Not the promised all-party Cabinet

In the current context, the question on the minds of many, if not all, is simple, though the answer is not: What should Sri Lanka do to emerge from the crippling economic and political crisis it is experiencing? While new and innovative solutions are necessary to save the economy, one thing is clear – Sri Lanka must not repeat the mistakes of its past. The level of strength and stability of the incumbent Government is a matter for debate, but to avoid disruptions in day-to-day affairs, and especially to manage the scarcely available resources at hand, the country needs a Cabinet of Ministers.

After the Cabinet stepped down this month amidst the people’s demands for a new Government with no members of the Rajapaksa family in it, thus far, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has appointed 19 Cabinet Ministers in three batches, with multiple portfolios for several Ministers. However, given the fact that several of these appointments went to MPs that previously held ministerial portfolios in the previous Cabinet, concerns arise as to whether this new Cabinet is truly “new” in any sense, and whether it will once again prove to be a burden on the country.

The total number of Cabinet Ministers has already risen to 19, with eight appointments – out of which two Ministers already held portfolios – made yesterday (23), nine appointments on 20 March, and four appointments on 14 March. Most glaringly, a finance minister is yet to be appointed after the position became vacant following the resignation of M.U.M. Ali Sabry PC, who was initially appointed to the post before former Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa’s resignation.

However, with the new Cabinet finally taking shape, one has to wonder if this is indeed an all-party Cabinet, as was envisaged by the Prime Minister upon assuming duties, and whether this Cabinet would serve to unite the political parties to ensure greater political stability – a prerequisite for obtaining an International Monetary Fund (IMF) bailout – or if it would intensify the climate of suspicion that exists between political parties and lead to greater political instability.

Among these parties are the Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB), which had taken a policy decision to not accept ministerial portfolios, and the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), which had decided to support the Government without accepting ministerial portfolios. SLFP Chairman MP Maithripala Sirisena last week stated that disciplinary action would be taken against SLFP Member Nimal Siripala de Silva, who is now Minister of Ports, Shipping, and Aviation, while SJB General Secretary Ranjith Madduma Bandara had stated that disciplinary action would be taken against SJB Members Manusha Nanayakkara and Harin Fernando for accepting Ministerial portfolios against or without their party’s approval.

Even though MPs changing their political parties or ideologies when a new Government is formed – which sometimes involves granting a ministerial portfolio to such MPs – is not a new trend in Sri Lanka, there are concerns as to the underlying intentions behind appointing MPs from Opposition parties to the Cabinet of Ministers. 

It is hoped for the sake of Sri Lanka and its long-suffering populace that the baiting of Opposition MPs will not eliminate any possibilities of a unified and integrated response to the crippling economic crisis being faced by the country. For this, the Government needs to make overtures to the Opposition and provide those parties something substantial and sincere to encourage them to join forces to face the crisis together, drawing on all their myriad resources and talents. That is the only way that Sri Lanka could overcome the issues it faces currently, and those even graver issues that will inevitably crop up in the future.