Non-partisan boards of ministers for PCs: Good, bad or indifferent?
Wednesday, 26 June 2013 00:00
By R.M.B. Senanayake
It is usual for public spirited citizens to bemoan the partisanship of the political process and suggest that the parties should get together to run the administration after the rivalry and posturing of the political parties at the election is over.
Ranil Wickremesinghe has echoed the same sentiment and suggested that the board of ministers in the Provincial Councils should be drawn from all the political parties on the plausible argument that it will ensure less division and more cooperation among the parties in the Provincial Council (PC). He is of course referring to coalition governments at the PC level.
But this is to ignore the fundamentals of human nature. The rational model of behaviour by politicians who will put the public interest ahead of their personal and private interest has been exploded in the literature of economics.
Politicians are as much driven by self-interest and extraneous interests like other human beings and to expect a nobler ideal from them is naïve. This point was shown by the Public Choice theorists like James Buchanan the Nobel Laurelist.
George Washington despised political parties and some the Founding Fathers of the American Democracy thought political parties should be abolished. But this has not happened. They are as much a part of representative democracy.
It is generally argued that single majority party governments are better than coalitions because they enable faster and decision making since all the Ministers belong to the same political party, while coalition governments find it difficult to reach decisions and to coordinate policy decisions. The ministers will be accountable to different party leaderships and the political process affects the governance process as well. Power will be further divided if there are deputy ministers drawn from a different party than that which the minister belongs to.
What is important to consider is whether the governance process will be more likely to work in the public interest if there is a coalition government rather than a single party government at the sub-national level.
Judging from the way the present regime has formed coalitions through the offer of ministerial posts, which carry many perks and allowances which the public are called upon to fund, this is unlikely to make things better for the people. They will have to cough up more money to fund these dudes. Of course if a single party does not get an outright majority, coalitions are inevitable. But to think it is an ideal is wrong.
There is not enough information available about how the chief ministers and the board of ministers in a PC function. Is the chief minister acting like a prime minister in the Westminster model or like an executive president in our presidential system? If it is the latter then the board of ministers are a mere aide playing a subordinate role in governance. How important is the board of ministers in a PC?
Any board of ministers as a policy making body at the PC is likely to lack the knowledge of the subjects at issue as well as the necessary operating and management experience. Much will depend on the bureaucracy. If the bureaucracy is appointed on political patronage, then it would be below par and it will be a case of the blind leading the blind.
A coalition is more likely to use patronage to staff the bureaucracy. The ministries are not fixed by law and the present regime has shown how their number can be increased without any administrative or functional rationale. So there seems to be no particular merit in the proposal of RW.