Ministerial tally reaches record 80
President swears in three breakaway SLMC MPs as non-cabinet ministers
By Frances Bulathsinghala
President Chandrika Kumaratunga yesterday appointed three breakaway Muslim Congress MPs as non-cabinet ministers but according them all the perks of those in the cabinet.

The three MPs are, M. N. Abdul Majeed, Abdul Risard Bathiyudeen and Ameer Ali Shihabdeen who had been expelled by the SLMC four months ago. This brings the number of ministers and deputies to a record 80 - 12 more than the previous United National Front government.

Under the UNF, the number of ministers stood at 32 cabinet ministers, 27 non-cabinet ministers and 9 deputy ministers, totalling 68. Mr. Abdul Majeed was sworn in as the Minister of Rehabilitation and District Development (Trinco-malee), Mr. Bathiyudeen as Minister of Rehabilitation and District Development (Wanni) and Mr. Shihabdeen as Minister of Rehabilitation and District Development (Batticaloa).

Yesterday's swearing in of the three SLMC members plunged the party led by Rauff Hakeem into another crisis with the breakaway MPs saying they would form their own party. Earlier Hussain Bhaila crossed over to the UPFA and was sworn in as a deputy minister.

The SLMC's earlier breakaway faction led by Ferial Ashraff functions under the name of National Unity Alliance. Minister Ashraff reacting to the appointment of the three ministers said: "As a member of a minority government I should say that yes, it is very good that they are joining us but what I personally feel is a different matter altogether".

The newly appointed ministers told The Sunday Times soon after their swearing-in that they were assured of 'all ministerial perks'."Yes, we will be getting all ministerial perks. We have been assured of this," Mr. Shihabdeen said.

In India, a country of more than one billion people, the cabinet consists of only 27 ministers and the total number of minsiters and deputy minsters is 65. Meanwhile, SLMC Deputy Leader N. Shaeed announced the formation of an alternate SLMC group, which would support the UPFA.

He said the SLMC breakaway faction would demand the resignation of party leader Hakeem and that the people would soon see a 'united SLMC without Mr. Hakeem'.

"We opted out of the SLMC under Mr. Hakeem because he was making the SLMC a pawn of the UNP," Mr. Shaeed said referring to his controversy with the SLMC leader about two months ago regarding the electoral pact signed with the UNP.

"We had decided to be independent and therefore we have accepted the offer of the Alliance for the ministerial posts," Mr. Shaeed said, declaring that the SLMC alternative group would not be 'part and parcel' of the UPFA government.

"Yes, we have got ministerial posts but this does not mean that we have to support the President in everything she does. We are not under any compulsion," claimed Y. L. S. Hameed, Deputy Secretary General of the SLMC, claiming that the next SLMCer to join the new faction would be Faizal Cassim, National list MP from Ampara.

The SLMC Deputy Leader Shaheed broke away from the party after he was reprimanded by the party leadership for attending the National Advisory Council on Peace and Reconciliation. The SLMC, along with the UNP and the JHU, did not attend the NACPR meeting.

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