Monday, May 10, 2010

94 Government Departments Under Direct Family Control

By R. Wijewardene - According to the Government Gazette detailing the names and duties of the 42 ministries in the current cabinet, the Rajapaksa siblings will control no less than 94 state institutions.

The 51 page document outlines in bullet points the key responsibilities of each ministry, and also lists the state institutions that fall under the purview of each minister.

The list, by defining the duties of the country’s ministries, elucidates some of the most baffling mysteries of Sri Lankan politics. For example, it explains just what the Minister of Public Management Reforms is actually supposed to do.

Interestingly, the Mahinda Chinthanaya is now incorporated explicitly into the duties of the nation’s ministers, with cabinet members specifically asked to carry out their duties in accordance with the principles of the Mahinda Chinthana/Idiri Dekma vision for the future.

The incorporation of one man’s vision into the responsibilities of a nation’s key ministries might seem troubling but then the Mahinda Chinthana is effectively the ruling party’s manifesto. That is, providing we have a ruling party and not a single ruling man.

Much more worrying, however, are the enormous numbers of government departments, responsibilities and powers that have been brought under the aegis of the ruling family.
The Defence Ministry, Ministry of Finance, Ports and Aviation Ministry as well as the Transport Ministry are all under the direct control of Mahinda Rajapaksa. Ably assisted, at least where defence is concerned, by younger brother Gotabaya.

And while we’ve come to accept the President wielding enormous power, the balance or imbalance of power has changed with the creation of the new Ministry of Economic Development under the purview of Basil Rajapaksa. With Basil Rajapaksa now taking control of ‘all regional development programmes,’ the ruling family will enjoy an even tighter stranglehold over the country’s vital institutions. The purview of the ministries under Rajapaksa control is vast, with dozens of state enterprises, a host of duties and sweeping powers.

The Defence Ministry, for example, now rather mystifyingly includes the Urban Development Authority. What connection exists between urban development and defence is unclear. Pavement hawkers can be an annoyance, but are they really a threat to security? Interestingly the Defence Ministry also issues travel documents, registers persons and is in charge of the reclamation and development of lands.

Beyond defence, however, the Finance Ministry, which contains no less than 46 different state departments and corporations — ranging from the all important state banks to the diminutive Lady Lochlor Fund – remains under Rajapaksa control. As does the Ports and Aviation Ministry which includes not only the nation’s ports but also SriLankan Airlines and of course Mihin Air. And then there is the RDA behemoth which through the Transport Ministry has been kept in family hands.

But the jewel in the Rajapaksa’s crown is the newly created Economic Development Ministry under Basil Rajapaksa, which includes everything from the Zoological Gardens to the Tourist Promotions Bureau and the Board of Investment. Extraordinarily it also includes all regional development programmes including the massive Uthuru Wasanthaya programme and even the Wildlife Conservation Department.

The country seems to have reached a point of one family rule. Every aspect of our lives from the registry of our births, to the taxes we pay, the roads on which we drive on, and the documents we must carry in order to move freely, is under the control of Rajapaksas. Their domination is absolute.

The 38 or so remaining non Rajapaksa ministries appear puny things by comparison to the Rajapaksa’s mighty ministries. The Foreign Ministry for example, now renamed the External Affairs Ministry, is typically one of the most powerful in a nation’s cabinet. However in its present incarnation the Ministry contains little more than a handful of embassies and the Bureau of Foreign Employment.

The idea of a balance of power has been made utterly redundant and absolute power has been conferred on the ruling family. This is worrying because potentially conflicting institutions such as Economic Development and Wildlife Conservation have been placed under the purview of a single minister.

Basil Rajapaksa, who ripped a highway through the nation’s largest national park in the name of development, is now also in charge of wildlife protection. So we can expect far fewer objections to development programmes based on the interests of wildlife.

And that sums up the danger of a system, where so much power is concentrated in so few hands. Those wielding the power can do as they want – there are no longer any limits and this Gazette makes that power official.

© The Sunday Leader

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