21 October, 2021

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The Problems Of A Large Cabinet

By Rajiva Wijesinha –

Prof. Rajiva Wijesinha MP

One aspect of politics that draws criticism but little analysis is the phenomenon of large cabinets, with Members of Parliament imagining it their right to be appointed to Executive Office on the grounds of seniority alone.

This is nothing new, though the opposition affects to forget the massive numbers to whom President Jayewardene gave executive positions, which is when the trend really began. Not all his appointments were to the Cabinet or to Deputy positions, since he also had 25 District Ministerships to play around with, in addition to the Project Ministries he had instituted. The result was that at one stage he had over 100 Ministers of various types, in a Parliamentary group of around 140.

It is true that Ranil Wickremesinghe tried to restrict numbers, at a time when the topic had been raised by the JVP, which had made it a condition of the probation period they gave President Kumaratunga in 2001 that she restrict her Cabinet to 20. Unfortunately they failed to insist on a Cabinet amendment to this effect, and Mrs Kumaratunga in fact made it 22, though this did not help her to stay in power.

Mr Wickremesinghe adopted the expedient of appointing 40 Ministers, but putting only 20 of them in the Cabinet, and managed in the process to leave out the Minister of Human Resources Development. He claimed this was an oversight, though in fact it contributed to his favourites, Kabir Hashim and Suranimala Rajapaksa, as Project Ministers of Higher Education and Education respectively, settling themselves in their respective Ministries and exercising equal powers with Karunasena Kodituwakku who was in theory their superior. It was only three months after he first constituted the Cabinet that Ranil expanded it to include Kodituwakku and some others. Despite his claims to be cutting government expenditure, he evidently had no qualms about establishing Ministries which seemed to have no work, for some of his Ministers had no operational funds, receiving only establishment costs in the budget.

But I suppose that is one way of restricting expenditure. Though it is not only for the prestige that Members of Parliament want executive office, for some of them the perks that a Ministerial establishment brings with it – cars and a large personal staff, including over a dozen members now of a personal Media Unit – are enough to satisfy their aspirations.

But most need more. After all, the reason for needing executive office is the opportunities it brings for enhancing electoral prospects. Given the massive areas in which Members have to campaign now, and the fact that they have to campaign against candidates in their own party as well as the opposition, they need more resources as well as wider exposure than they would have required under the old constituency system.

That I think explains the Cabinet inflation that has taken place in the last 30 years. And perhaps the absurdity of allocating Senior Ministries only by age, without taking ability into account at all, springs from the belief that they will not be contesting elections again, and therefore have no need of the resources Ministerial office brings with it.

Connected with this need to indulge Members in terms of their future electoral prospects is the need also to keep them happy. Given the volatile nature of elected Members of Parliament, and the crossovers from which SLFP governments have suffered, it is understandable that the President thinks it necessary to keep them happy. Whether Ministerial office is sufficient for this is another question, but since there seem to be no negative consequences of increasing the Cabinet, this is one method of winning and maintaining favour.

But the trouble is that there are in fact massive negative consequences, though they may not be obvious. I do not refer to criticism of the size of the Cabinet, since that is generally based on party allegiances, and it is common knowledge that all parties in power in the last 30 years have done the same – which is why indeed the JVP introduced the condition in the first place.

Far more serious than criticism is the damage done to the administration by this proliferation of unnecessary institutions. At its simplest, there is little awareness of who is responsible for what and, though gazettes can indicate which institutions belong where, there seems to be little logic about the way allocations have been made. This contributes to confusion about who is responsible for policy. The result, it seems, is that policy is hardly ever discussed, and so the changes we need in so many areas are forgotten.

I have seen this at first hand recently, when the Ministry of Child Development and Women’s Affairs tried to set up Women and Children’s Units in Divisional Secretariats. There exists a model for this in the Social Care Centres that were set up following the tsunami, to coordinate protection work in the Divisions. But those were the responsibility of the Ministry of Social Services, and trying now to bring all relevant officials together will require instructions in a joint letter by both Ministry Secretaries. Ensuring that that goes out is not an easy task.

