For whose good?

Saturday, 12 October 2013 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

PERIODICALLY handing candy around is a favourite game of the President even though opening the candy jar at this juncture may not be the best of decisions. The appointment of nine new Deputy Ministers ahead of the Budget and at a time the Government has to tighten public expenditure, going so far as to ask officials to limit foreign tours, makes for doubtful logic. With the new round of appointments, 105 out of 160 Government Members of Parliament (MP) have some form of portfolio. This is around 70% of the entire contingent. Among this mix of doubtful public workers are Senior Ministers with no clear mandate, Monitoring MPs and a whole regiment of Deputy Ministers who are little more than seen to be working. Those who newly joined the ranks are Sanath Jayasuriya – Ministry of Postal Services, Lakshman Perera – Ministry of Industry and Commerce, Sarath Weerasekara – Ministry of Labour and Labour Relations, Y.G. Padmasiri – Ministry of Agriculture, Anthony Victor Perera – Ministry of Coconut Development and Janatha Estate Development, Hemal Gunasekera – Ministry of Cooperatives and Internal Trade Affairs, Mohan Lal Grero – Ministry of Education, Nishantha Mutuhettigama – Ministry of Minor Export Crops and Sarath Mutukumarana – Ministry of Rehabilitation and Prison Reforms. After being sworn in, many of them spoke eloquently about their desire to be of “service to the people,” a hackneyed statement at the best of times and one that is unconvincing given the extra expense they will now cost the taxpayer. At a time when economists point out that the Government has to sell bonds via State banks to finance their daily operations, the appointment of fresh Deputy Ministers makes no sense. In addition, one could argue that most of the problems plaguing these ministries would not be served much by the inclusion of the new office bearers. The Ministry of Agriculture has been under fire for weeks for not competently purchasing paddy from farmers due to lack of funds, moreover they have decided to roll back the much-needed fertiliser subsidy, which critics say is for the same reason. Industry and Commerce saw exports drop by as much as 4% in the first half of the year and numbers have been reducing regularly for years with little being done to give them a boost, a problem that Minor Export Crops is also involved in. Janatha Estate Development has massive plantations that have been loss-making for almost as long as they have existed and are a part of larger State Owned Enterprises (SOEs) that are haemorrhaging as much as 2% of annual GDP. The travails of the Education Ministry require a book and the appointment of a person who has vested interests as an owner of international schools in the sector also smacks of a conflict of interest. The ethics have been blithely ignored. Given that former cricketer Sanath Jayasuriya already has his hands full, one would imagine, with the eminently corrupt Sri Lanka Cricket, it is arguable why he needs a portfolio. With the corruption and mismanagement pandemic in governance, Sri Lanka needs someone who will think of the larger picture. Unless ministers and deputy ministers are evaluated on their performance, there is little justification in continuing to make appointments just for the benefit of the political elite.