The second, much anticipated Cabinet reshuffle took place on Sunday, finally bringing to an end weeks of speculation and uncertainty. The new appointments have triggered fresh excitement and renewed hope that the National Unity Government has, at long last, resolved its internal squabbles and can now move forward, setting its Good Governance agenda in motion. Sri Lanka has much to lose if this turns out to be wishful thinking.
The Yahapalana coalition is not the first Government to opt for a reshuffle in an attempt to save some face and it certainly won’t be the last. When the odds are stacked against them, all governments to date have reshuffled their deck, hoping to create a false sense of strengthened resolve to meet their obligations to the voting public, instilling in the latter some confidence that their vote was not in vain.
Whether or not the current administration will be any different even after a second reshuffle is yet to be seen, but the key appointment of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe taking over the Law and Order portfolio seems to indicate a renewed push at fighting corruption and fast-tracking major cases that have languished for three years.
The rest of the reshuffle is significant for its few changes. In this instance those who did not get shuffled bring hope for economic stability and continuation of this Government’s reform agenda. The fact that the UNP managed to fend off challenges to key ministries such as Finance, International Trade and National Policies is indeed a positive.
Dr. Harsha de Silva has been promoted to a ministerial position, giving him much clout and considerable power to manage the economy, including authority over the Central Bank. His role in coordinating with the Finance Ministry on balancing fiscal and monetary policy would be crucial to Sri Lanka as it heads to high debt repayment years from 2019. Continuity is crucial for any government and retaining key ministers from the last reshuffle is a positive development that should not be seen as a sign of weakness by the president but rather a genuine effort to maintain policy consistency.
The UNP, as before, has managed to hold onto the trump cards during the reshuffle, but now it has the grave task of creating tangible change for the masses. The switch in State enterprises should not be allowed to deflate into a hiring spree into loss-making enterprises but focus on restructuring and making these public companies independent of sucking up public funds. This Government has to get down to business before politics takes over once again.
Whatever route this reshuffle ends up taking, one thing is clear: despite the brave face put on by the Government, cracks have emerged and both constituent parties are desperately trying to keep their ‘unity’ intact - at least on the surface.
Inspired by the Local Government result, the Joint Opposition is all too happy to use the situation to its advantage by highlighting the Government’s inability to stay united and work for the benefit of the masses.
It is doubtful that, given its rising unpopularity, any amount of reshuffling is going to save this Government come 2020, until and unless it puts its house in order. Time is running out. Both the president and the prime minister have said they accept the people’s verdict and will work to swiftly implement change within the mandate they were given in 2015. The people are waiting.