Tough tasks ahead for Ranil
Despite the syrupy panegyrics in verse now appearing in the Daily News in praise of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe by hired mudslingers who were targeting him only a few days ago, the new Prime Minister, finds that the way ahead is not paved with roses all the way but virtually lined with landmines and other deadly weaponry.
His first challenge is obtaining the Defence Ministry portfolio for his government, which reports say President Kumaratunga has no intention of giving up. Some UNPers are said to be threatening to gather in their thousands and surround Presidents House while other reports say that the defences around the presidential abode are being strengthened with armoured vehicles and the like. The President, according to the constitution is the commander- in- chief of the armed forces and it is argued that she can retain the ministry of defence under her. Others point out that it need not be so. Under the Soulbury Constitution and the 1972 Constitutions the Governor General and the President respectively, as titular heads of state were designated as commander- in- chief of the armed forces although the armed forces were under the Prime Minister who held the portfolio of defence. On the other hand, some argue that the present constitution vests the executive president the power of allocating any ministry to herself. A confrontation obviously will lead to absolute chaos and has to be avoided in the best interests of the country.
The concern should not be about who lords over the defence ministry but to whom it should be allocated in the interests of the nation. The question is whether President Kumaratunga who was the Minister of Defence along with Gen. Anuruddha Ratwatte as the Deputy Minister can do any better than what they did for the past seven years? After operation Riviresa in 1997 that led to the armed forces re-gaining the Jaffna peninsula, it has been a story of defeat after defeat. The two party leaders should not and cannot lock horns over this issue and they should take into consideration only what would be in the interests of the nation.
By the time this edition reaches our readers, the Prime Minister should have decided on his cabinet of ministers. Reports indicate that he will have 20 cabinet ministers, ten ministers (not of cabinet rank) and twenty deputy ministers. This is an improvement on the previous set up provided the non-cabinet ministers and the deputy ministers do not enjoy the perks of cabinet ministers. The total number of ministers exceeds the requirements of the country and is unwieldy but it appears that Mr Wickremasinghe has paid heed to the public outcry against large cabinets. It is reported that limiting the number in the cabinet to 20 has resulted in much growling within the ranks of the party but this move is commendable. Since the time of President Premadasa cabinets have gone on growing in size, not for better governance but to garner support for incumbent presidents. The JVP put the PA government on probation and reduced the number to 20 but Mr. Wickremasinghe has been able to do it without any party putting him on probation.
Principled politics is the need of the hour and moves have to be made even if it could endanger a leaders position. It is said that politics is the art of the possible but it should not be permitted to degenerate into pandering to every Banda, Silva, Pillai and Lebbe for poltical survival.
News about the economy is bad. In a splurge of post election generosity President Kumaratunga waived off farmers loans, hiked salaries of public servants and pensioners and urged the private sector to do likewise. That was at the point where the economy was tottering and the projected growth rate for hovering around zero. Now the UNP government has to find the money and reports say that even scraping the bottom of the Treasury will not yield results. Reports say that apart from granting salary hikes promised b y the PA there is not enough money to pay the usual monthly salaries.
Meanwhile, it is reported that the IMF Shylocks want blood. They want price hikes in the basic commodities.
But there is light seen at the end of the tunnel. The astounding performances on the Colombo Stock Exchange since December 5 is the surest sign of an economy rising from the debris of seven years. But it will take quite sometime to be on the way to prosperity.
Rhymes of changing times
The muse wrote fawning cock.
With the change of tide
Hes gone to hide,
Or it could be;
Hillary, Hillary, poet contrary
How does your glossary grow.
New words and phrase
Of sugary praise
To please those new to the fore.
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