is in mode of POLY TRICKS, this tongue game, making the people to swallow his saying, but people changed his thinking. Never listening to peoples conditions Still the setting and sitting in the parliament is going what did they do for the country for the last month, Progress lies not in enhancing what is, but in advancing toward what will be. The parliament panel is assembling Ministers.

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    SRI LANKAN politicians are good at wasting public money. They do not care about poor Sri Lankans. All what they care is to secure their seats. that is why we suffer like this. Ranil MS and MR all same. vote JVP.
    JVP must make a public apology for its past mistake. so that people will trust them. It is not difficult for them do it.. Why they do not do it.

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      critical thinking? SRI LANKAN politicians are good at wasting public money. WRONG. SRI LANKAN politicians are good at thieving public money.

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    Ameer Ali has used lots of words to convey the simple message “Do not be complaisant”.
    The numbers in the India and Pakistan cabinets only to tell us that the ministerial perks are nowhere near what our ministers get. Corruption?
    Former Malaysian PM Najib Razck nearly pulled it off!
    .
    We have a Hobson’s choice and that too between two bad horses.

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      K.Pillai, A Hobson’s choice is when you have no choice, either take it or leave it!

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    A.A.
    As usual a succinct and good write up.
    But a very big but; a dead horse being whipped; expect disappointment, not progress.

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    I think the most up to date comment regarding the cricket ,against England NOT Britain would be the 3 /0 whitewash on home turf …but that doesn’t keep in step with the main concept of your article does it .Sri Lanka took the civil service and turned it into the lumbering giant that it is ,because the state sector is the biggest employer .It is a non productive ,self moderating , unaccountable ,ever increasing monster that will fight to preserve itself tooth and claw .Anyone who has tried to get something done in SL has to battle against this obstructive giant

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    Talking of Public Service, here is an interesting incident that took place back in the 1950’s, during the first SLFP govt., when an Interview was being conducted for recruitment to the Police Service.

    The ASP ( was it Sydney Soyza?) conducting the interview was shown a letter of Recommendation from an SLFP MP by one of the applicants. The letter requested the Interviewing Officer to ignore the height requirement of the applicant who fell short by an inch or two. The ASP placed the letter on the platform of the Weighing Scale and asked the applicant to stand on it and, after the applicant very reluctantly stood on it, checked the height and exclaimed, “Man, you are still short of the height requirement”, and showed him the door.

    Back then, the Public Servant was the Master but today, he is the Slave. Don’t we need to get back to those good old days if the country is to become another Singapore?

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    Ameer Ali, Since of late you have been stating the obvious. Today, you have stated the hard truth. Our people are no better than our politicians. They are in a race to grab their share of the loot. The country is doomed.

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    Ameer Ali: dissolvment of the PArliament was illegal. So, why did they had to be appointed again except releasing some ministers as the cabinet became smaller. I heard, all the letters given to New ministers were for increasing their Salaries. Why is that (Gods Allahs, Bismilla). Evnthe Gigantic USA has, I think, about 15 Secretaries aka CAbinet ministers. Small island and bankrupt country Sri lanka has 30 ministers now. In no time they will increase it to larger numbers. WAtch it.

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    Dear Mr Ali Thank you.
    (1) Post war SL requires all to unit to find solutions and micromanage her future. Only suggestion I made was minority parties should not carry race/language/religious names anymore for the same and is self defeating. This always included parties within the Majority too.
    (2) Calibre of people is missing in all parties not limited to UNP/SLFP. That is why I suggested we should shed names/tags/identity politics and pool around wherever we want to be so better use of limited resources/capacities we have after a miserable war raged over the land for 40+ years. Required quantity/quality of technocrats we need an education institution for all those who want to hold public offices and a Sri Lankan version of ‘yes minister’ British program for public awarness.
    (3) The National question non sense should be stopped period.
    (4) The reason Hon MR has been demonised is because of the point 3 is the inconvenient truth all else is just a smoke screen – by killing him politically TNA think they can remove the non partisan majority objection for this absurdity and this called democratic too?.
    (5) ‘National Question’ will find the same conflict with the Majority SL irrespective of their race/religion/cast/class/language/whatever again and again is another inconvenient truth it does not matter how this get sugar coated. In the past this was forced upon all of us at gun point since 70’s is the least discussed undemocratic crime yet to be investigated. SL have said no to this discussion yet we carry on by any other means shows the foreign hand involvement need to be taken to Hague??

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    Sinhalese are very poor at governance. It is in their genes and one cannot do much about. During the rule of the so-called Great Dynasty (543 BV – AD275) most were weak and inept. Of the 54 kings of the dynasty, 15 ruled less than a year. 30less than four years. 11 were dethroned, six were assassinated, 13 were killed in battle, and 22 were murdered by their successors, the dark and dismal record of the early Sinhalese lings was one of the incessant struggles for the throne, fratricidal and patricidal slayings, conspiracies and internal strife. (Sri Lanka The National Question and Liberation).
    The Sinhalese politicians have no sense of shame or self-respect. The rot starts with ordinary voters. Voters who vote for candidates demand money, liquor, school admission, jobs etc.
    During his short stint as Minister of Energy in Rajapaksa’s short-lived cabinet, the Minister appointed 46 persons from his electorate (Kegalla) to the Electricity Board in Jaffna!
    Closer home President Sirisena blamed the high cost of buying MPs at Rs.500 million per MP as the reason for not mustering enough members for a majority. This is not hearsay; President’s speech was recorded and posted in the Daily Mirror website. This Tube was later removed on the instructions of the Presidential Media Unit. Is it then a small wonder the OIC of Police Field Force Headquarters was arrested by the Investigation Officers of CIABOC while accepting a bribe of Rs.50, 000/- on 19.12.2018?
    The suspect has initially solicited an amount of Rs.150, 000/- which has been reduced to Rs.100, 000/- to issue a recommendation letter to reinstate a Police Officer interdicted.

