Home / Dinesh Weerakkody/ The Cabinet reshuffle: No real takeaways

The Cabinet reshuffle: No real takeaways


Comments / {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}} Views / Friday, 2 March 2018 00:00


Events, as they say in politics, have conspired to force the President to reshuffle his Cabinet, to sharpen Government and to shine. President Sirisena and the Prime Minister had decided to reshuffle the Cabinet of Ministers to manage the fallout after the recent election.

Many new faces were expected to be appointed to Cabinet, with a few changes to existing portfolios. The public wanted a thorough shake-up. Their message after the LG elections was loud and clear. Changing a few ministers would not serve that purpose. 

After three years in office, some ministers had delivered and some lack ideas and had become stale, detached and complacent. Some were simply out of their depth. Sadly the much-anticipated Cabinet reshuffle proved to be an anti-climax with just a few changes being effected and these too only with respect of a few UNP Ministers. 

Despite the full Cabinet of Ministers being invited for the event, only six Ministers, two State Ministers and a Deputy Minister were sworn in before President Maithripala Sirisena at the President’s Office. The rest of the UNP Ministers retained their portfolios while the future of the UPFA Ministers will remain unknown for a further two weeks. 

President Sirisena however made it clear that there would be major changes in the subjects gazetted under each ministry. So far the changes are insignificant and short-sighted. Many expected General Fonseka to take over Law and Order at least at non-Cabinet level to give a fresh lease of life to law enforcement in the country. That too did not take place.

Disappointing 

The questions raised after Cabinet reshuffles are not unexpected. After all, Cabinet reshuffles are an intriguing affair. At least for one thing, they demonstrate the power of the Head of State. Perhaps, this is only one decision – the other being the date of the general election that he is expected to decide on his own, consulting only the Prime Minister and very close associates, if at all. 

Interestingly, reshuffles therefore tend to be highly-secretive affairs, thus adding to the fascination. Even in the case of a modest change. Often the people who are promoted to ministerial rank are told only on the day itself. The other reason for wide interest is that, more often than not, Cabinet reshuffles are heavily laden with hidden motives and agendas. 

The public expectation of President Sirisena’s proposed reshuffle was to get the Government to change direction and to inject fresh hope. It was not done with realism and pragmatism expected, therefore it has led to further uncertainty within the Government.

Need for strong leadership

It is often said that the Cabinet in most countries wields tremendous power and authority. However in Sri Lanka, despite the recent amendments, the President still wields substantial power and authority, and few nations in the world have power so highly-concentrated in one office as in Sri Lanka. 

It is a sobering thought that the man at the head of the Cabinet, i.e. the President, has the sole responsibility and discretion finally of deciding who belongs to it. This is how most governments work today.

Strong leaders have of course made a big difference, for example Singapore under Lee Kuan or Britain under Margaret Thatcher. Both demonstrated very clearly that without discipline and structure, a country goes nowhere. 

Ideal democracy never produced results. However, what is equally very important is to have very strong and pragmatic men and women preferably educated with a commitment to national service in the Cabinet to advise the Prime Minister or the President, and in some instances, to act as a foil. 

Needless to say, in the end, the only valid reason as far as the public goes to change a Cabinet line-up is to strengthen it or inject new life, for the benefit of the country. In this case, the overall ‘reshuffle’ was far from a complete overhaul talked of in political circles – especially after the President and Prime Minister vowed to take very bold and far reaching steps in view of the embarrassing defeat of the UNP as well as SLFP at the Local Government elections. 

What a shame both leaders did not make use of the opportunity define the issues in their own terms to the Opposition.

Conclusion 

Though the coalition to many looks in shambles, it is not all gloom and doom. Sri Lanka had its first primary budget surplus in 2017. The improvements in the economic climate have been reflected in the sovereign ratings by Fitch and Standard & Poor as they upgraded from a Negative to a Stable Outlook.

Sri Lanka’s external sector had performed well with exports reaching $11.4 billion, 10% more than that of 2016 and higher still than the previous best of $11.1 billion in 2014. Therefore whatever that has been achieved so far should not be squandered over political misgivings. 

The way out of this political stalemate is for Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe to take careful steps in dealing with President Sirisena, leaving sufficient space for the latter to understand the ground reality. Ranil needs to adopt a model that is based on discipline (someone telling what to do) rather than allow many (who invariably are not the best) who are incompetent. 

If any of our leaders can sell that to the masses (not the intelligentsia only), then we get some discipline in our society (which needs to be shaped like Lee Kuan did with the mass of the Singaporeans). 

The current leadership at the helm has to reinvent itself to be trusted once again with a fresh mandate. So far its record of broken promises, weak governance, judicial ineffectiveness and above all, tolerance of financial scandals has largely betrayed the confidence that people placed on the regime. The alternative leadership that is challenging the current one also has a past with even more baggage. 

As a result of all this young people are now looking for new alternatives to carry the nation forward with a clean slate. Therefore if serious steps are not taken to rectify the errors that in part led to the disappointing election result, the result at the next provincial elections will be the final nail in the coffin. Because is not possible to win elections without hard work and solid results!

(The writer is a thought leader.)


Share This Article


DISCLAIMER:

1. All comments will be moderated by the Daily FT Web Editor.

2. Comments that are abusive, obscene, incendiary, defamatory or irrelevant will not be published.

3. We may remove hyperlinks within comments.

4. Kindly use a genuine email ID and provide your name.

5. Spamming the comments section under different user names may result in being blacklisted.

COMMENTS

Today's Columnists

In the desert of Tamil films, actor Sivaji Ganesan was an oasis

Saturday, 22 September 2018

‘Indian Film,’ first published in 1963 and co-authored by former Columbia University Professor Erik Barnouw and his student Dr. Subrahmanyam Krishnaswamy, is considered a seminal study of the evolution and growth of Indian cinema. The book is cit


Imran may turn blind eye to blasphemy law and persecution of Ahmadiyyas

Saturday, 22 September 2018

There are clear signs that Pakistan’s freshly minted Prime Minister, Imran Khan, will make a sincere effort to reduce corruption and maladministration in the domestic sphere. In foreign affairs he is likely to make a brave attempt to mend fences wi


The rate of exchange, capital flight and the Central Bank

Friday, 21 September 2018

The Central Bank (CBSL) exists for the sole purpose of price stability. Its controls on the financial system and monetary policy exist to maintain price stability. As put forth many times by the Governor, the failing of the CBSL to control inflation


Red flag over the Sri Lankan Navy

Friday, 21 September 2018

Shocking story Rusiripala, a former banker in Sri Lanka, who has taken to writing in Daily FT, is perturbed by the red flag I have raised (Daily FT article 18 September) over the shocking charge that our Navy had operated a ransom gang that had abduc


Columnists More