CABINET reshuffles have become more commonplace with another set being sworn in today, ahead of the much anticipated Budget. While the people are expecting short term and long term benefits – from pay hikes to completion of large scale development projects and tax reforms that will spur investment, there is the added consideration of limiting public expenses.
The president has given a strong promise to limit the number of Cabinet members when he took office for the second time.
With a two thirds majority in parliament it is clear that there is little political need to increase the number of Cabinet ministers. However, given the reports that several deputy ministers are also earmarked to be sworn in today, one wonders at the prudence of such a measure.
It must be made clear to the people exactly why these appointments are being made and how they will serve the public rather than creating more convoys, corruption, and sadly disrupting the plans that have already been made in these respective sectors. The focus of the government is to put in place policies and frameworks that assist the economy to thrive and prevent the much needed capital from being drained for supporting an already top heavy governance system.
Already too politicised and corruption ridden, if the extra ministers do little to streamline the margins of power and often confused overlappings, the result of two many ministries — as was evident during the previous governments. With haphazard changes in the existing portfolios the chances of continuity and sustainability being dispensed with is great; and the president must keep in mind that the extra public spending is justified by the appointment of the most competent and honest ministers for the job.
Moreover, in a slight change to the adage “too many cooks spoil the broth”, past experience and the Appropriation Bill have shown that it also dilutes the soup. Most of the funds are under a handful of powerful ministers and therefore appointing a larger Cabinet not only reduces the allocation given to each ministry to do worthwhile projects, and it also creates greater challenge to good and efficient governance.
Another point is that key development oriented ministries that focus on health, education and housing must have a sustainable process and greater funds if they are to serve the people adequately. Cutting down their funds to expand the number of ministries, along with luxury cars, offices, staff, housing and even telephone bills will do little to alleviate the suffering of the common man. As the president himself pointed out during his swearing in speech on Friday the greatest war on poverty is yet to be won and public funds can stage an effective charge should it wish to do so.
The government has time and gain noted that it wishes to make Sri Lanka an investment hub of Asia and as such it should match its words with actions. Creating a one stop shop for business is important and creating a multitude of ministries will not serve that purpose. The processes that businessmen must follow to implement their projects must be independent of the political system. Ministers should not be the only ones to have the last word on the project— but in most instances this is the reality.
Take for example the currently burning topic of private universities where despite a plethora of committees for evaluation and ranking the final word of approval must come from the Minister. This is dangerous indeed as it leaves room for corruption, and the danger for the entire system to collapse. Such methods relegate the entire future of the country to arbitrary decisions that are neither transparent nor accountable.
Be that as it may the plea is for prudence and practicality. Appointments must be made based on serving the people and not to curry favour with political sidekicks— a lesson that Sri Lanka clearly needs to learn.