Sanjiva Wijesinha -writer and physician

Short stories, Travel and Health Information

Too Many Chiefs…

too many chiefsThe first time I heard the saying “Too many chiefs and not enough Indians” I wasn’t quite sure exactly it meant.

It was only when a friend of mine explained it to me – how in a tribe of American Indians there were usually several members but only one chief – that I understood the significance of the phrase. In any functioning tribe or community of Indians, my friend went on to explain, the members all did their duties under the command of the chief, a wise and experienced person who could effectively direct the efforts of the members to the common good. When too many members of the tribe tried to allocate to themselves jobs where they could command others rather than do the work that needed doing, the community suffered and could not progress. What happened was that there were no Indians left to do all the essential tasks that needed to be done because too many of them wanted to bask in the title of “chief’, enjoy chiefly privileges and spend their time giving instructions to others without doing any useful work.

The phrase certainly makes sense – because it applies not just to American Indian tribes but to any team, organization, institution or even nation where there are a whole lot of members all wanting to end up as petty chiefs.

I was reminded about this Too Many Chiefs story this week when I perused the official web site of the Policy and Research unit of our Sri Lanka President’s Office ( I discovered that our small nation of 21 million people has in addition to the President and the Prime Minister no less than Ninety Five ministers running (or endeavouring to run) our country!

At the top of the hierarchy I discovered that we are blessed with ten “senior ministers” – although I could not fathom whether their seniority was due to their age, the length of time they had been ministers, or whether they called ‘Senior’ because they (like Senior Citizens) were past the age at which normal government employees should have retired.

In addition to the senior ministers, we citizens have to pay for as many as fifty four cabinet ministers, twenty nine deputy minsters and even two “project minsters’  – although it must be admitted that a couple of these functionaries do double duty as a minister of This as well as a deputy minister of That. Each of these ministers, one would presume, has selected for themselves a private secretary and has also a ministerial office, a ministerial security team and various other perks – all paid for out of the government’s hard earned revenue. And while Knowing People know that there is a difference between a minister, a deputy minister and a project minister, it does not require much imagination to know that all of the above functionaries like to be known as ‘amathithuma’ and want to be recognized by the humble public as Very Important People.

Of course I must confess that the numbers I have quoted above were accurate at the time of writing this article. I cannot be sure (given how quickly ministers can be appointed in this world) whether any new ministers have been appointed since I wrote this.

Just for comparision, I looked up how many minsters our giant neighbor India has – and found out that India has a total of seventy six federal ministers (which includes cabinet ministers, junior ministers in charge of ministries and deputy ministers not in charge of ministries). Here too I believe this number represents too many “chiefs” – but I guess that India has so many million Indians that it does not really matter.

But in our own country, we citizens have to fund a ministerial cohort of ninety five (accurate at the time of writing) in a parliament of 225 members where there are more government MPs who are ministers than MPs who are not ministers!

Kaata kiyannade?



This entry was posted on March 29, 2013 by in Uncategorized and tagged , .

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