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    Such examples can be multiplied many times.
    To my mind, the Investigation Officer is emulating the example set by the Head of State, Head of Government, Minister of Defence, Minister of Law and Order, Mahaveli Development and so on.
    On a personal note, I am fighting the Foreign Pension Department for arrears due to me on revision of pension for the last 10 years.
    In a country like Canada, you will never hear a Police caught accepting a bribe. You don’t have to go to your MP to get a job. You cannot bribe the Customs to smuggle goods. In short, a Minister/MP has no influence over the bureaucracy.

    The MPs belonging to the TNA (except one black sheep) showed that they cannot be bought for money. One woman MP from the North went public and disclosed that she was offered initially Rs. 300 million later increased to Rs.500 million to cross over by SLFP/UPFA!

    Many pinned hopes on Sirisena to wean the country away from the culture of corruption and bribery. But he has proved that he is no better than others. To dismiss a sitting PM and installing Rajapaksa who did not have a majority was unconstitutional. To prorogue Parliament for more than two weeks was a ruse to give time to Rajapaksa to buy MPs. When both failed Sirisena dissolved the parliament. He claimed he consulted “experts in law” to justify his unconstitutional act. And who are these legal experts? Sarath N Silva a corrupt retired chief justice who confessed he gave wrong verdict to save Rajapaksa going to jail in the Help Hambantota case. The other expert is GL Peiris a chameleon who is an expert in interpreting the law according to who pays him most.

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    Sinhalese are very poor at governance. It is in their genes and one cannot do much about. During the rule of the so-called Great Dynasty (543 BC – AD275) most were weak and inept. Of the 54 kings of the dynasty, 15 ruled less than a year. 30less than four years. 11 were dethroned, six were assassinated, 13 were killed in battle, and 22 were murdered by their successors, the dark and dismal record of the early Sinhalese lings was one of the incessant struggles for the throne, fratricidal and patricidal slayings, conspiracies and internal strife. (Sri Lanka The National Question and Liberation).
    The Sinhalese politicians have no sense of shame or self-respect. The rot starts with ordinary voters.  Voters who vote for candidates demand money, liquor, school admission, jobs etc.
    During his short stint as Minister of Energy in Rajapaksa’s short-lived cabinet, the Minister  appointed 46 persons from his electorate (Kegalla) to the Electricity Board in Jaffna!
     Closer home President Sirisena blamed the high cost of buying MPs  at  Rs.500 millionper  MP as the reason for not mustering enough members for a majority. This is not hearsay; President’s speech was recorded and posted in the Daily Mirror website. This Tube was later removed on the instructions of the Presidential Media Unit. Is it then a small wonder the OIC of Police Field Force Headquarters was arrested by the Investigation Officers of CIABOC while accepting a bribe of Rs.50, 000/- on 19.12.2018?
     The suspect has initially solicited an amount of Rs.150, 000/- which has been reduced to Rs.100, 000/- to issue a recommendation letter to reinstate a Police Officer interdicted.

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      Dear Thanga

      (1) What you wrote may be true without the ‘Sinhalese’ Tag attached.

      (2) A TNA MP to make his own mind up and your reference/implication that he was bribed is misinformation and ‘black sheep’ reference utterly unfair and prevent ‘evolution’ altogether ?

      This traitor/turncoat/black sheep reference is historically proven wrong at the expense of our children?…………..misinformation unchallenged in a democracy through intimation/harassment mentally and physically has historically facilitated the’ elected’ in the ‘not free and not fair’ elections in the first place is the inconvenient truth under the disguise of ‘Tamil whatever too?’.

      The Tamil crime against Tamil is still the outstanding action we should encourage a Truth and Reconciliation amongst Tamils will set a president for others to follow.

      Other nations also have used our children as mercenaries for the shaping of their future ‘unrecorded/un discussed’ truth we need to turn our attention for compensation etc.

      Two wrongs make nothing right nor is the argument who started the snow ball effect has no value to our future generation too?

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    Dr.Ameer Ali.
    Very True of all what you say. Government and Governance in the country since Independence has been stretched to a point where it has lost its elasticity; In the same way we pull a rubber cord to its maximum length and beyond.Putting it back is like closing the stable doors after the horse has bolted.The British left behind a system of Governance which our politicians destroyed, and will continue to do so T.HIS COUNTRY IS NOW TAILOR-MAD FOR THEM! An elder generation in the country will never be able to fit in to our Public Service with its rampant corruption!

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    GLP is an insult to academics in general and professors in particular. he is trying to emulate kmp. rajaratne, a n despicable racist. he has to learn from prof.sarath a great democrat. i had some respect for glp but he lost everything because of his cheap politics.
    dayal

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