Pay MPs more than ministers


I read with interest the perceptive article by Gnana Munasinghe "O’ That Way, Madness Lies; Let Me Shun It". She dealt with some of the issues that are confronting the President and the Prime Minister in forming a new government. Let me make three suggestions, which some might consider eccentric, in improving the current systems of governance in the country:

1. Members of Parliament (MPs) should be paid more than cabinet ministers and junior ministers of all kinds. The current arrangements could be reversed, with MPs getting salaries of the level which cabinet ministers are now paid, and the cabinet ministers obtaining the level of salaries which MPs are now being paid. The same reversal can apply to other perks. This would create an incentive for MPs to remain MPs. If more power is also is vested in parliament in overseeing the administration, and having more of a voice in public policy making, the incentive will even be greater. The costs would not increase as the number of MPs, are about the same as those on the payroll of government as ministers and others.

2. With 45 ministers, it is not going to be a cabinet government. There is no need to have 45 secretaries for all these ministries. Some heads of departments in these ministries can be concurrently appointed as secretary to a ministry. It is also feasible to appoint one secretary to two related ministries, for example the Ministry of agriculture and irrigation or education and higher education. This would bring some element of coordination to these related tasks at least at the level of ministerial secretaries. Also, an effort should be made to attract high quality personnel from outside the public service to be these new kind of secretaries.

3. The government should consider the immediate appointment of a committee to reduce the numbers in the public service. There are nearly 2 million public servants including the armed forces and the police, that is about one public servant to 10 or 12 of the population. This is a huge burden on the tax payer and a major cause of the budget deficit. It might be feasible to rationalize the deployment of public servants and reduce the numbers by about half, and allow half the public service to draw the same salaries, but stay at home. It is entirely possible that the productivity in the public service will increase as a result. At least there is one department which I know that this could easily happen.

Yours faithfully,

Leelananda De Silva.

(The writer, an officer of the SLAS, served as Senior Asst. Secretary to the Ministry of Planning and Economic Affairs from 1970-77 and thereafter engaged in consultancies for the UN system)


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