Min­istries and state in­sti­tu­tions in a state of ut­ter con­fu­sion

How­ever of­fi­cials of some min­istries said work was go­ing on smoothly due to del­e­ga­tion of pow­ers

Sunday Times (Sri Lanka) - - NEWS -

As the coun­try’s con­sti­tu­tional cri­sis dragged into its third week, a pic­ture of con­fu­sion and dis­or­gan­i­sa­tion con­tin­ued to pre­vail at many govern­ment min­istries and state in­sti­tu­tions. Cabi­net Min­is­ters were be­ing ap­pointed even as of Fri­day, just prior to Par­lia­ment be­ing dis­solved.

Up un­til Fri­day evening, min­is­ters had been ap­pointed on 11 dif­fer­ent oc­ca­sions. The de­lay in fi­nal­is­ing a Cabi­net, cou­pled with un­cer­tainty over the le­git­i­macy of the new ad­min­is­tra­tion, left many min­istries and state in­sti­tu­tions in a state of ut­ter con­fu­sion. Some how­ever, were man­ag­ing bet­ter than oth­ers. A sig­nif­i­cant fea­ture was that the ma­jor­ity of of­fi­cials we spoke to de­clined to be iden­ti­fied by name, cit­ing the pre­vail­ing volatile po­lit­i­cal en­vi­ron­ment.

The Health Min­istry for ex­am­ple, had to hur­riedly can­cel a num­ber of events it had or­gan­ised over the past two weeks which min­is­ters of the for­mer ad­min­is­tra­tion were due to at­tend. Th­ese in­cluded a sem­i­nar and a health clinic for jour­nal­ists.

An official at the Health Min­istry, how­ever, claimed the de­ci­sion to sus­pend the events was be­cause they be­lieved jour­nal­ists would be far too busy cov­er­ing mat­ters re­lated to the con­sti­tu­tional cri­sis and would not be able to at­tend the events. “Now that a new min­is­ter has been ap­pointed, we hope to resched­ule the events that we had to can­cel due to the po­lit­i­cal sit­u­a­tion,” the official stated.

The Hous­ing Min­istry, too, was with­out a min­is­ter and a min­istry sec­re­tary un­til Fri­day, when Wi­mal Weer­awansa fi­nally took oaths as the Min­is­ter of Hous­ing and So­cial Wel­fare. When the Sun­day Times called the min­istry on Fri­day af­ter­noon, of­fi­cials were scram­bling to pre­pare for the ar­rival of the newly sworn in min­is­ter to as­sume du­ties.

Re­quests by the Sun­day Times for clarifications on the sta­tus of pro­jects un­der­taken by the min­istry were be­ing passed from one official to an­other.

At­tempts to reach the man­ag­ing di­rec­tor and the re­fin­ery man­ager of the Cey­lon Petroleum Cor­po­ra­tion (CPC) did not bear fruit. CPC of­fi­cials who re­sponded to the queries claimed that the CPC Board of Man­age­ment had not turned up for work for days.

"The board is no more. We don't know who will come or when they will be ap­pointed" one CPC staff mem­ber re­marked. "Please call back next week," she ad­vised. A CPC trade union official stated that the op­er­a­tions at the oil re­fin­ery were go­ing on as nor­mal.

A se­nior official in the Min­istry of Trans­port was also re­luc­tant to pro­vide lengthy re­sponses to ques­tions posed. This was un­like their usual con­duct. Ques­tions were an­swered in brief sen­tences with­out elab­o­ra­tion. Pre­vi­ously, the official would spend time and an­swer queries at length.

An­other top official at a Govern­ment author­ity, whose min­istry is yet to see the ap­point­ment of a new min­is­ter, re­fused to an­swer queries over the phone ini­tially. How­ever, fol­low­ing re­as­sur­ances and per­sua­sion, the official pro­vided extremely brief and cau­tious re­sponses, and then hung up.

At­tempts to call the sec­re­tary of the min­istry of Tourism failed due to the fact that the staff at the Min­istry re­fused to con­nect it to the rel­e­vant author­ity. They said that he was busy at­tend­ing meet­ings and couldn’t talk and that he has not given any­body his direct con­tact de­tails.

While some in­sti­tu­tions were find­ing it hard to con­duct their ac­tiv­i­ties due to a proper lead­er­ship not be­ing in place, oth­ers were han­dling the tran­si­tion bet­ter ow­ing to pow­ers hav­ing been del­e­gated prop­erly. A se­nior official at the Min­istry of In­dus­try and Com­merce said that though nei­ther a min­is­ter nor a min­istry sec­re­tary had been ap­pointed (as of Fri­day af­ter­noon) they were able to carry out day-to-day func­tions at the min­istry as the sec­re­tary had ear­lier del­e­gated his pow­ers to ad­di­tional sec­re­taries.

“There are still some ar­eas where we need the ap­proval of the min­istry sec­re­tary. For ex­am­ple, of­fi­cials can­not be sent over­seas for official du­ties with­out the sec­re­tary’s ap­proval. As such, we are now di­rect­ing such re­quests to the Prime Min­is­ter’s sec­re­tary. So far, things have gone well in that re­gard and ap­proval has been given swiftly where needed,” the official dis­closed.

A sim­i­lar del­e­ga­tion of pow­ers was in place at the Min­istry of Lands and Par­lia­men­tary Re­forms. Though official func­tions to hand over land deeds that the min­istry had or­gan­ised had been sus­pended, an official there said the deeds had still been given to re­cip­i­ents. “We just didn’t do so at a cer­e­mony," he said. The official though, noted that clar­ity was needed on ar­eas where cabi­net pa­pers need to be pre­sented, point­ing out that only a sub­ject min­is­ter can present any pro­posal to Cabi­net.

A se­nior official in the Min­istry of Trans­port was also re­luc­tant to pro­vide lengthy re­sponses to ques­tions posed. This was un­like their usual con­duct. Ques­tions were an­swered in brief sen­tences with­out elab­o­ra­tion. Pre­vi­ously, the official would spend time and an­swer queries at length.

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