Similarly, in dealing with the vexed question of overcrowding in prisons, we need coordination between the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Rehabilitation and Prison Reforms. Changing sentencing (and remanding) policy is the responsibility of the former, ensuring decent conditions for those who have been sentenced (or remanded) is the work of the latter. In between perhaps is responsibility for ensuring that magistrates actually visit prisons, which is supposed to be part of their job.

What would make sense is a few large Ministries, with a Minister responsible for policy and for coordination, with one or more Junior Ministers with specific responsibilities. But since the perks of Junior Ministers are insufficient for the purposes for which it is assumed Ministries are created, we will continue with this increasingly inefficient practice of multiplying Ministries endlessly.

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Latest comments

  • 0
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    not problems rather wast of public money in name of public services.

    • 0
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      Why the bunch of buggers will realize the levels of wastage –

      Why the bunch of buggers cant enforce the rule of law in the country today..

      All these remain unsolved ab initio

      My problem is – WHY PEOPLE GRASP these issues even better today – while their representatives (ALMOST MEMBER IN PARLIAMENT)got elected to the parliament stay INDIFFERENT.

    • 0
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      What kind of public service ?

      do you think doubling or quadrupling ministries at least double the service they provided or increase the contribution to the country ?

      It is simply helping the supporters to earn more money and to get rich.

      Country should be unlovable to people who have conscience.

      It is simply naked kings roaming the city.

      • 0
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        JimSofty

        “Country should be unlovable to people who have conscience.

        It is simply naked kings roaming the city.”

        LTTE was the cause of all ills in Sri Lanka and Diaspora rump is the cause of all ills now.

        Majority Sinhala/Buddhist have no part in the state of the state. Don’t worry Gota being the mighty warrior will deal with the Diaspora in no time. Please give him a hand.

      • 0
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        JimSofty:
        Monawada bung, kiyannay?

    • 0
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      Its the Rajapassa gravy train Rajiva darling!
      Rajapassa has a MASSIVE MILITARY, MASSIVE CABINET OF clowns and fools, and a massive administration of uneployable graduates! The name of the game: atronage politics and corruption galore – of the old school – just like the massive and corrupt military engaged in all sorts of land grabs and state subsidized military business which is bad for the economy because it stymies competition and private sector growth and bad for the military DISCIPLINE because of mission and mandate creep..

      THe Rajapassa’s greed for power and need to indulge in patronage politics is resulting in the economic crisis – piles of unemployed and usless graduates in the public administration like the piles of soldiers who are farming and land grabbing- what a topsy turvy political economy to keep the Rajapassa brother’s supporters happy!

    • 0
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      Exactly. The biggest issue is that we pay big bucks to a bunch of suckers who do nothing but plunder the wealth of the country. There is no limit to their greediness and no end to the fiascos.

  • 0
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    Compare to many countries of the world, this tiny country called Sri Lanka (268X139 miles) has too too many ministers, deputies in the cabinet .. Those positions should definitely be reduced … That is only a part of the problem and other political institutions namely PCs aggravate the problem many many times …

    But this learned professor does not see any problem in 13th amendment to the constitution which increased the ministers, deputies in all other political house many many folds overnight. Not only 13th produced these ministers and deputies out of robbers, rapists and many other questionable characters, it complicated the handling of many many functions due to infighting between PC’s and parliament …
    Getting rid of 13th is the first thing to do in this direction …

    • 0
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      LET ALONE PEOPLE^S MOST INCAPABLE PRESIDENT SHOULD LEAVE STATEMENTS ON THESE ISSUES…. HE CAN ONLY DROP HIS KIND OF RHETORICS – BOASTING ABOUT THE WAR VICTORY.

    • 0
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      Bruno Umbato:
      The first thing to do is to get rid of hangers-on like you. The fish rots at the head and blaming lower level politicians for the rampant corruption is typical of people like you who do everything to protect your protectors.

