Discretion was the better part of political expediency on the part of the UNF Government when it decided to put off the move to form a National Government even if it has not entirely dropped the idea. Very few would buy into the argument trotted out that the UNF wanted a National Government for the [...]


The poli-tricks of a National Government


Discretion was the better part of political expediency on the part of the UNF Government when it decided to put off the move to form a National Government even if it has not entirely dropped the idea.

Very few would buy into the argument trotted out that the UNF wanted a National Government for the purpose of “development”. That is a much abused word of politicians to ram through partisan political agendas otherwise detrimental to the nation. That compares with the oft-misused cliché “national security” cry of not so long ago.

Unlike in January 2015, and the formation of the then National Government with the country’s two main political parties, this time, to foist a so-called National Government on the people between the UNF (which goes as one party as it contested as one), and a solitary MP from another (which is already in the Government as a partner of the UNF) seemed a bad joke. The UNF itself can be considered a coalition and an argument may hold that it is, therefore, a National Government by itself, though not for the purposes of the much criticised 19th Amendment to the Constitution.

The aim of the temporarily aborted move this time was clearly to get some SLFP MPs to cross-over and create a “stable” Government with a Parliamentary majority of its own without having to rely on TNA or JVP support to prop it up. But the President seems to have torpedoed the crossover with his rather inappropriate comment during his Independence Day address to the nation, slamming the proposed National Government. The SLFP MPs seem to have developed cold feet thereafter as our Political Editor says in his column today.

The UNF Prime Minister was clearly under intense pressure from within his party’s backbenchers to expand his Cabinet. They had backed him twice last year — i.e. at the Vote of No-Confidence and during the period when he was sacked in October. They wanted something in return for the support they gave him.  The 19th Amendment that limits the number of the Cabinet to 30 was the barrier preventing them from fulfilling their ambitions of a Cabinet portfolio.

So, the Government has come up with this desperate exercise in trying to pull the wool over the public’s eyes. It has made the very concept of a National Government, usually brought forth in a multi-party democracy at times of national emergencies, a somewhat flippant everyday manoeuvre to tinker with the Constitution for parochial gain. This Government will have to live with the fact that it is a minority Government and seek the support of the TNA and the JVP for its majority if push comes to shove. Otherwise, with the 100+ MPs it has to outvote the Opposition’s 90+ MPs, the UNF may face the possibility of a defeat if the TNA and the JVP ever side with the Opposition on a vote.

That said, any Government is meant to be a “National Government” in its true sense working for the national interest at all times. And the move to bring additional Cabinet Ministers does not have the people’s support as it is they who have to ultimately carry the burden of paying for the expenses.

Govt. in part shutdown mode

 Yet another week has rolled over and the Government continues to strain in filling the vacancies to the directorates of corporations, statutory bodies and other institutions outside the public service. This was caused by the disruption of its administration in October last year.

There appears to be an unholy cocktail of things happening with the appointment of a Presidential Committee supposedly vetting these appointments. The exercise in itself was nothing new. With the advent of the 2015 Government, there was a proposal to make these appointments on a “scientific basis”. That went through the window with some of those who were put into positions – from the brother of a Cabinet Minister to head a mega institution under his care to a medical dispenser at the helm of a research institute. But at least there was a method in place to the isolated cases of madness.

Both, the method and the madness are continuing today. And it is taking an awful long time to fill in the vacancies. At least this week the state bank posts have been filled, but letters of appointments have not been given to all. Some ministers have been impatient and made their own appointments –as they claim they are legally entitled to do so. They have virtually told the Presidential Committee to “go to hell”, and at least one UNF minister was hauled up by his own Prime Minister for going through the back-door to the President to get his appointments done.

The President has already broken his own guidelines and bypassed his own Committee. In the meantime, the Committee is still calling for the curriculum vitae of nominees of Cabinet Ministers who are playing by the rules and sending in the names of their nominees. This has become a case where the intentions are noble, but the implementation is too slow. In effect, what has happened is the Government is in part shutdown mode.

This week, the nation also witnessed the Finance Minister having to back down from an appointment he made to the Customs Department. The department is anything but squeaky clean, but the minister’s move to bring in an “outsider” came a cropper when it was met with stiff resistance, with the ousted Director General taking the unprecedented step of going to the media to speak up against her removal.

The signs are that the public servants will no longer take things lying down and unions have become bolder. The public service has been let down by such appointments where honesty, integrity, ability, upholding the rule of law and disregard for political interference must be the norm not servility, prepared to act illegally and entertaining political interference. The minister’s faux pas has not been without financial cost. The country was said to be losing Rs. 1 billion each day as the Customs Department launched a ‘Work-to-Rule’ campaign. The minister has now reinstated the DG, but it seems only till pending investigations are over. Does this mean the DG ought not to begin new investigations for then they will also be ‘pending’?

The minister has also spoken of an apex Revenue Authority where the Customs, the Inland Revenue and the Excise Departments will be brought under one umbrella. This was a proposal of then Finance Minister K.N. Choksy during the 2001-2004 years and this was also resisted by those in these three agencies. It seems they are quite comfortable the way things are, and for reasons that are obvious, they don’t want the status-quo disturbed. There was a hue and cry at the time and there will be now. It is not prudent to introduce these new measures at the tail-end of a Government if it lacks the support of the stakeholders. These are measures that must be introduced in the early months of a new administration.


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