by Namini Wijedasa
Now we have news that, in a cabinet reshuffle due next month, five deputy ministers are to be allotted portfolios. This will instantly raise the number of ministers from 41 to 46.
It is reported too that two UNP parliamentarians who recently changed sides will receive ministerial posts while the SLMC will get one in exchange for supporting the 18th Amendment. That would take the total up to 49.
President Mahinda Rajapaksa greets Chinese VIce-Premier Zhang Dejiang in Colombo in June 2010 - pic: courtesy of The Hindu
Somehow, 49 seems such an inauspicious number. It hangs in the air, like a task begging to be completed. Being Sri Lankan, would it not be mortifying to tell somebody you have a 49-member cabinet when you could just as easily make it 50 or 55 or 60?
And look at it this way: Who cares? The Sri Lankan public, true to form, have come to treat this as they would any other number. Even if the president expands his cabinet so that it stretches along the length of the Kandy-Jaffna highway, people would shrug their shoulders and beam, “Who cares?”
This country has now become what could easily be called the ‘Socialist Democratic Republic of Who Cares Sri Lanka’. All manner of things happen under our noses that we pass off as trivial.
None of it is trivial. The 18th Amendment was not trivial. Nepotism is not trivial. The gradual stifling of democracy is not trivial. The suffocation of free media is not trivial. The disappearance/elimination of opposition is not trivial. The politicisation of all arms of governance is not trivial. Intolerance is not trivial. Corruption is not trivial. But, you know... who cares?
Then take this issue of the cabinet. It is anybody’s guess how big it will be once the reshuffle is through. And we do realise - at least somewhere in our subconscious — that large cabinets are expensive to maintain.
We also know by dint of experience that it is increasingly dear to live in Sri Lanka. Sure, the stock market is jiving and the Central Bank keeps turning out statistics dressed up in frilly underpants. But incomes are still mystifyingly low and large numbers of people remain dreadfully poor. Food is expensive, clothing is expensive, education is expensive, transport is expensive, entertainment is expensive, utility bills are expensive and there’s never enough money.
Ministers not only get high salaries, they have access to massive allowances and privileges (and commissions) that are mostly not commensurate with their contribution to society. And will 49 ministers do the work that 41 didn’t?
Heck, we already know that a selected few handle an overriding percentage of the important stuff. The other ministers aren’t heard of until bad news happens. Nationally, it would make more sense to stop the pretence and whittle the cabinet down to two or three. Then, they can make ALL the money... officially.
Anyway, cabinets are presumably supported by the taxes paid on goods and services that a majority of Sri Lankans can ill afford. Foreign trips — at an equation of 130 persons per chartered flight — are funded by the same taxes. Yes, don’t forget that we also paid for the visit of 130 government henchmen to Ukraine in June. This too was on a chartered flight and we hear that Sajin de Vass Gunawardena even organised a sing-along on the return journey. All that booze from the hotel mini-bars that we, naturally, paid for must have helped. Who cares?
In short, the decadent lifestyles of cabinet ministers are supported by the money we contribute towards government coffers at the cost of living the good life ourselves. But we don’t mind because so many good things are happening here.
For instance, our cabinet has ensured that China gives us lots and lots of loans to do gigantic projects. These ventures will one day bring us benefits that will hopefully not be negated by our repayments to China.
Chinese workers in Sri Lanka ~ file pic
In the meantime, we have hundreds of Chinese people doing work that Sri Lankans could just as well do. Chinese companies are implementing the projects. Chinese engineers are gaining more experience and income. Chinese products, such as dynamite, have a ready market in Sri Lanka. Chinese machinery is put to use here. In fact, a lot of the money we pay China to implement these projects end up in China even before we start settling the dues.
But this is good because we damn well don’t have the money to fund the projects that the Chinese are lending us money for. We only have enough to keep various members of the government happy (because they won the war).
And when they are happy, we are happy.
After all, who cares? - courtesy: Lakbima News -