I have written already about the inconsistency this government is manifesting with regard to strengthening the independence of the Public Service. It is patently ridiculous that much energy is expended upon ensuring a Public Service Commission that is not constituted according to Presidential or Prime Ministerial whims and fancies, but continuing to leave the Commission with no authority at all with regard to the seniormost positions in the Public Service. And it is obviously counter-productive, if one wants an independent Public Service, to have Secretaries to Ministries replaced when there is a change of government. This suggests that they are meant to serve the government in power, whereas going back to the practice of having Permanent Secretaries makes it clear that they are in office to serve the State.
Keeping them in office, instead of allowing this to be a matter of grace and favour, will also help to ensure continuity. When you have new Ministers – who often know nothing about the subject they have to handle, because we do not have a Shadow Cabinet system – and new Secretaries, understanding what has been happening becomes difficult. And even when the Secretary is kept on, since he will see this as a concession, he will be hesitant to expound the virtues of what the previous Minister has done. So often good initiatives are promptly forgotten, and wheels are reinvented, with little understanding of the road conditions.
Political Principles and their Practice 11 - Avoiding Majoritarianism
Finally, in this Chapter on Democracy and Representation, I look at how countries can avoid the impression that their governments look after only particular sections of society. Making it clear that government is inclusive, and bears equal responsibility for all groups in a country is an important part of ensuring the unity and thus the sovereignty of any country.
The idea that the winner takes all after an election has caused serious problems in many democracies. It reduces the need for constant consultation that will contribute to continuity of policy. In pluralistic societies, in particular, it leads to neglect of the needs and aspirations of minorities. Minorities need not just be racial and religious minorities. Particular regions and social groups, even though they are a part of the racial or religious majority in a country, can be neglected by a government based on a parliamentary majority that springs from a limited proportion of the vote.
Reform Agenda 12 – Strengthening Parliament and avoiding unnecessary bodies
The Liberal Party was the first to say, more than two decades ago, that the Presidency as constituted by J R Jayewardene had too much power. In particular we felt it was wrong for the President to have total discretion with regard to appointments to important positions responsible for making decisions that affected the country at large.
This was not a popular view, and it was only more than 20 years after the Presidency was introduced that the matter reached boiling point as it were. So in 2001, in the last throes of the government President Kumaratunga had set up a year earlier, the 17th Amendment to the Constitution was introduced. But though it was obviously better to have some check on the President, the form this took was confusing, and not in accordance with general political principles.
What it did was set up a body of appointees who had to approve the nominations of the President to individual positions. It also had the unparalleled power of choosing nominees to Commissions, which the President was expected to endorse. This was bizarre, for to confine an elected President in this way, turning him or her into a rubber stamp, is grossly inappropriate. It was not surprising then that President Kumaratunga flatly refused to appoint the Elections Commission that had been selected by the Constitutional Council.
A Reform Agenda 11 – A Cabinet determined on a scientific basis
The saddest victim of the Ranil Wickremesinghe style of politics has been the Cabinet. There was a pledge in the President's manifesto to begin with a Cabinet of 25 members. This was expanded to 28, and the pledge that the Cabinet would consist of representatives of all political parties was ignored. I did point this out to the President, and mentioned that Mr Radhakrishnan too had been a victim of this breach of promise.
However I said I would get down to work, and I did so. A further shock awaited, when Kabir Hashim was made Cabinet Minister of Highways and Higher Education and Investment Promotion, but being naïve I believed him when he said he would not interfere. But given the opportunities for patronage, which seems the principal thrust of the UNP led government, he did of course interfere, and was even able to justify the efforts of his personal staff to take possession of extra vehicles as soon as I returned them.