Labels are important, then so are Cabinets. Labels are more important today in classifying this Cabinet. National, Unity and Coalition are few of the labels which are being flung about today either for or against this government. Fiscal conservatives are generally against big government and by extension jumbo cabinets. When Mahinda Rajapaksa appointed world record- breaking 52 member Cabinet in 2008, it was on this basis the UNP objected. But now Mahinda is in the Opposition and UNP is in the government.
Labels are more important today in classifying this Cabinet. National, Unity and Coalition are few of the labels which are being flung about today either for or against this government. Fiscal conservatives are generally against big government and by extension jumbo Cabinets
So has things changed in this Maithri era of good governance? Now we have a 48 member Cabinet just four shy of the world record. Not much improvement in this regard to say the least. But those among us who defend this Cabinet as if their very own personal property state that this is a “National government”. Pithy label if there ever was one. So what does this exactly mean? I refer to the front page this very same newspaper (The Nation) dated August 30, 2015 it reads:
Of relating to a nation; common to or characteristic of a whole nation. ”This policy may have been in the national interest”
By that definition, this government is not a National Government. For it does not represent all the political parties and/or the entire nation. This is when those defensive folks get even more defensive. They turn to 19th amendment to constitution and cite the definition of ‘National Government’ as contained in article 46 (amended by the 19th amendment):
(4) Notwithstanding anything contained in paragraph (1) of this Article, where the recognized political party or the independent group which obtains highest number of seats in Parliament forms a National Government, the number of Ministers in the Cabinet of Ministers, the number of Ministers who are not Cabinet of Ministers and the number of Deputy Ministers shall be determined by Parliament.
(5) For the purpose of paragraph (4),National Government means, a Government formed by the recognized political party or the independent group which obtains the highest number of seats in Parliament together with the other recognized political parties or the independent groups.
Fair enough. Argument is a very legitimate one. But if we apply this very same definition to the World Record breaking cabinet it fits that perfectly as well. That cabinet formed in 2008 January (or the number reaching record-breaking heights in January) consisted by very definition other recognized political parties or (the) independent groups. Now before I get into a long pointless argument about the political relevance of the Parties that was in MRs cabinet I give you the following definition from the Constitution Article 170 which defines what a recognized political party as:
‘Recognized political party’means unless Parliament otherwise provides, every political party which is treated as a recognized political party under the Ceylon (Parliamentary Elections) Order in Council, 1946;
And the definition of an independent group is as follows set out in article 99:
(3) Any recognized political party, or any group of persons contesting as independent candidates (hereinafter referred to as an ‘independent group’)…
People tend to forget that in 2008 January we were fighting a war against separatist terrorists who even had proxy representation in Parliament among the people who took an oath protect the Constitution of Sri Lanka and thereby the Unitary nature of Sri Lanka as mentioned in article 2. Given these issues it was somewhat excusable albeit contemptuous to have a large cabinet in order to maintain stability during a wartime, but what excuse is there for this peacetime cabinet of this magnitude other than political greed and consolidation of current President’s position within his own party? If he wanted, he could have formed a government with the UNP with the help of 20 odd Maithri loyalists. But instead he opted to go for a MoU in an effort to consolidate his leadership role within his own party at the expense of the public.
The current Cabinet in the USA consists of the Vice President and the heads of 15 executive departments, UK currently comprises 22 Cabinet Ministers. Why can not the current administration which more often than not flaunt these countries as examples, follow the example set by US and UK in appointing Cabinet Ministerial portfolios? In the end it is the Sri Lankan taxpayers who will have to pay the bill of this Ministerial all-you-can-eat-buffet.