Indi Samarajiva recently wrote a post where he summed up the Sri Lankan Parliament: 225 MP’s, 90 of them in the Cabinet and holding some kind of portfolio – a  bloated mess like no other. Needless to say, he titled the post “The New Cabinet. WTF.”

I’m going to save the #mekadhaYahapalanaya rant for later. Instead, I tried thinking of this in perspective and came up with some disturbing insight. The rest of this long post is divided into two parts: context (where I talk about successful government models) and recommendations (where I describe my proposed set of changes to this government, including extensive changes to MP numbers and ministries). I’ve done my research, but if there’s anything missing, do join in the discussion.

EXAMPLE GRATIA

Sri Lanka is a country of about 21 million people on about 65,610 km² worth of land. We have 225 MPs (and now, 47 Cabinet Ministers and their Deputies) to rule us.

island

China, which Indi uses as an example, is complex. China’s National People’s Congress, the Parliamentary analog, has a whopping 2,987 seats, which officially makes it the world’s largest Parliament. However, the NPC is apparently little more than a rubber stamp.

 In reality, it appears that the actual power is wielded by the State Council, which  consists of 35 people – the Ministers heading China’s 20 Ministries, the heads of  five other Cabinet-level agencies (among them the People’s Bank of China), and a Premier, deputy premiers, and so on and so forth.

Yes, China has just 20 Ministries. But say China is a beast of a different scale altogether: I’m going to look at some other countries.

Take Germany, which has a Federal government. There is  a President; then there is the Federal Chancellor, who actually runs the show, with the President more or less being PR and a rubber stamp.  There are 16 ministers in the German Cabinet – and that’s including Angela Merkel, the Chancellor.

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Japan: I’ll skip the explanation. 20 in the Cabinet, including the Prime Minister, Shinzō Abe – a post very much like Germany’s Chancellor.

Singapore, one of the most famous examples used by Sri Lankan politicians: 18 Ministers in the Cabinet, including the Prime Minister.

Why these countries? We share certain traits with them. All of these countries have been through some very tough times. Japan emerged as one of the most technologically advanced nations in the world (I believe this reputation held through the 90’s, though I believe Silicon Valley may have left Japan behind).

Germany rebuilt itself as the economic center of Europe and one of the world’s best-kept nations.

Singapore had a time when people doubted it could even survive as an independent nation, not to mention the SARS outbreak and terrorism in the early 2000’s.

China, of course, is now the contender for the title of the reigning superpower. It is one of the world’s most populous nations, and  when they’re not constructing giant artificial islands they’re planning to explore the dark side of the Moon.

china-vs-usa-CARTOON

This lot of countries has another factor: they’re diverse enough that a lot of other factors can be safely negated – we’ve got diverse cultures and religions, totally different domestic and foreign political situations, geography, and economic ecosystems, and yet they’ve all done spectacularly well with a few people in the Cabinet. One of them is European and controls the Euro. One is a really small but really rich tourist hub. One is into Pokemon, weird anime and conquering the world’s vehicle markets. The other is large enough to be a demographic in its own right.

What gives?

AND IN THIS CORNER

 Sri Lanka has a big, and pretty obvious problem: for a pretty small country, we have too many Ministries – and too many Ministers. Our Parliamentary system is a relic – a bloated Westminister system with an Executive Presidency inserted in there, a system which is even now in a struggle to strip that power from the President and inject more Westministerism into its soul.

RESTRUCTURE.

Here’s what I propose for a new government.

1) The 22 electoral districts should be represented by no more than 3 people on average.

196 MPs are elected from our 22 electoral districts. Out of these, 160 directly represent their district. That’s an average of 7.2 MPs per district.

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Take a moment to giggle at the concept of 7.2 MPs, but in all seriousness, we should not need that many people. If it takes 7 people to represent a district, that district had better be the size of Texas. Take a look at Manthri.lk’s data – most of those voted in don’t even participate: you’d get better results if you sent in the local cricket team to represent. Consider the fact that the Governer of the State of New York oversees some 19.5 million people, and there’s only one of him.

