Vast amounts of time, money, energy, emotions and resources have been devoted to the Provincial, Presidential and Parliamentary elections over the past two years or so. The day-to-day routines of the public, at work places and schools, have been disturbed repeatedly without regard for anyone other than politicians and their henchmen. Issues have hardly been discussed and everything has turned on the relative personal popularity of the contenders and, of course, the amount of marketing inputs deployed. Voters sympathetic to the opposition parties as well as relatively uncommitted types have shown their displeasure at these political games, the noise, the visual pollution, the waste, corrupt practices, traffic interruptions and every other kind of extravagance that a developing country like Sri Lanka can do without. They have been fatigued by this plague of successive polls and have expressed their protest by turning out in smaller numbers for the recent Parliamentary elections than at any time since the 1960s.
There will, no doubt, be a number of valid and invalid reasons given by the United People’s Front Alliance (UPFA)’s opponents to explain away part of their poor showing but a significant component of their failure is largely attributable to their loss of credibility in the eyes of the voters and their remissness in not offering practical solutions to those problems which are of immediate personal concern to the ordinary man and woman. For these and other reasons, the UPFA was able to win 60-61 per cent of the inevitable poor turnout. However, as the UPFA did not get the desired two-thirds of the votes cast, the public is bound to expect to see a return to the nauseous practice of MPs being given divers inducements to cross over from the Opposition benches to the Government side.
The Citizens’ Movement for Good Governance (CIMOGG) holds that, quite aside from the question of impropriety, it is unnecessary for any government to induce MPs to cross over by bribing them with Ministries or other incentives. Just as MPs on both sides of the Parliament have no difficulty in agreeing unanimously to get their salaries and so many other perquisites increased, there will be many matters of a non-controversial and non-partisan, but nationally important character, where it should not be difficult, with a little give and take, to achieve consensus, whilst maintaining each party’s priorities in respect of more contentious issues. Whilst the public waits with bated breath to see how things unfold over the next few weeks, it is time to turn our attention to a topic which, in the long term, should ordinarily be outside the realm of party politics.
In this contribution, we propose to limit ourselves to discussing the topic of how related subjects may be combined to form more effective Ministries than we have had in recent years. This issue has now become a matter of some urgency because the appointment of the next set of Ministers is likely to be undertaken within the next few days.
In forming his government team, President Rajapakse could do worse than to take into consideration the intense effort made by the Organisation of Professional Associations (OPA) in 2007/08 to mobilise around 150 public-spirited persons of eminence in various fields (highly-respected public servants, professionals, academics and business executives) to give generously of their time and knowledge, without any financial reward, to address the multifarious issues of national importance and to recommend the type of action to be taken to get the Nation to work towards a well-coordinated set of objectives. Space does not permit us to go into the reports which were prepared nor to list here the names of all the patriotic citizens who made their invaluable contributions to this huge effort. Many of them are well known to the public whereas some of the other participants have reached great heights, but outside the public gaze. In order not to strain editorial indulgence too much, only a small sample of the better known names of those who made invaluable contributions to the OPA exercise is given here; it includes Ms Manel Abeysekera, Mr Nihal Sri Amarasekera, Professor Lal Balasuriya, General Gerry de Silva, Eng Priyal de Silva, Arch Ashley de Vos, N.Godage, Professor A.D.Gunawardena, Cyril Herath, Professor S.T.Hettige, Professor Lakshman Jayatilleke, Eng Neville Ladduwahetty, Walter Ladduwahettey, Dr Ajantha Perera, General Denis Perera, Elmore Perera, Ana Punchihewa, R.M.B.Senanayake, Nihal Seneviratne, Susil Siriwardena, Eng D.L.Taldena, Professor Lakshman Watawala, Ariyaseeli Wickremanayake, Chandra Wickremasinghe, Dr Hiranthi Wijemanne and Professor Dayantha Wijesekera. (Apologies in advance are offered to anyone whose name might be inadvertently misspelt here).
One hundred plus micro-committees were formed initially by the OPA to work out broad objectives for the subjects assigned to each of them. The micro-committees were then grouped carefully, following detailed discussions, to reduce the number to 25 macro-committees, covering closely related subjects, to correspond to just 25 Ministries of government, which everyone agreed would be ideal for an efficient Cabinet. The subjects to be handled by these Ministries are given below and we sincerely hope that President Rajapakse will show some regard for the effort, patriotism and sacrifice made by these highly knowledgeable and concerned citizens by adopting OPA’s recommendations to the maximum extent possible. The proposed Ministries, in no particular sequence, are (1) Defence, (2) Foreign Affairs, (3) National Unity, (4) Governance, Fraud and Corruption, (5) Public Administration, (6) National Planning, Finance, External Resources and Economic Affairs, (7) Regional Development, River Basin Development, Local Government and Poverty Alleviation, (8) Public Security, Law and Order, (9) Parliamentary Affairs, Justice and Constitutional Affairs, (10) Environment and Infrastructural Development, (11) Transport, (12) Urban Development, Housing, Construction, Disaster Management, Reconstruction and Rehabilitation, (13) Power and Energy, (14) Information, Media and Communications, (15) National Resources, Earth Sciences, Industries, Science and Technology, (16) Land, Forestry, Wild Life, Territorial Waters and Extended Economic Zone, (17) Irrigation, Water Supply, Water Management and Drainage, (18) Food, Agriculture, Plantations, Livestock and Fisheries, (19) Trade, Commerce, Consumer Affairs and Cooperatives, (20) Education and Human Resources Development, (21) Health, (22) Human Resources Planning and Employment, (23) Heritage, Culture and Tourism, (24) Children, Women, Elders, Disabled, Family Welfare and Social Services, and (25) Youth Affairs and Sports.
It is worthy of note that large democracies like India and the USA hardly ever keep inventing new Ministries for whatever reason, though they see no difficulty in amending their constitutions whenever necessary, whilst avoiding throwing out the baby with the bath water. They have a well thought-out combination of Ministries, with well-defined areas of responsibility and authority, which have withstood well the tests of time. We should try to follow their efficient example.
One obviously useful, if minor, aspect of maintaining this kind of continuity of function is that the media, academia, business and the public will not have to go round in circles to find out which Ministry is currently charged with dealing with a particular problem of concern or interest to them. This would be of immense help in resolving the difficulties faced by those who are befuddled by the multiplicity of Ministers who seem to be responsible for dealing with what appear to be virtually identical subjects.