Sri Lankans are a peculiar lot. They are adept at embracing something that they pretend to dislike, trotting out excuses. This could be succinctly put as the average clergyman`s attitude towards intimacy?he condemns it in public but relishes it in private. Today is Poya day and meat stalls and liquor bars are closed?quite rightly so, practising Buddhist will say?but at every home where liquor and meat are consumed, adequate stocks of meat, fish and liquor are maintained. Some people`s gorges rise at the mention of beef but the same worthies gobble up fish, mutton and chicken and fall over one another to help themselves to val uru mas (wild boar) wherever that rare commodity is available! Some are against killing animals but consume fish and meat by the ton insisting that the poor animals, to which those carcasses, belong have not been killed for them! Some proclaim their aversion to liquor in public but gulp a glass or two on the sly claiming that the stuff that cheers helps reduce the cholesterol level! However unpalatable it may sound to some of us, we ought to come to terms with the fact that most of us are hypocrites.
It is against this background that one should view a comment Minister Maithripala Sirisena is reported to have made at a ceremony to mark his assumption of duties at his ministry. He has said he is ashamed of being part of a jumbo cabinet! All ministers must be ashamed of being a burden on this mendicant state. If Mr. Sirisena has any compunction, he must resign from the cabinet forthwith so that the number of the ministers will go down by at least one? If others of his ilk claiming to be honourable men and women follow suit, the question of a jumbo cabinet won`t arise.
Has Mr. Sirisena taken the people for a bunch of suckers?
He is reported to have said in the same breath that the government was without an alternative to a jumbo cabinet, as it wanted to avert an election which would have cost the country dearly. (Even politicians seem to be feeling for the country!) His contention is not completely false. In reshuffling the pack, President Mahinda Rajapakse had to accommodate even jokers in the cabinet. Else, they would have pole-vaulted to the other side. That is, for the 18 UNP crossovers, he would have lost an equal number of SLFPers or more to the UNP, had he reduced the number of ministers to 25 as the Rathu Sahodarayas demand.
But, that is no reason why a person, like Mr. Sirisena, the General Secretary of the SLFP, should stick to his cabinet portfolio like a limpet, while feeling ashamed of it. He could have set an example for the greedy politicians by resigning from the cabinet.
Perhaps, the lay politicians should be forgiven for peddling that argument, as even some Buddhist monks seem to think that to serve the public, they need to hold political office! What pathetic figures they have cut in politics!
The Proportional Representation system (PR) has, as one of our staffers pointed out on this page yesterday, led to unstable governments. No single party can aspire to forming a government on its own unlike in the good old days. Rainbow coalitions have become the order of the day! The late President Premadasa was the first leader to appoint a large number of ministers to prevent the disintegration of his government in the aftermath of an attempt to impeach him in 1991. He introduced the concept of kankaanam project ministers to keep his parliamentarians happy and content. The tradition continues.
However, jumbo cabinets must not be taken for granted. Some of the remedies suggested are legislating for limiting the number of ministers as in the Provincial Councils, re-introducing the Executive Committee system so that all parliamentarians will be able to participate in the developmental activities and have a say in governance and reverting to the First Past the Post (FPP) system, under which a parliamentarian doesn`t have to nurse so huge an electorate.
But, we must not make the mistake of throwing out the baby with the bath water. The PR system has its merits. The ethnic minorities are also enamoured of the system. On the other hand, the FPP system, too, could lead to unstable governments like in 1960, when we had two elections?one in March and the other in July.
A viable way out may be the adoption of a cross between the PR and the FPP systems or the so-called German Model. Most of all, laws must be made to strip parliamentarians, especially ministers, of powers with which they have risen above the law, perks and other benefits they are enjoying at public expense. They must also be denied opportunities to engage in corrupt deals?the main attraction in politics. If that is done, no one will want to be a minister and we might even have to import ministers!
President Rajapakse has done a grave injustice to the General Secretary of his own party, Maithreepala Sirisena by making him accept something, of which he is ashamed. He and all other ministers who feel ashamed of belonging to a jumbo cabinet or make public statements to that effect must be immediately relieved of their portfolios so that they could live with a clear conscience.
Let Minister Sirisena be told that masses are not asses to believe him!