We can’t solve this representation crisis with numbers. We should instead cut down the 196 to 66 and distribute according to the current ratio of seats allocated per district.

2) The 36 provincial seats to be trimmed, upgraded and made mandatory members of the Cabinet.  The National List should be maintained.

36 seats are allocated to the nine provinces. Four each. These are picked from among the electoral districts.

Sri_Lanka_provinces

I confess I tried to find some reason to have these seats here, but the provincial seats are only relevant up to a certain point.  Some can point out Sri Lanka has a lot of diversity, and each province has its own flavor. I’d say that more than flavor, there’s a substantial imbalance between conditions in each of the province – the Western Province, for example, contributes more than 40% of the country’s GDP.

Until development is evenly spread, we could use one  representative standing for each province, with a voice in the Cabinet. By default, in order to enable them to carry out their duty, they should have some form of authority over the ministers in the electoral districts.

I suggest that this authority be additive rather than subtractive: instead of having the ability to shut down ministers, which can be abused, a provincial representative should have the power to accelerate intentions that benefit their province by lending authority to their cause. The whole lot should oversee any matters that involve more than one  electoral district. After all, they need to work for a living.

This brings the total of seats in the parliament to 75.

3) And now for the big one: cut down the ministries. No Deputy Ministers, either. 

Image by bret13 of deviantart
Image by bret13 of DeviantArt

Sri Lanka has so many  ministries we practically spawn new ones overnight. There are, as far as I can make out, some 68 Ministries, many of them conflicting, and some of them entirely useless. What the heck does the Ministry of Parliamentary Affairs do? Does Human Resources need an entire Ministry? Since everyone’s giving their own speeches, why do we have a Ministry of Public Relations and Public Affairs? There’s even a Ministry of Productivity Promotion. Imagining something more obviously useless would be a very difficult feat.

I propose that we cut these down to 13.

  • The Ministry of Economy
    The Ministry of Finance and Planning and the Ministry of Economic Development should be folded into this. As should be the Ministry of Investment Promotion.
  • The Ministry of Transport, Infrastructure and Development
    This should cover everything physical, from roads to parks to ports to highways, and the:
    Ministry of Ports and Highways
    Ministry of Botanical Gardens and Public Recreation
    the Ministry of Transport and Ministry of Private Transport Services (yes, the two are separate at the moment)
    Ministry of Land and Land Development
    Ministry of Water Supply and Drainage
    Ministry of Construction, Engineering Services, Housing, and Common Amenities
    Ministry of Irrigation and Water Resources Management
    Ministry of State Resources and Enterprise Development
    should be collapsed into this. If you think that’s a lot of Ministries, notice how much of an overlap there is between them. Why are there two ministries dealing with water? Don’t you need Land for Ports and Highways, not to mention all that Construction, Housing and Common Amenities?  Don’t we need all of this for better Transport?
  • Ministry of Energy
    Three things should go in here: the
    Ministry of Power and Energy
    Ministry of Technology, Research, and Atomic Energy
    Ministry of Environment and Renewable Energy
    Why has Atomic Energy been kept separate from Power and Energy and Renewable Energy?
  • Ministry of Social Services
    This replaces the
    Ministry of Resettlement
    Ministry of Foreign Employment and Welfare
    Ministry of Rehabilitation and Prison Reforms
    Ministry of Youth Affairs and Skills Development
    Ministry of Child Development and Women’s Affairs
    Ministry for Consumer Welfare
    Ministry for Rural Affairs
    Ministry for Human Resources
    Ministry for Urban Affairs
    Ministry of Postal Services
    Ministry of Disaster Management
    Ministry of Livestock and Rural Community Development
    and lastly, the actual Ministry of Social Services (we have one).
    We might need to fire a lot of people, by the way.
  • Ministry of Education, Culture, Religion and Sports
    What goes in here is obvious, but for the record:
    Ministry of Education Services
    Ministry of Higher Education
    Ministry of Sports
    Ministry of Buddhasasana and Religious Affairs
    Ministry of Culture & the Arts
    Why this mix? Because our culture, religion and the sports we play are just as part of our education as the actual act of going to school for so many hours. They should be integrated and viewed as one holistic unit.
  • Ministry of Law, Order and Good Governance
    It’s obvious that the Ministry for Good Governance and Industry should be folded into this. I see an opportunity here to enforce good governance.
  • Ministry of Public Administration and Home Affairs
    Because what does the Ministry of Public Relations and Public Affairs do, anyway? Or, for that matter, Parliamentary Affairs? Those slackers are better off being put to work managing our massively entangled administration system.
    Let’s also take a moment to recognize that the Ministry of Public Management Reforms has been separate from the Ministry of Public Administration all this while.
  • Ministry of Foreign Affairs
  • Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries
    Here’s a list of what goes in here:
    Ministry for Food Security
    Ministry of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Development
    Ministry of Agriculture
    Ministry of Minor Export Crop Promotion (what is this, an ad agency for potato farmers?)
    Ministry of Coconut Development and Janatha Estate Development (because coconuts are special)
    Ministry of Wildlife Resources Conservation
  • Ministry of Industry
    Ministry of Investment Promotion
    Ministry of Sugar Industry Development
    Ministry of Telecommunication & Information Technology
    Ministry of Co-operatives and Internal Trade
    Ministry of Plantation Industries
    Ministry of Petroleum Industries
    Ministry of Civil Aviation

