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Political musical chairs


Comments / 1376 Views / Wednesday, 17 May 2017 00:00


The proposed Cabinet reshuffle has been delayed despite several unofficial deadlines in the past few weeks. Having first got postponed due to the Sinhala Tamil New Year, President Maithripala Sirisena wanted to reshuffle the pack before Vesak. However, despite that too being delayed, the deed is set to be completed this week as Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe returns to Sri Lanka following his visit to China.

Reports indicated that even though the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) headed by President Sirisena was in favour of a reshuffle, the United National Party (UNP) opposed the decision, which caused the delay. It is said to have caused a strain between the two parties, whose Memorandum of Understanding is up for review in August. The President was said to have been frustrated with the lack of progress on the matter and had even stated that no further Cabinet meetings will be held until his pledge to the nation had been fulfilled.

Following talks with the Prime Minister on Friday, it was agreed upon that the reshuffle will take place upon Wickremesinghe’s return with the Premier speculated to deliver an important message as well.

There is no doubt that there are serious problems within the Government and the Cabinet of Ministers, who at times have underperformed or been ineffective. The Yahapalanaya Government, much like all the coalition governments of the past, has focussed too heavily on balancing self-interest and political agendas, with Cabinet portfolios being dealt out like rewards based on seniority and loyalty instead of suitability.

When the present Government first took over the administration over two years ago, it was understood that the era of political stooges and nepotism was over. However, scepticism prevails over whether anything changed in that regard at all, as the coalition Government too attempted to fit all its loyal subjects into Government posts. 

The inflated Cabinet of the previous administration, which was a contentious issue at the time, hardly lost an inch. How then would assigning the same group of people different portfolios answer any of the problems that have led to the President’s decision?

The Government is desperately trying to put forward a united front to the people but it is clear that cracks have emerged. However, without changing the manner and criteria for selecting ministers to their posts, no meaningful change will be logically possible. The need of the hour dictates that we must demand a system in which the best man is chosen for the job and is held accountable for his performance.

Sections of civil society have suggested that ministers be held to a performance contract through which time-bound objectives must be met. Much like the list of promises made by the Government before taking over the job, these ministers, as public servants, must list out their performance indicators as proof of their eligibility for the post. 

However, perhaps unlike the Government, the Minister’s portfolio can then be taken away at any time upon the failure to meet those objectives barring extraordinary circumstances. This system or something similar is not crucial in order to reach the levels of accountability the public craves.

Many now believe that a mere shuffling of the pack would be completely pointless unless the exercise is underscored by reinforcing the Government’s election pledges to make the appointments more accountable, improve policy consistency and stamp out corruption. A game of political musical chairs is hardly sufficient for that.


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