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11th July 1999

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Front Page
Mirror Magazine

    Pork-barrel politics

    If you throw a stone, it will fall on a Deputy Minister. That's to improvise on an old expression which has it that there are just too many of these folks around. Sixteen additional Deputy Ministers were sworn in recently, all of them being sworn in as Deputy Ministers of the Central government.

    This is from a government which preaches devolution of power like a regular mantra. This is also from a government which made a promise that it will restrict its Cabinet portfolios to the bare minimum because it's this government's leaders who found fault with the previous UNP regime for having an unwieldy Cabinet. If you throw a stone these days, it will also fall on a Pajero or a Land cruiser.

    That's not surprising, because these are the trademark vehicles of the gentry who are members of that ever increasing pack of political commissars in this country. They could be Cabinet Ministers, Deputy Ministers, Provincial Council Ministers Chief Ministers or provincial governors, or they could be pradesheeya sabha members. Whoever they are , what's obvious is that they are very conspicuous consumers.

    There is no gainsaying of course that this is the very reason that these political slots are created. Why have a whole new pack of Deputy Ministers been appointed at the tail end of a government's lifespan, when elections are scheduled for anytime this year or the next?

    From all reckoning, the reason would be to keep a baying pack of government group politicians happy, so that there wouldn't be any disgruntled elements when the campaign takes off.. It's pork barrel politics at its very brazen best. The government has by all reckoning taken an insurance policy against election time defections and crossovers, which history reveals, are common occurrences in this country when the polls approach.

    There is no other plausible explanation for the rearguard action to appoint no less than sixteen Deputy Ministers especially when it has been revealed by some of the Ministries that they do not have office facilities for one Deputy Minister, let alone two of this quaint breed. Here is also another piece of trivia which would have been good for the Guinness Book of Records or some other form of trivia publication, had it not had such large connotations for the national exchequer.

    There are now a dozen Ministries with a couple of Deputy Ministers for each, a full twelve that sports two Vice Captains per team. It is curious as to why the global lending agencies such as the IMF or the World Bank who apply pressure on the government to abolish government pensions and throw free education overboard, have not asked the government to trim down its own ugly conspicuous fat. Perhaps even these institutions don't have the gumption to call the bluff of a ruling government. Borrower governments probably have to be treated with kid gloves, lest these spoilt kids get out of hand and default on their payments.

    Though no exact calculation can be done on the colossal waste of public funds that ensues from the creation of a whole cornucopia of political posts and sinecures for the purposes of doling out perks, what the people of this country know is that this misuse of public funds is for anything but their benefit.

    Martin Luther King, who inspired the Civil Rights movement in America once said that he considers it an "abomination to have a good life on the shoulders of a suffering people.'' Dr. King may as well have been speaking to the current Sri Lankan breed of political elites.

    The rub is that these kinds of political appointments are increasingly being carried out now with thick-skinned nonchalance. It used to be that when people were looking the other way, a price increase was announced by gazette,. Now it appears that when the people are slightly distracted, a new Deputy Minister is appointed.

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