  • 0
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    Ha, ha. I like the title of his latest dirge.THE PROBLEMS OF A LARGE CABINET. The main problem is really not that it is too large but that it does not have a place for him.

  • 0
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    why dont u lead the way by resigning… its the most honorable thing to do instead of enjoyying the perks and blabbing

  • 0
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    If you say big government is bad, why don’t you first resign from your post?

    • 0
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      There is no government in Wonder land of south asia.

      that piggery in Diyvannaoya is a full of maggots called POLITICAS.And sucking Masses Blood.

  • 0
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    RW: When was it that there were over 100 ministers of JRJ government, as you say “… at one stage he had over 100 Ministers of various types, in a Parliamentary group of around 140”? Can you provide the details? I am anxious to know I am sure others too would appreciate such information.

  • 0
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    It is really the waste of money of the poor tax payers. Unfortunately, the governments does not recognize it as a problem but rather it is taken for a ride to satisfy the people who work and have been selected by means of not fair elections but thuggery creating myriad of ministries. What a pathetic situation this is?????

  • 0
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    A large cabinet confuses all issues because objectives/functions of ministers/ministries are shared/overlapped so that no minister is clear about what he/she is supposed to do/be responsible for.

    There are/maybe a few who survive – with their perks/benefits for kith & kin/lackeys,trips abroad etc.,doing exacly nothing except functioning as Yes Men in parliament, and occasionally making ‘noises’ to justify their existence.
    Thus all are happy.
    Whether citizens are happy is immaterial.
    If national resources are being lost irretrivably,it will be a problem for the future – postponing the ‘day of rckoning’ is the name of the game.

    The junta/regime carries on regardless,surviving until the next election.

  • 0
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    Too many crooks sorry cooks spoil the broth. All this because of the new system of voting advocated by JRJ. Every person has to be given something to do nothing.
    Like today fishermen deaths no one can be accountable. Poor lives lost untimely

  • 0
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    Rajiva,

    Which idiot in Sri Lanka does not still know by now that the Government is far too big? Did you really have to spell that out? When did this “truth” finally dawn on you?

    Wise persons warn beforehand of developing problem, well before the problem manifests. They serve a purpose – and education is supposed to help develop that capability.

    It is the pseudo-wise of Rajiva/Dayan caliber who watch and cheer on even as problems precipitate, build-up and overwhelm, and then come out of the woodshed to give these worthless post-mortems.

    • 0
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      It is just he is boring to be one of them… but he cant loose his MP ship either. .. Actually this highly educated MP should be the minister of higher Education, there, the service he could have delivered are enormous. Today, idiots have been appointed instead. That describes the MAHINDA Chinthana. DJ is let to be bit silent these days – anybody can know it why ? May be DEATH THREATS shortly before AMD discussions to finalized. He opened his hearts .. this writers is doing his in this manner.. not imagining the fate they would have to face ..

    • 0
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      And.. records prove.. MR adm is not listning to the EDUCATED candidates.

      This was clear in the most stupid IMPEACHMENT PROCESS lately held against country’s CJ appointing his OH yes man MP. World laughed at MR but he seems to have no brains to see harms.

    • 0
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      Kumar R:
      You have hit the nail on the head. However, you have failed to state an obvious fact: the Rajivas, Dayans etc. were (and are) part of the problem because they assisted in creating it. Expecting solutions from these rascals is ………..!

  • 0
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    What about the 36 odd Presidential Advisers?

    • 0
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      Does anyone know who they are? Oh, of course not – we don’t have a Right to Info Act.

  • 0
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    Why do we need ministers? Who need the ministers? We gave all the powers to one man and he runs the government with his family. Why he had to employ 100’s of ministers? The constitution stipulates that there is a need for two-third majority to make any constitutional change and you need over 50% of the members of the parliament to form a government. The easy way to get both 50% and two-third majority buy the members of parliament and appoint them as ministers and give a free hand in handling the finance allocated to them to utilize all the resources for their official and private benefits. As long as you are prepared to raise your hands whenever that family wants you will get the ministerial post and if you fail to obey that you will loose everything including your life. That is the reality

    Rajiva, it is too late to cry now after enjoying the benefits granted by that family.

