Maithripala Sirisena has appointed his new Cabinet of Ministers, nine State Ministers and eight Deputy Ministers. Who are they and what does it all mean?
- In Sri Lanka, Ministers are members of Parliament with a direct executive role. They control staff, budgets and do stuff.
- State Minister
- This is new to me. It seems to basically mean junior Minister. They presumably don’t sit in on Cabinet meetings. It’s a bit of hedge to keep the cabinet below 30.
- Deputy Minister
- Deputies are basically junior Ministers attached to a bigger Ministry
How Big Is This Cabinet?
The Cabinet is technically only 27 people, but 44 people have been given Ministries. That is less than half of what Mahinda had (96 Ministers, AFAIK).
Interestingly, Maithripala holds no ministries himself. Maithripala will hold Defence assisted by Ruwan Wijewardena as State Minister of Defence. I think that makes sense. Mahinda held all of the important ministries himself (Defence and Urban Development, Finance and Planning, Law and Order, Highways and Ports). Maithripala holds none one. In these coupy days, I’d say holding Defence is prudent.
For comparison, here’s Mahinda’s cabinet from 2010. It got changed in 2013 but this is the latest photo I could find. Mahinda’s cabinet was both incredibly large and incredibly weak. There were a lot of people given perks (drivers, police guards) but Mahinda held most of the powerful ministries himself, and ran them through family.
Maithripala’s cabinet, in contrast, is smaller and staffed with competent people. There are a few giveaways but most of the people are in there to actually do stuff. Again I’ll note that Maithripala holds only Defence himself. This is a good sign of him keeping his promise to weaken the Executive Presidency and strengthen good governance. Even Ranil, who’s the real power behind the cabinet, doesn’t hold anything major (like Finance).
Who Controls This Cabinet
The UNP (70%)
This is a mostly UNP cabinet, and Ranil is truly the Optimus Prime Minister. He holds the Ministries of Reconciliation and Policy Development and Economic Affairs. His Deputy in policy is national lister Dr. Harsha De Silva. Harsha is highly educated, super smart, a truly lovely human being, and active on social media. It’s interesting that Ranil gives such a priority to reconciliation, placing it up there with economics.
The State Minister for Defence is Ranil’s cousin Ruwan Wijewardene, who is actually a bit inexperienced, but Defence seems to be something best kept within the family, ie with someone you trust. The other powerful Ministry is Finance which is with Ravi Karunayake. He’s basically the last of the big UNPers that stuck with Ranil. Ravi has a mixed reputation at best. I don’t know.
Finally, Karu Jayasuriya has Public Administration and Democratic Governance (plus Buddha Sasana, which is actually a fairly influential ministry). These sorts show you what this cabinet’s priorities are, but it also shows you that it’s strongly UNP. Sajith Premadasa has Housing and Samurdhi – Ministries true to his father’s legacy which help him cultivate his base. He is not, however, involved in the main work of the 100 days.
A lot of the other positions are Ranil giving back to people that stuck with him without question, even when he probably should have stepped down.
The SLFP (30%)
SLFPers (and UPFAers) have been given good ministries (Health for Rajitha Senaratne, Power and Energy for Champika Ranawaka, Tourism for Naveen Dissanayake, Land for MKDS Gunawardana) but they aren’t ministries you can do much with in 100 days. They have an incentive to push the 100 day reforms through so they can hold on to their jobs longer. Mangala Samaraweera is technically UNP but was SLFP for longer. He’s been given Foreign Affairs, which is immediately important for repairing relations with our main export partners and generally re-introducing the country to civilized diplomacy.
There are a few giveaways in this batch of Ministers. Rauff Hakeen got probably more than he deserved in Urban Development. There’s a Ministry of Plantation Industries (Lakshman Kiriella) and a Ministry of Plantation Infrastructure Facilities (P. Digabaram). The latter is probably unnecessary* and a concession to the upcountry vote. I don’t know, please correct me if you know anything about this fellow, or whether plantations needs two ministries.
*I didn’t know this, but one of the main election promises was that estate workers would get proper housing (ie, houses with land, not communal line houses, which really suck). I also didn’t know that Digabaram is one of the few upcountry politicians to break the repulsive, ineffective and at times violent (Senthil) domination of the Thondaman family. So maybe he is necessary.
