STATE OF THE NATION
IS MERITOCRACY STILL IN THE CUPBOARD?
Wijith DeChickera feels there is a consummation to be wished in cabinet reshuffles despite not being privy to presidential thinking and political strategy
First, the ‘strategic reassignment’ of cabinet portfolios was hardly a shuffle. The usual suspects retained their usually suspect portfolios while a few ministries were compelled to play musical chairs by a reportedly irate head of state.
It was more of a kerfuffle in the cabinet as perhaps the unsmiling faces – except for some lucky re-entrants whose previous poor showing does not seem to have precluded them from presidential favour – in the photograph of the new cabinet indicated. And some wag suggested that a new official photograph need not have been taken as last year’s shot captured the compositional essence of the cabinet anyway!
In the initial shuffle only two key portfolios changed seats. But several key deputies who were not only popular with their electorates but had proven track records despite their relatively humble status as state ministers were not elevated to cabinet rank. This strongly suggested that there were less than salutary reasons for the kerfuffle.
TWO’S COMPANY Secondly, the two major portfolios to change hands stood out like twin sore thumbs. One of the senior ministers concerned – a survivor of two previous regimes (who was unceremoniously ditched by a former president and subsequently suffered an attack of conscience) – may be considered to have received a thumbs-up.
His doughty perseverance at international forums in the face of enemy fire from hostile elements in the Tamil diaspora and friendly fire from excitable chauvinists at home was perhaps the most significant of his more recent contributions to Sri Lanka’s ongoing efforts at national reconciliation.
This colourful political personality has a chequered past. He infamously suggested during the reign of a president who craved a boon from her minions that they would rid her of the nuisance of rogue editors, that cheaper journalists could be bought for a bottle of booze. But unlike many of his cabinet colleagues, he seems to have matured as a statesman.
And that’s a consummation devoutly to be wished for servants of the people who still see themselves as leaders but lack a certain je ne sais quoi when it comes to statesmanship or servant leadership.
One hopes that Mangala Samaraweera may not be relegated to “the dustbin of history” (to quote one of his more memorable turns of phrase from bygone times) but notes that they also serve those who only stand and wait… and that he would restore the gravitas and probity due to the portfolio he now holds.
TWEEDLEDUM TO TWEEDLEDEE? As for the second of the senior mandarins subject to the presidential carousel, no one on the republic savvy to the goings-on in central bank or treasury circles was in the least surprised. Only the gentleman in question had the temerity to question the enforced move, pleading that his detractors prove any of the many allegations against him over a career with mixed showings.
On the one hand, a finance minister might be a hero to international institutions that major on the unpopular tax regimens that world banks and other global behemoths impose on emerging economies – read cash-strapped Third World nation-states struggling to manage their development affairs
On the other, despite the label of being the ‘best finance minister in the world,’ it may not be for one’s lack of fiscal or fiduciary acumen alone that business, opposition and the populace alike say ‘enough is enough’ long and loud enough for the chief cabinet-maker to hear and obey.
Some presidents might still become the servants of the people they were always meant to be instead of the monarchs of all they survey that too many of them became.
BEYOND THE SEAT SWOP Last but not least and lamentably at that, the susurration of disgruntled whispers linger in the echo chamber that is the Colombo-centric social media web-net. Even though the president may have made amends of a kind and appointed a slew of second-tier state ministers, there is an extant feeling that realpolitik rather than rational policies drive the engine of government that is its burgeoning cabinet.
That two vital portfolios are swapped in midstream – at a time when one was going great guns but the other not firing on all cylinders – resounds of pragmatism in local politics that caters to partisan and personal demands rather than rational requirements in the national interest.
Then the afterthought of bringing the demonstrably more deserving second row into the front rank of sorts belies the faith that powerful lobbies have in key people in government – rather than any presidential conviction that the best people have been picked for the jobs at hand.
It’s better for the embattled economy that men of the requisite calibre are now in place to succour the beleaguered central bank and treasury quadrants of our exchequer. Maybe we may all rest easier knowing that the likes of Eran, Indrajit et al. are at the helm… by design or default it matters little.
Even an accidental meritocracy is better than the intentional kleptocracy on which too many premier politicians have turned a blind eye for the sake of expediency, family, friendship and fandom.
Let’s not talk about meritocracy in the Sri Lankan political system, because it’s widely held that it simply doesn’t make any sense to mention meritocracy even as a passing remark in a country where people who’re rejected by their very electorates can still get appointed to the position of an MP and enjoy all the privileges that position is entitled to regardless of the obvious indecency of such a move.
Shame on you, the architects of this absurd, self-serving political system and its current custodians! There isn’t even a semblance of meritocracy in the assignment of cabinet and other ministerial portfolio. It’s just a function of wealth, power and connections, the three of which are inseparably linked. If you possess the right combination of these three ingredients at the right time, in Sri Lanka, you can almost get away with daylight robbery and even murder.
It has been the case for decades and will continue to be the case for years to come unless people consciously and maturely choose to change the prevailing political governance system. With vested interests and private agendas blatantly dictating the country’s prospects, meritocracy sounds almost like a Utopian ideal sad as it’s to say it so bluntly.