Relative Merits | Daily News

Relative Merits

Nepotism has been part and parcel of this country's political culture since the dawn of Independence. It is said that Prime Minister D. S. Senanayake wanted to ensure that his son Dudley became Prime Minister on his demise with the approval of the then Governor. This saga was graphically described in the memoirs of Dr. M.M.C. Kaleel, a contemporary of D.S. This episode, among others, led to the exit of S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike from the UNP to form the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) which swept to power in 1956.

It is unfair to suggest that S.W.R.D. also intended to make a similar move. To begin with, his offspring were still in their school-going age when he was PM. However, what followed after him was a study in nepotism in the SLFP which was one of the chief reasons for the party's ignominious defeat in 1977.

Nepotism has now grown to monstrous proportions and seeped down to the lower rungs of politics. According to a media report, of all the Secretaries to Ministries, including Provincial Ministries, over 75 percent constitute the wives, children and relatives of the ministers.

The report quotes the Ministry Secretaries Union General Secretary Ajith Jayasundera as saying that as a result there was not even one individual competent enough to tender the correct advise to these ministers, deputy ministers, state ministers and provincial ministers that would benefit the country. “All this is because the ministers have appointed their family members or relatives as their secretaries,” he stressed.

It appears that our ministries too have become an employment agency like our Foreign Service, which has been known to be a haven for the kith and kin of politicians. We saw how the Foreign Service was made a playground of sorts by Mahinda Rajapaksa’s relatives and cronies. A tea-taster cousin of the former President who was made Ambassador to the USA is today a fugitive from justice and another relative who helmed the equivalent desk in Russia is also on the run. Both these individuals who were supposed to work for the benefit of the State, on the contrary, have left in their wake a string of liabilities running into several millions of rupees. Similarly, the relatives of ministers holding the job of secretaries have only become liabilities to the State rather than contributing anything of substance.

Of course one cannot apply this argument across the board. There could be family members of ministers who are actually capable of handling the tasks entrusted to them with aplomb. Dudley Senanayake turned out to be one of the best Prime Ministers Sri Lanka ever had. One could also say that Gotabhaya Rajapaksa was well chosen by his brother Mahinda to be the Defence Secretary during the conflict period. The same though could not be said of MR's appointment of his brother-in- law to head the national carrier which was consigned to a financial black hole. Mahinda Rajapaksa recently announced the intention to field his eldest son at probably the 2025 Presidential poll - another reminder of his dynastic ambitions and apparent inability to think outside the immediate family circle.

All Governments in the past were guilty of this practice. One recalls the hue and cry made by the Opposition whenever the Ministers of the Government in power appointed their relatives to various posts. However in Sri Lanka, when the boot was on the other foot the accusers themselves resorted to the practice. The salaries of the relatives paid for by the tax payer went on to swell the family income.

In other words, the ministers were receiving a bloated income thanks to their secretarial wives and daughters. No wonder the Association’s General Secretary has voiced his bitterness. If at all relatives needed to be given a paying job in the Government, they should be kept out of positions that could influence the decisions of Ministers.

There was recently a Finance Ministry regulation that made it mandatory for the head of department of a State sector organisation to pay the salaries of excess staff in his/her department out of his/her own pocket. This was to discourage the recruitment of supporters of politicians as unproductive labour in State institutions. Similarly, ministers, deputy ministers and provincial ministers too should be brought under this circular, if indeed the secretaries to their ministries are mere time-servers who owe their jobs to their kinship with the minister.

We have today the sons, daughters and wives of ministers and MPs holding membership of Provincial Councils that for them are the finishing schools to enter Parliament when their papas and mamas hang up their boots or while still in harness. Now we have family members, in addition, employed as Secretaries to the parents who are Government ministers. Unsurprisingly, there is a stampede by politicians to enter Parliament and other political bodies.

While we cannot stop a son following his father’s political footsteps in a democracy, political parties must make a more honest effort to find fresh faces including women professionals who have no previous political association or link, to make politics more inclusive.


Add new comment