Who Got Left Out
There’s nothing for recent big crossovers like Sarath Amunugama, Sanath Jayasuriya, Thilanga Sumathipala, etc. If whales like Mahinda Samarasinghe or Nimal Siripa De Silva are even thinking of crossing they’d expect something in the next cabinet.
Oh, and the big one. Nothing for Sarath Fonseka. As I’ve been informed on Twitter, however, that it’s actually impossible for SF to be a Minister because he’s not an MP. He was stripped of his political rights and his Parliament seat by Mahinda, which I’m assuming they’ll rectify soon. Right now he’s being touted as a Senior Presidential Adviser, which, in the past, hasn’t actually meant much. But it could.
What Are The Priorities Of This Cabinet?
While Maithripala hasn’t taken a bunch of Ministries or demanded control of this Cabinet, he seems very much its leader. I used to think he was a boring dude, but his speeches have been short, strong and said the right things. Here are some excerpts of what he said at the swearing in, as transcribed and translated via the NewsFirst Twitter (worth following):
We promised that the cabinet will not exceed 30 and we have delivered.
Once our 100 day plan is over we will go for a general election and establish a better more stable cabinet. Some people might think that I did not receive enough, keep in mind that this is only temporary. There are many portfolios that have not been included, we will reach a decision on them later.
If any one engages in corrupt activities they will be dealt with, regardless of their position. The people will continue to trust us based on the manner in which we act.
The ethnic balance is roughly in line with the Sri Lankan population. Reconciliation seems to be a real priority for this government. It’s one of Ranil’s Ministries and the Resettlement and Reconstruction Minister is a Tamil D.M. Swaminathan (former Governor of the Western Province and a National List MP). There are strong positions for Muslims as well (Industries, Urban Development, Highways). As a note, there are Ministers for Buddhist and Christian Affairs but not for Muslim Affairs. I’m honestly not certain that these all need Ministries, but that’s there.
The gender balance is not so good, but there simply aren’t enough women MPs to fill more seats. This time they’ve at least split the Women and Childrens Ministries and given them to women. For the Womens Ministry this seems obvious, but it was previously held by a rather sexist male.
How competent is this coterie of Ministers? Well, there are no notable idiots in the bunch. If you go by education level, there are 3 PhDs (Harsha, Rajiva, and Wijeyadasa), 6 Masters degrees, 9 Law degrees, and 18 undergraduate degrees. This is out of the whole 44, so not great, but relatively good. Note that some people like Karu have just school education but are highly experienced and educated in their own way. Also note that there is a large amount of Royalists in this bunch.
In terms of ability, in my opinion the most capable are Ranil (Policy), Harsha (Policy), Karu (Public Admin), Eran (Highways, Investment), Mangala (Foreign Affairs), Champika (Power), Wijeyadasa (Justice), and Sajith (Housing, Samurdhi). But that’s just my opinion and I don’t know everyone. Rajiva (Higher Education) and Rosie (Childrens) are also quite intelligent.
So, I think it’s a pretty good Cabinet and batch of Ministers overall. It’s mostly UNP, it’s relatively diverse and relatively competent. As Maithripala said, this is basically a caretaker Cabinet until there’s a Parliamentary election around April. If they mess up (or if Mahinda’s intrigues mess things up) some of these guys may not even have seats in a few months. If they do well, then the Cabinet will probably get bigger. There are things like Sports and Science and Technology which aren’t assigned at all and they may need to be (or maybe not).
Am I personally happy with this Cabinet and these Ministers? Well, yeah, you could theoretically fit them into a room, which is an improvement. They’re also relatively competent and uncorrupt (note the term relatively).
Note that the JVP and Anura Kumar Dissanayake (one of the smartest people in politics right now) are not joining the Cabinet or accepting Ministries. They are, however, keen on joining the new National Advisory Council, the next thing proposed in Maithri’s 100 Day Plan. That will include people from Parliament as well as civil society, which would hopefully up the diversity and education level. And that’s just the beginning of councils with authority over police, elections etc. So not only will Maithri’s government not have an Executive President controlling everything, it won’t have a bunch of Ministers pushing themselves around either.
It’s really quite interesting what’s happening. Maithri is gently setting up a system of checks and balances which bodes well for people that aren’t Ministers (ie you and me). Let’s see how he proceeds over the next 96 days.