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Sri Lanka bristles with ministers

With 104 ministers, the island nation has the largest council of ministers in South Asia, reports PK Balachandran.
None | By PK Balachandran, Colombo
UPDATED ON JAN 28, 2007 09:41 PM IST

Sri Lanka is teeming with ministers. With 104 ministers, Sri Lanka today has the largest council of ministers in the South Asian region.

It may be the only country where 92% of the MPs in the ruling coalition (104 out of 113) are ministers! Practically every government MP in Sri Lanka is a minister of one kind or another.

46% of the total membership of the House (104 out of 225) are ministers.

India, with a population of 1.1 billion, has only 73 ministers. Pakistan with a population of 168 million, has just 16. But Sri Lanka with a mere 20 million has 104 ministers.

With the expansion of the Council of Ministers on Sunday, including the induction of 24 from the opposition United National Party (UNP) and the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC), the number of ministers had jumped from 70 to 104.

There are now 52 cabinet ministers, 33 non-cabinet ministers and 19 deputy ministers.

The president of Sri Lanka is not a member of parliament, but he can take ministerial portfolios. Mahinda Rajapaksa, for example, is minister of finance. If he is included, the number of cabinet ministers will be 53 and the total number of ministers will be 105.

Previously, there were 26 cabinet ministers (excluding the president who was minister of finance), 26 non-cabinet ministers and 18 deputy ministers.

Election promise flouted
The quantum jump had taken place despite an electoral promise that the council of ministers would not exceed 35.

The Marxist Janatha Vimukthi Permuna (JVP) had extracted this promise. But the JVP has now fallen out with the government, and is in the political doghouse.

Heavy burden on exchequer

With the expansion of the council of ministers, including the creation of new ministries to accommodate new entrants, the burden on the exchequer will increase, as each ministry will have to have its own accommodation, staff, equipment and vehicles and a separate budget.

As it is, Sri Lanka has one of the largest public services in the region. No pruning is possible even if the government wants it, because of heavy trade unionisation.

Political appointees abound

Typically, appointments to government jobs are made on political and personal considerations. Many ministers appoint their own wives, daughters or sons as their private or coordinating secretaries.

All these posts are salaried and carry extra benefits including a pension, if the incumbent serves for five years.

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