Limit the Cabinet to 30 Ministers: A Private Member Bill from a Young Member of Parliament, Vasantha Senanayake

By  Dhanushka Jayakody

There is a new phenomenon of Private Member Bills and Motions in Parliament recently which have highlighted the need for constitutional and structural reforms. The least controversial initiative was by the Liberal Party which had a motion to amend Standing Orders. This was placed on the Order Paper, but has then been swallowed up in the usual Parliamentary lethargy, because, in violation of the existing Standing Orders, it has not been brought before the House.

More controversial was the JHU’s Private Member Bill calling for amendment of the 13th amendment to the Constitution. Following debate in Cabinet however, which revealed the strong negative feelings about the Billl, it too was not brought before the House.

Now a much younger member, the Hon Vasantha Senanayake, who has recently led groups of young parliamentarians on international visits, has brought forward a potentially more popular Bill. Being a member of the main government party, the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), and elected from the Gampaha District where he organizes Mirigama, he recently handed over a private member bill to the Secretary General of Parliament proposing another amendment to the Constitution.

The proposed bill deals with perhaps the most important feature of the suggestions made by Hon member to the Parliamentary Select Committee on Constitutional Options towards preservation of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Sri Lanka. He forwarded these proposals on the basis of discussions with a concerned group of young people, and had a productive meeting with those members of the PSC who bother to attend its meetings.

The thrust of his current formal proposal is to limit the number of members of the Cabinet of Ministers to 30.

The proposed bill puts forward the following article in place of Article 44 (1) (a) and (b) of the Constitution:

44. (1) The President shall appoint from among the Members of Parliament not more than 30 Cabinet Ministers to be in charge of Ministries as determined by him

Article 45 of the Constitution is proposed to be replaced with
The President shall function as Minister of Defence. He shall not hold any other of the 30 Ministries.

And Article 46 also to be amended accordingly to ensure the number of Deputy Ministers shall be not more than 31.

The initiative to introduce this mandatory number of Ministerial positions by a young Member of Parliament should be supported by both the young and senior MPs in Parliament due to many reasons. In an era where all MPs aspire to become a Minister it is praiseworthy that a Young MP has put this proposal forward. I believe in a context where there is room for the President to appoint as many Ministers as he wishes would only lead to waste of resources and obviously inefficiency in governance. The number of Ministers and Ministerial portfolios seems artificially created leaving the serious nature of the Cabinet of Ministers aside. Most importantly, when there are so many Ministries on one subject the coordination among them becomes a serious nightmare. For Example, in place of Ministry of Agriculture and Lands of the D S Senanayake Cabinet of Independent Sri Lanka, today we have Ministry of Agriculture, Ministry of Plantation Industries, Ministry of Land and Land Development, Ministry of Minor Export Crop Promotion, Ministry of Coconut Development, Ministry of Sugar Industry Development. The cost of maintaining these 67 Cabinet Ministers and 37 Deputy Ministers and 2 Project Ministers as well as offices, security and other benefits for them not only burdens the people of this country economically but also makes it extremely difficult to ensure effective consultation, efficient management and smooth coordination in subject areas that require coherent and consistent interventions.

The Senanayake Cabinet of Independent Sri Lanka has only had 14 members including the Prime Minister

1. D S Senanayake (MP for Mirigama) – Prime Minister/Defence and External Affairs
2. S W R D Bandaranaike (MP for Attanagalla) – Health and Local Government
3. Sir Oliver Goonetilleke (Senator) – Home Affairs and Rural Development
4. J L Kotelawala (MP for Dodangaslanda) Transport and Works
5. T B Jayah (MP for Colombo Central) – Labout and Social Services
6. L A Rajapaksa (Senator) – Justice
7. George E de Silva (MP for Kandy) – Industries and Fisheries
8. C Suntharalingam (MP for Vavuniya) – Commerce and Trade
9. J R Jayawardena (MP for Kelaniya) – Finance
10. C Sittampalam (MP for Mannar) – Posts and Telecommunications
11. Dudley Senanayake (MP for Dedigama) – Agriculture and Lands
12. Major E A Nugawela (MP for Kadugannawa) – Education
13. A Ratnayake (MP for Wattegama) – Food and Cooperatives
14. R S S Gunawardena (MP for Gampola) – Minister without Portfolio


The first Cabinet under the parliamentary system of government in Sri Lanka 1947

Drawing lessons from the past, from his great grandfather late leader of independent Sri Lanka, Mr Senanayake has initiated this bill for the betterment of the people of Sri Lanka and such initiatives towards progressive democratic reforms should always be supported. Looking at the Senanayake Cabinet in 1947, it was evident how Members in Parliament were more particular about fulfilling their duties as part of the legislature than being mere instruments of electoral popularity. With a limited and a mandatory number of members in the Cabinet, the President and the government will also be able to introduce better and more responsible systems of governance.

The proposed bill is more meaningful when one tries understanding the history of the Cabinet. In the 17th Century, the English Parliament devised the ‘Cabinet Council’: a small group of men who advised the king on political issues and administered certain government departments as a way to curb abuses by the monarch and keep close tabs on his governance. The king was allowed to appoint the Cabinet Council, but its composition had to include the members of Parliament. Over time, the Cabinets have assumed greater responsibilities yet maintained to be small as its original form to ensure more efficiency in governance and effectiveness in coordination.

Think about country before self?

Will the members of World largest Cabinet vote to curtail their own powers?

Whilst it is inevitably a progressive move to bring out this amendment to the constitution as a private member bill, the real challenge lies in obtaining the necessary support to pass it with a 2/3 majority in Parliament. Will the members of World largest Cabinet vote to curtail their own powers? Will the young Members in Parliament who are dreaming to secure a ministerial portfolio in the government think about the country before self? Will the opposition members of Parliament who aspire to be in the government one day be happy to have a limited cabinet?



Ceylon Today 29 April 2014 –

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