  • Ministry of Media and Communication
  • Ministry of Defense
  • Ministry of  Reform
    This is meant to be the wildcard. Whatever the Ministry of Public Management Reforms is doing should be subsumed. This Ministry should be responsible for analyzing everything else and coming up with ideas to make things more efficient. It should, in fact, be a think-tank charged with bringing the philosophy of kaizen – continuous improvement – to the act of governing Sri Lanka.

Going over the list, it’s obvious that many of these Ministries have been created in an arbitrary and ad-hoc manner.

Why?

The answer is power.

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If you look at the history of the Sri Lankan Parliament, you quickly realize that it literally ballooned – and kept on increasing – ever since we gained independence (pre-Independence doesn’t count – that’s British stuff). As power shifted, the Parliament have been expanding rapidly in order to keep the power brokers and kingmakers inside the Parliament rather than out. The creation of Ministries is ad-hoc, mostly in response to sudden national emergencies and stimuli, and again partly as something to hand out to people.

China, Japan, Germany and Singapore (and others) have demonstrated that you can get by with much, much less.  In fact Sri Lanka, being much smaller, should get by with much less.

So what do we end up with? According to my numbers 13 Ministries, 66+9+29 (National List) = 104 MPs. 25 of them in the Cabinet. That’s a reasonable number. A lot more reasonable than that 225 / 90.

POST-RAMBLE 

What countries correspond to our present situation? Bangladesh comes to mind: 350 seats in the Parliament, 32 Cabinet Ministers, 18 State Ministers and 2 Deputy Ministers.

That’s pretty sad, because, Bangladesh while being a lovely country, is not a role model. It’s not doing all that well.

Of course, people are going to find a problem with reform. The reforms I’ve suggested here may not be perfect, but I’ve modeled them in part on the governments I’ve discussed above and they’re arguably saner than the mess we have right now. Nevertheless, people – especially those in power – won’t like them, because of the problem of power. Everyone wants a piece of the pie, and if we think rationally and act rationally, they won’t get it. And of course, those in power will do everything they can to prevent rational thought.

cartoon-by-wijesoma-appeared-in-the-observer-in-the-late-1960s1

It’s never too late to think about these things, though. Consider the fact that we just made a great noise and voted in a new government. For what? Why? So that someone can become the Minister of Productivity Promotion?

If you have any thoughts on this, do share. There’s got to be a better way of running this country.

PS: a shout out to Tania Mahanama for proof-reading this post. It was a long post, there were some very silly grammatical errors and she helped make it read much better.