TNA wants jumbo Cabinet downsized to make devolution meaningful

Sampanthan calls for efficient, democratic and inexpensive administrative systems


By Shamindra Ferdinando

The Tamil National Alliance (TNA) yesterday said that it was the prerogative of the SLFP-led ruling coalition to appoint a special Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) or some other mechanism to examine various proposals pertaining to devolution of power, with the focus on the unit of devolution.

TNA leader, R. Sampanthan, MP, stressed that his party was ready to play a consequential role in the process if an agreement could be reached on an agenda to pave the way for a tangible action plan to achieve maximum possible devolution and the change of administrative structure, which would ease the burden on the taxpayers. The veteran politician was responding to a query raised by The Island in the wake of his parliamentary speech last Thursday.

Trincomalee District MP Sampanthan told Parliament that instead of nine provinces, the country could have four or five regions and thereby save public funds. Responding to another query by The Island, the MP said that all issues, inclusive of the fate of the Northern and the Eastern Provinces could be discussed. He said that the country could examine a new administrative structure without being guided by what was decided by colonial masters.

Sampanthan made his unprecedented proposal in the wake of the government considering the possibility of repealing the 13th Amendment to the Constitution with the 19th Amendment.

The TNA Chief emphasised that whatever the proposed constitutional amendments, it would be suicidal even to envisage proposals,which could entail additional burden on those struggling to make ends meet. "Let there be efficient, democratic and relatively inexpensive systems at national and regional levels to address grievances of the people. Democracy is best practised when people have direct access to their representatives at national and provincial or regional level," Sampanthan said.

Asked whether he had specific proposals in this regard, the MP said that the country could no longer afford to sustain a mega Cabinet, particularly in view of rising domestic and foreign debt. It was no longer a secret that the government was in neck deep in debt and that the country incurred substantial expenditure in debt servicing. "In fact, it is believed that further debt is being incurred to service the existing debt and one wonders where all this will lead the country to," the MP said.

The TNA leader lashed out at the government in Parliament last Thursday for squandering money on a mega Cabinet of ministers, whereas the Northern and Eastern Provinces had been deprived of specific allocations through Budget 2013.

MP Sampanthan told The Island that if the government was really desirous devolving power to the provinces or regions that would make many ministerial positions irrelevant. Constitutional amendments were necessary to increase the number of ministers allocated to each Provincial Council from present four, including the Chief Minister, he said.

The TNA leader questioned the absurdity of having 60 ministers and 36 deputy ministers, while the country was struggling on the economic front. Ninety six MPs are either ministers or deputy ministers. He said: "Is such a mega Cabinet required? Does the country need it? Can the country afford it? Is this mega Cabinet really serving the country or is it merely serving the party in power, continuing to support the party in whatever it does? And they are having it really good. How much is it costing the country to maintain such a large mega Cabinet of Ministers and Deputy Ministers?"

MP Sampanthan declared that curtailment of expenditure must start at the Centre. The number of ministers in the Centre must be reduced and the number of ministries in the provinces must be increased with more powers. In fact, instead of having nine provinces, the country can have four or five regions. That would be another way to reduce expenditure, the TNAleader said.

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