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Home > Tamil National Forum > Selected Writings by Sachi Sri Kantha > Chandrika's Three Ring Circus 25 October 2000
Selected Writings by Sachi Sri Kantha
Chandrika's Three Ring Circus
25 October 2000
That irreverent wit George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950) once wrote,
50 years have passed since Shaw left us. If only he is amongst us now, one wonders how much he would have relished to comment on this month's exercise of 'stage-managed democracy' in Sri Lanka. Not only Shaw, even humorist and business seer Northcote Parkinson (1909-1993) would have been amused about President Chandrika Kumaratunga's lead exercise on cabinet selection. She had to sacrifice the much needed efficiency for political expediency.
Chandrika is a busy lady and I'm certain that she wouldn't have read Parkinson's classic work, Parkinson's Law (1957), on the futility of appointing a Cabinet with over 20 members. She should! For her benefit, I provide relevant excerpts of what Parkinson had written on this theme four decades ago. Stinging wit of Parkinson is a delight to enjoy, even for those who are not faced with the situation of Chandrika.
According to Parkinson,
Parkinson notes on these drawbacks as follows:
Then, Parkinson presents his inference.
In summary, Parkinson concludes, that for an efficient Cabinet,
Stimulated by Parkinson's thoughts, I tabulated the cabinet members in the American history, and surprisingly it has followed Parkinson's rule since George Washington's times.
Washington's cabinet (between 1789 and 1797) had five members; secretary of state, secretary of treasury, secretary of war, attorney general and postmaster general. 72 years later, in Abraham Lincoln's cabinet (between 1861 and 1865), the number increased to 7, with two new posts added. These were, secretary of navy and secretary of interior. Then, 72 years later, Franklin Roosevelt's cabinet (1933-1945) had 10 members, with the inclusion of three additional members; secretary of agriculture, secretary of commerce and secretary of labor.
60 years later, Bill Clinton's cabinet (since 1993) has 14 members - well within, Parkinson's range of 'golden number'. It is notable to mention that from Washington's period to Harry Truman's time, the current position - euphemistically tagged as 'secretary of defense' was exactly designated as 'secretary of war'.
I guess that the currently functioning 'shadow cabinet' of Eelam also has adhered well to Parkinson's dictum of Washington's and Lincoln's eras. But Chandrika's new cabinet is not. It has to be given a new name.
Among my choices, the phrase 'three ring circus' seems appropriate. The American Heritage Dictionary provides two definitions for this beautiful phrase. The formal one is, "a circus having simultaneous performances in three separate rings." The informal one is, "a situation characterized by confusing, engrossing or amusing activity." Both definitions fit well for Chandrika's new team. Chandrika plays the role of juggler. The hawkish prime minister Ratnasiri Wickremanayake is the new ring master. And there are more than 40 clowns (archaic, old, new, masked and unmasked types) competing with each other for attention.
I'm also sure that, in the near future, Chandrika will have the urge to expand the Cabinet number to reach 50. In this case, she will have a tough time, splitting the existing ministries.
One of my suggestions is that the ministry of energy needs a multi-split. In high school physics, we learnt that energy exists in many forms, such as heat, light, sound, electricity and magnetism. Thus, Chandrika can create separate ministries for heat energy, light energy, sound (noise!) energy, electricity energy and magnetic energy.
I also noticed a preponderance of ministries with the suffix tag 'Affairs'. How about creating a new ministry for 'Love Affairs', which in turn can be split into three such as - Ministry of Pre-marital Love Affairs, Ministry of Post-marital Love Affairs and Ministry of Extra-Marital Love Affairs'?
During the recent election season, there was some publicity for two (including one, made at a post-event conference of Sydney Olympics) of Chandrika's cabinet ministers displaying their expertise in these affairs. Thus, each of these three ministries on Love Affairs can be further divided, if occasion demands, into [Men] and [Women]!