  • 0
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    Can anyone tell: if not for those cabinet jobs, how on earth are you going to maintain the 2/3 majority in the Parliament. Do you need to be a Porfessor to tell us that?

    • 0
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      Thank you. The issue is that MR is unable to maintain the 2/3rd majority and maintain loyalty within the party, without a jumbo cabinet.

      Then there is the issue of the ‘real cabinet'(3 members) and the official cabinet(66 members)that meets once a week.

      The cabinet of 66 is for decoration. The cabinet of 3 is the cake.

  • 0
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    This guy is part of the Government.
    With such views he should resign from the Govt.

  • 0
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    Prof. Rajiva, I was wondering about the picture you use when writing these articles. You are in a suit and tie. The background seems hilly and arid. Was this picture taken in SL?

  • 0
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    First of all the jumping from political party to another should be stopped. MPs jump for their personal benefits rather than good for the country. Public money is spent to keep these MPs happy. What a waste, has this been in Mahinda’s Chinthana?

  • 0
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    RW,Ask yourself if you would write this if you were a minister? And
    expect this man to get a minister-ship soon !
    I’m sure he draws much more than MP salary from public money.

  • 0
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    JR Jayawardane set up the system in such a way that, eventually, it would leads only to unstable system that would disintegrate. Probably, this President has brought it close to the peak. Because, Sri Lanka as a small country can not tolerate that kind of wastage, corruption, mismanagement and…

  • 0
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    Rajiv please dont post articlas here as we dont want to waste our time reading your articles.

  • 0
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    “Because, Sri Lanka as a small country can not tolerate that kind of wastage, corruption, mismanagement and…”

    Letting the likes of the former US sector worker Gotabhaya run loose in such a climate with no oversight (of the proper kind not big brother Percy) is akin to letting the foxes run the chicken coop during a great poultry famine

  • 0
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    Dear Mr.Rajiva,

    Why do we need a Mega Cabinet when 90% of the Budget is controlled allocated, spent and executed by the Three Rajapakse Brothers only.

    We don’t need a mega Parliament and Ministries to manage the rest of the 10% of Budget.

    How come 56 cents of each Rupee collected as Taxes spent on to Maintain 1.6 million Government servents. What does the Govt. do with the rest of the 44 cents…..to the country.

    How come a Minister’s Electricity bill alone per month exceeds over 125,000 Rupees when 70% of countries workers earn average 15,000 rupees per month.

    Mr.Rajiva should submit us a report on each Minister’s Monthly Salary and all other extra utilities such as Electricity, water, telephone, Travel and car allowance, health insurance expenses, local and foreign trips, meetings, pleasure tours, their childrens education expenses, their security expenses, their secretaries expenses and other expenses etc, that are paid by the Government.

    Please give us a report as to how much GOSL spend on each minister per month. This is very useful to us as Taxpayers.

    This is why these Parliament Club members spend average 80 million rupees per election to stay in Parliament. Not to serve public but themselves.

    50% of Private Businesses including FTZ went Bankrupt after Rajapakses won the Eelam war. This includes my Brother in Law’s business, who survived the LTTE war but closed it down after LTTE war when Rajapakse started imposing Tax after Tax on Private Businesses. The Crook simply Murdered Private sector enterpreneurs while loosing Billions upon Billions of rupees as losses in all the Govt run corporations.

    Where are we heading is the million Rupee question to answer.

    Mr.Rajiva. Please give us the above Information we request.

  • 0
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    More than the numbers in the Cabinet of Ministers what we should be concerned about is the quality of our representatives in parliament. A system must be devised to ensure that those seeking political office are capable of meeting the demands of that office and can contribute intellectually to the progress of the country.

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