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Sri Lanka sets world record with highways and higher education

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s new “national government” may appear lacklustre with narcoleptic ministers, but combining universities and highways under one ministry appears to set a world record in cabinet construction.

The subject of university education and highways went to Lakshman Kiriella, suggesting that crafting portfolios was a piece of pure genius. Given that undergraduates spend most of their time on the road protesting, only an Einstein would have put two and two together and come up with a brand new ministry for universities and highways.

It becomes even more appropriate considering that a majority of students end up on the streets after graduation from Sri Lanka’s institutions of higher learning.

Both Wickremesinghe and Sirisena had promised in their respective manifestos to adopt a "scientific" method in assigning portfolios.
    
Apart from the world record holder Kiriella, others may have little to celebrate. President Sirisena virtually castrated them by taking away their power to make key appointments to any institution under their charge.

“All appointments to institutions and boards under ministries will be made by a committee headed by me and the prime minister,” Sirisena told the ministers who were warned that they will have to kiss good bye to the lassiez-faire attitude of the 100-day government.

During the limited-time administration, ministers appointed their friends and family to head key institutions and boards irrespective of their ability .

Appointments to organisations like Sri Lankan airlines were allegedly made to help directors have access to heavily discounted tickets causing more problems for the debt-ridden airline.

President Sirisena himself was accused of nepotism for appointing his brother to head Sri Lanka Telecom. 

However, SLT chairman Kumarasingha Sirisena had paper qualifications unlike Gotabhaya Rajapaksa,  a lieutenant colonel discharged from the army over a mental infirmity, who ended up being a ministry secretary under his brother Mahinda Rajapaksa.

Nevertheless, Kumarasingha’s appointment was controversial to say the least.

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A key surprise in Friday’s cabinet was Tilak Marapona getting the influential ministry of law and order. The police department will come under this ministry unless it is taken away when functions of ministries are gazetted later.

The Ranil Wickremesinghe government was sacked by then president Chandrika Kumaratunga in 2004 partly because of Marapona’s mishandling of the defence ministry.

It is likely that Marapona could be a nominee of President Sirisena to give himself an excuse to act against Wickremesinghe’s administration  should their bonhomie fade in the months to come.

A visibly disappointed trooper was Nimal Siripala de Silva when he was called to take up the Transport ministry. The rotund de Silva, prone to falling asleep during state functions,  was suddenly woken by the master of ceremonies to take his oaths before the president.

His narcolepsy was said to be so serious that once he had forgotten to put on his pants while he was closeted in his then health ministry office when his exasperated wife knocked on the door.

After reluctantly accepting the portfolio, de Silva was seen exchanging inaudible words with Prime Minister Wickremesinghe. It was unclear if they discussed de Silva’s wardrobe accidents or narcolepsy.

Disaster Management went to SLFP’s former Secretary and Kurunegala district MP, Anura Priyadarshana Yapa  who will now be properly equipped to deal with the catastrophe in the ranks of his own party.

Two ministers got subjects that their late fathers held. Navin Dissanayake, the son of illustrious Gamini Dissanayake,  got Plantation Industries that his father was given as a demotion by president  Ranahinna Premadasa. Premadasa’s son Sajith was made Housing and Construction minister, a portfolio the assassinated leader too held under president  J. R. Jayewardene.

The mini jumbo cabinet is to be expanded to the parliamentary approved 48 shortly with another 45 deputies getting on the payroll soon. Those who will be left out can still have some hope. Every MP is to be appointed to a parliamentary oversight committee that will supervise ministries. Their function will be similar to the post Sajin Vass Gunawardena, who is currently in remand custody over the misappropriation of state  funds, held in Rajapaksa’s regime..

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