Government must win back public confidence

The President and Prime Minister sat down together this week at the BMICH to answer questions from the public. It was a good show for the Coalition Government. But, ironically today people measure their leaders by action not by what they say in public.


Also, the JVP leader yesterday in Parliament reminded the Government that it needed to get fresh approval from Parliament to maintain the current number of Ministers. The present Cabinet consists of 48 members. In the terms of Article 46 (1) (a) and (b) Ministers of the Cabinet of Ministers shall not exceed thirty and Ministers who are not members of the Cabinet of Ministers and Deputy Ministers shall not, in the aggregate, exceed forty. Therefore, given that the Government is left with less than three years to win the confidence of the public and deliver on the many promises made, this is probably the best time to follow Prime Minister Modi’s example.

In probably the last major reshuffle of the Modi Government before the 2019 elections nine new ministers were inducted, all ministers of state. Four ministers of state were promoted as cabinet ministers. The portfolios of some ministers changed. The most significant change was the promotion of Nirmala Sitharaman as a cabinet minister with the Defence Ministry. She is a lightweight politician given a heavyweight ministry as a counterweight to Sushma Swaraj who is External Affairs Minister. Suresh Prabhu’s change of portfolio from Railways to Commerce was expected as there were three accidents in recent days and he had been told to quit.

Restructuring the Government
Today our Cabinet has the right men in the wrong places. What we need is the right man in the right place. Currently it seems there is maximum government and no governance. This was against the Yahapalana slogan of ‘Minimum Government, Maximum Governance’.

We have many instances when somebody has been elevated for non-performance. There is nothing on the balance sheet of the current Foreign Minister to justify his promotion to the next best job in the government after the Prime Minister. Moreover, he is not elected by the public and therefore he has no support from the public. However, this is no indictment on his professional career as a lawyer. But what we would have liked to see the President and PM do was a Modi-type reshuffle to bring in fresh talent into the Cabinet.

For example LSE-educated Eran Wickremaratne or Dr. Harsha de Silva, who have both sacrificed their professional careers in their prime to be of service to the people, could have been recognised. Most importantly, there is also now a need for rationalisation of the Cabinet.

However, this requires political will on the part of the President and Prime Minister to limit the Cabinet to 30. Given the size of our GDP and our tragic debt burden, a by-product of the past, Sri Lanka would ideally need only the following 25 ministers to run this country efficiently. They are: Agriculture and Plantations; Education; Justice; Finance and Planning; Defence; External Affairs; Interior and Media; Health; Trade and Commerce; Industries and SMEs; Science Technology and Innovation; Local Government and Provincial Councils; Public Administration and Home Affairs; Fisheries; Labour and Foreign Employment; Ports, Shipping and Aviation; Transport and Highways; Housing and Urban Development; Land, Environment, Water Resources and Other Resources; Power and Energy; Reconciliation, Rehabilitation and Resettlement; Tourism and Investment; Sports and Youth Affairs; Public Enterprises; Religious and Cultural Affairs; Infrastructure and Regional Development.

Reasons for failure
The biggest failure of this Government, especially the UNP, is that they have failed to recognise many of their party men and women who have stood by the party during their difficult and dark days. The reason for this failure is that the people who were appointed by the party to make the appointments for the new Government were not in any way involved in forming the Government and did not know the people. They were parachuted into Government by people who had no interest in the wellbeing of the Government, other than their own wellbeing.

For example some of the political appointments to the Foreign Service, the first and second tier appointments to corporations and private sector companies were mostly new inductees into the new Government, while many people who toiled for the change were very conveniently forgotten for friends of the appointers.

Now many of the people who silently campaigned for change and were left in the lurch have in frustration joined the anti-government bandwagon on social media to vent their frustration, while those people who have failed both by the country and the Government continue in office and in corporations. All this must change and the time is now before a new wave takes shape in the form of a new people movement for change.

Reshaping the landscape
The UNP and SLFP, without attempting to weaken each other, should pay heed to the mood of the electorate. They should be mindful of the potential emergence of a third force like in France, when Macron became France’s youngest leader since Napoleon. He is a 39-year-old former investment banker, who served for two years as economy minister under former French President Hollande but had never previously held elected office.

Today unfortunately while a section of the Government is hell-bent on transferring executive powers to the office of the Prime Minister after 2020, another group wants the office of the President to retain executive powers. Before an overhaul of the Constitution is made, the people want the Government to deliver on the many other promises they made.

The Government should stop itself getting entangled in ‘retail politics’ from now on and focus on a few big wins. The President and the Prime Minister, two outstanding men, certainly have the capability and the will to do the right thing for the sake of the country. The time is now!


Dinesh Weerakkody

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