Friday, 2 August 2002  
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Government - Gazette

Sunday Observer

Budusarana On-line Edition

The public service - for better or for worse : Time to draw the line

by Lloyd Fernando, Former Secretary to Governor, N.W.P.

Our greatest pretensions
are built
up not to hide the
evil and theugly in us, but
our emptiness
The hardest thing to hide is
that is not there

- Eric Hoffer

Discipline is fundamental for good governance. In fact, in a democracy where freedom is the inherent factor, sans discipline, the inevitable tendency is for the whole fabric of governance to become grossly corrupt and inefficient. Lack of it could be the very beginning of "Dooshanaya".

In the recent past, it has been the undesirable pattern, that, immediately following a general election comes a wave of indiscipline in the public sector, heightened by the victorious exuberance of the winning party that is set to form the new government - and it is here that the state administrative machinery tends to get out of alignment, or control.


Officials are picked at random according to the whims and fancies of the politicians or the powers that are, to be installed in positions, very often, not in keeping with the line of seniority, or class or grade. The inevitable result is that bitterness and frustration set in, and consequently, loads of work keep piling up, communication gaps begin to show up, improper decisions are taken, and disruptive absenteeism plays up, that could even snowball into a literal go-slow or even a "work-to-rule".

Under the same circumstances, in the rank and file, latent animosities would develop, and the official respect and regard towards the staff members would recede in direct proportion to the ill-feelings built up for some reason or the other.

At the grassroot level in particular, the so-called "favourites" appointed go berserk as they attempt to rule the day with a presumptuous political outlook. Discipline then goes haywire and very few would dare cry "enough is enough" for fear of political reprisals.


This type of self-styled appointments anointed with a surplus of arrogance does more harm than good in more ways than one under any circumstances - and it not only brings the government into a scandalous disrepute but also hampers the smooth working of the institution. Further, it destroys the bonhomie that exists among the staff of the particular organisation.

The politically motivated stylist of an employee throws his weight around even among the staff officers; so much so that some seem to sacrifice even their official self-respect to build up a rapport with the politician's 'catcher'. Here is where a complete breakdown of the disciplinary process starts.

From then, the rot begins, paying 'poojas' to 'catcher' after 'catcher' - from dubious recommendations to promotional effects. The staff often look on helplessly: "There's not to reason why but to do and exist" seem to be the understanding adopting the underlying motto: live and let live.

However, once in a way, there appears an impeccably forthright institutional head who unyieldingly stands firm by the administrative and financial regulations for better or worse until a transfer do them part! At least, there was one such super administrative officer who 'drew a blank' whenever a file of a so-called 'catcher' was put up to him for disposal.

Phenomenal task

It is a phenomenal task to be a good administrator within the framework of politics in this country. Apart from experience, courage and foresight, one needs to have a keen knowledge of what is happening around not only officially but politically as well. One may indeed have the ability to take quick decisions but does the Department boss has the courage of his convictions to take the correct decision as far as the politician is concerned. Is he able to get the best out of his subordinates? He could be understanding and committed to a cause or he could be involved in important and challenging issues.

But can he maintain a high degree of integrity under such circumstances? The hours may be long for him; but could he be paid by the satisfaction of achievement and the joy of unselfish service. When making appointments or selections, he is invariably influenced by others - and thereby the most suitable candidate for the job fails to get selected, and consequently the recruit's output of work is negligible and he becomes a failure or misfit.

If the politician must express his appreciation for "services rendered", let him give the "supporter" a suitable job or a better one and do with it once and for all - and let not the "supporters" thereafter mix politics with officialdom. It's time this political interference ceased in official administration.

It's time we drew the line to get the best out of the public service!

Political victimization

Compensation for allegations of political victimization brought about successive governments is of recent vintage. It is a ridiculous exercise practised by politicians on helpless public officials whose work involved directly or indirectly with ministry-related matters. These are the victims of so-called political victimization that happens each time there is a change of government - for services rendered so "faithfully" to the outgoing government.

However, now it has become, more or less, a privilege to be politically victimised, for, the victim in the long run not only reaps the multiple benefits of an enforced holiday, during which period of five years or more he not only gets the financial benefits of another job but also a lump sum of back wages and promotions and a host of other compensatory exclusive advantages of the succeeding government. This is the type of person who is prone to be a square peg in a round hole, or the wrong man in the wrong job. Statutory bodies have become the dumping grounds for these quasi-political types. Thus, for obvious reasons, these state institutions suffer enormous financial losses to keep the budget gaps widening!

I remember an occasion after a change of government, a particular minister appointed a "supporter" who knew nothing of printing (as someone interpreted him at that time as "The Printer's Devil") to the State Printing Corporation Board of Directors; when he apprised the minister of his unfortunate plight, the "Honourable" nodded and asked him to acquaint himself on the subject with a visit to "Second Division, Maradana".

A new brand

The government hopes to turnout a new brand of employees well equipped for the new role Sri Lankans are expected to translate this country into a strong, viable and self-reliant nation along the path of peace, prosperity and harmony as we slowly, yet steadily move forward in the 21st century of a new millennium.

Let us not bask in the glory of hierarchial positions. What matters is the service one rendered to those in need of it. Let us not lose the common touch! Let us keep in mind that we are all citizens of this country, and whatever we do is in the name of good governance and for Sri Lanka.

Let us work together to co-ordinate and unite in the bonds of friendship, good fellowship and mutual understanding.

Sampath Bank

Crescat Development Ltd.

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