Last week’s front page news story in this newspaper seems to have reverberated among Cabinet Ministers like an aftershock following an earthquake, but they are too scared to say anything. It was all about a suggestion made by the President to his Cabinet Ministers and it passed with nary a word of protest from the [...]


Ministers bypassed


Last week’s front page news story in this newspaper seems to have reverberated among Cabinet Ministers like an aftershock following an earthquake, but they are too scared to say anything. It was all about a suggestion made by the President to his Cabinet Ministers and it passed with nary a word of protest from the Ministers. After all, the President has said, his word is law.

The story was that the bureaucrats — i.e. the Ministry Secretaries — have been given the duties of the Cabinet of Ministers to make the final decisions in implementing inter-ministerial projects. Hitherto this responsibility was with the relevant Minister and the Cabinet.

This bypassing of the political apparatus in favour of the bureaucracy has been attributed to “fast tracking” development projects which have got bogged down in “archaic” regulatory frameworks — such as getting the Minister’s or Cabinet’s approval for projects.

The circular issued by the Treasury Secretary to heads of all government and statutory bodies and state owned enterprises says his word is final with regard to Cabinet approved projects involving bilateral and multilateral agencies through policy dialogue on operational and tactical matters.

The circular is silent on the future of Cabinet appointed Technical Committees that study the feasibility of projects that require technical advice. It also does not say if the Finance Act needs to be amended first to allow this process. Whether Constitutional issues arise is a question.

It is, in many ways, a revolutionary move by the Gotabaya Rajapaksa Presidency. It takes the politicians (Ministers) out of the equation from projects, and will deprive of them of the extra pocket money many of them make by way of kick-backs from developers seeking approvals.

If the 20th Amendment to the Constitution diluted the role of Parliament (the Legislature) and transferred much of its powers to the Executive Presidency, this new move is another blow to the elected Members of Parliament. What will happen now is that the Executive can deal directly with the Ministry Secretaries short circuiting Ministers. The Ministers who supported 20A have meekly raised their hands for this proposal as well.

Ministers will not be needed even to rubber stamp development projects henceforth as the responsibility will now be with the Ministry Secretary to be the final arbiter. Ministers will be left only with the Consultative (Parliamentary) Committees as the Executive continues to make inroads into their declining sphere of influence of Parliament and the Ministers in the hybrid political structure now prevalent.

While some may see all of this as another step towards authoritarianism, others may see it as a welcome move to fast track development work without having to grease the palms of corrupt Ministers. There is also no guarantee that business is going to be clean through his move. The Ministers are unlikely to garner much sympathy from the public for getting their wings clipped given their own track records in being the dubious overseers of development projects.

The cup that cheered

The 25th anniversary of Sri Lanka winning the cricket World Cup is being milked these days. As was the case back in 1996 when the country’s outlook was bleak, this anniversary has come as a welcome diversion for the cricket-loving Sri Lankan population with nothing very much else to celebrate these days.

That magical win against the mighty, much-fancied opponents came in the midst of an insurgency that had demoralised the people across the board, across the country. It was more than a mere triumph on the playing fields of the South Asian subcontinent, defeating the world’s best in Lahore in the finals, it was a campaign of sheer talent and self-belief by a team of brave young men, astutely led and guided by dedicated seniors.

It was the coming of age of Sri Lankan cricket just 15 years after gaining Test status. It made men out of boys and Sri Lankans the world over unbelievably proud. A New Zealand cricket writer once wrote; “the Sri Lankans are very good, but they are afraid of winning”. That was to change and it united a fractured nation. People of all faiths offered prayers to different Devas and Gods for their team’s success and even the guns fell silent during the tournament.

This sweet success rolled on for some more years until the wheels came off. And now, the blame game is in full swing as to what went wrong. Elections to the local board (Sri Lanka Cricket) which the International Cricket Council insists upon has seen the very downfall of the game’s administration in a country with no mean history of election gerrymandering. The popular sport has over 30,000 schoolboys actively participating with dreams of being in the national team, but that is through a system riddled with favouritism, corruption, lack of facilities, foresight and planning, and too many crooks spoiling the broth.

The National Audit office in a special report on SLC has a litany of allegations on sleaze and mismanagement chronicled in a report now before a Parliamentary committee. These include irregularities in multimillion-dollar television rights for matches, missing emails, inflated payments for coaches and staff, questionable foreign accounts of SLC and much more.

The modern cricketer is not without blame. His character has been remodelled with the game itself turning into one big commercial circus, where even a 10 over encounter is considered a game to suit the match-fixers and punters. Wearing flannels with the national flag and the sponsors’ brand names has belittled the honour of playing for one’s country.

What is happening in Sri Lanka today happened in the West Indies earlier. A world conquering team has been relegated to the bottom of the table due to players opting to play in franchise cricket rather than for their country, and administrators jockeying for places on boards. Today, as the once great West Indies plays Sri Lanka, not a single international TV broadcaster has bid for the rights to show these matches worldwide. Regional stations in the Caribbean have had to step in to televise the matches and they are being telecast in Sri Lanka through third parties. How the mighty can fall.

Going down memory lane to March 17, 1996 this past week, has been an exercise in pure nostalgia for cricket fans. Yet whilst reliving that euphoric win, the question that niggles is: ‘is this the only cricket World Cup Sri Lanka will own’.

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