Training the Public Service
POLITICISATION: There is no doubt that a country’s prosperity
would depend largely on the quality of the public service. It has to be
effective and efficient. Most governments of independent Sri Lanka have
tried to maintain such a public service.
When the British granted independence in February 1948, they
certainly left an efficient public service. Whether the government under
the British catered to the needs of the indigenous population or not is
another matter. One thing is true; the then public service ruled the
country and therefore, they called the shots.
Since independence, unfortunately, our country has seen ups and downs
in the quality of the public service. We have not seen consistency in
this vital aspect of governance. Public service during some regimes has
dipped to a low level of efficiency and effectiveness.
This is because the political masters elected by the people from time
to time, tried to politicise the public service and thereby destroyed
the strong foundations on which it had been built. Also, contributing to
this situation was the lack of consistency in the training imparted to
Politicisation has been evident in most developing countries. Sri
Lanka too has had its own share. Somehow, our neighbour, India, with
whom we have so many things in common, seems to have lessened the impact
of politicisation on the public service.
If one examines the reasons, one thing is clear; that is the solid
training the Indian public servants receive. Here, we are not talking
about the entire public service but the executive grades who have to
lead the way and manage their organisations.
All of the executive grades belonging to All-India Services receive
fine induction, mid-career and professional administrative training.
Over the years, the training received by the cadets of the Indian
Administrative Service (IAS) and other All Indian Services has ascended
to a world class level.
An effective and efficient public service can never be created
without crafted finely and appropriate training, particularly when
recruits are inducted into the public service. This applies to all,
whether it is administrative or any other technical service.
As running a government is complex and in certain aspects very
specialised, it is important that when public servants are recruited
they are given the best training possible. One will argue that
recruitment and selection are more important; there is no question about
it. If proper personnel are not selected, it will be a case of round
pegs in square holes. But, induction and other forms of training are
also equally or more important.
Let us for a moment assume that our selection processes to the
executive grades in the public service are satisfactory.
Then, what about induction training? If one examines the purpose of
induction training, it will be evident that it is to introduce the
working of the government, its processes, procedures, rules and
regulations, skills required to perform efficiently and effectively, and
also to inform the recruits ‘what not to do.’
In other words, recruits must be exposed to the Dos and Don’ts
without any ambiguity. Also, it is important that ethical behaviour,
professional and personal standards and general demeanour expected of
public servants are explained to the newcomers and an opportunity
afforded to them to interact with experienced administrators.
In our case, the Sri Lanka Administrative Service (SLAS), the
premiere management group in the public service receives their training
at the Sri Lanka Institute of Development Administration (SLIDA).
Induction training of the SLAS has seen many ups and downs.
It has varied from a mere two weeks for some batches to two years for
others. Of recent times, it has settled down to one year.
If one were to do an analysis of the performance of those who
graduated out of these training programmes, there certainly is bound to
be a wide disparity in the performance because the training period and
the quality of training also varied. It certainly is not a salutary
situation for any public service.
During induction training, many subjects are taught and many skills
imparted. Governance related subjects would comprise the core, while a
number of other areas related to public administration are also taught
to the SLAS cadets.
It is expected of all trainees to acquire a thorough knowledge of
public administration, human resource management, finance management,
and public accounting, during the induction period.
One now needs to ask earnestly whether the curriculum used for SLAS
induction training has served the purpose. There is no straight answer,
but it can be safely said that there is much room for development.
For us to get the curriculum right, the basic questions, “What are we
training an SLAS officer for?”, “For how long will the training be
valid?”, “Is there any further training that is required after some
years, and if so, how many years after the officer gets into his or her
first assignment?” must be asked and objective answers found.
Without knowing right answers to these questions, it will be a case
of, “Koheda Yanne Malle Pol.”
All executive officers in government are expected to make quick and
fair decisions when dealing with people’s issues. For that purpose, do
we prepare our recruits? There seems to be a serious misunderstanding of
the job requirements of the SLAS officers who are posted to a variety of
government institutions on completion of induction training.
The most logical thing to do is to analyse a fair number of SLAS
posts that are at entry level and compare the job requirements in terms
of skills with the induction training course curriculum.
If gaps are identified, the course curriculum must be amended so as
to impart to the trainees newly identified skills. One way to ameliorate
this situation, in addition to an objective analysis, is to employ as
instructors, effective and efficient serving SLAS officers who also
possess the skill of teaching adults.
If we look at job profiles, in addition to the professional and
technical skills required to undertake any job satisfactorily, there are
many soft skills that jobholders must have. The many jobs that SLAS
officers hold require excellent people skills to perform with
One has to examine, to what extent SLIDA provides these skills to the
SLAS recruits during the induction. Most job positions demand
self-confidence as otherwise, under pressure officers will wilt and
succumb. What is the process that inculcates self-confidence to the
The Lal Bahadur Shastri National Academy of Administration in
Mussoorie, India has always given much emphasis to this aspect of
induction training and exposes all its recruits to developing their
Training in horse riding, canoeing, mountaineering, trekking and
public speaking not only develops the self -confidence of the IAS
recruits, but also empowers them tremendously to deal with almost any
situation when they are out on their own in the remotest parts of India.
The curriculum of 15 weeks exposure allows IAS trainees to meet all
other All-India Services recruits and learn how the massive Indian
government structure works. On completion, the IAS recruits will have a
further training of 26 weeks.
Needless to say, the 41 weeks of training at Mussoorie moulds the
young IAS officers into a very confident lot to take the country’s
Another important aspect in public service training is the mid career
training. In every job position, there will be new things to learn and
there is also the need to upgrade oneself.
However, this cannot be left to each individual’s whims and fancies;
it must be a carefully designed upgrading activity. For instance, all
IAS officers who have 9 -11 years’ service are required to attend the
mid-career training at the Academy in Mussoorie.
This is a requirement the Government of India has imposed on all IAS
officers. Even the very senior officers who have put in 25 - 30 years
are required to undergo training to upgrade themselves.
All Secretaries of the Government of India would have gone through
many upgrading programmes, both local and foreign, before they take on
the highest level responsibilities.
There is a strong case for mid-career training for the SLAS too.
Unfortunately, this too has been very wishy-washy and certainly, for
many, there hasn’t been any form of upgrading.
Under these circumstances, can we expect most SLAS officers to
deliver what the country expects them to do? One has serious doubts
about it. It is therefore high time that the government makes it
mandatory for all SLAS officers to undergo a well designed mid-career
training programme to hone their skills.
The government, without delaying it any further, must appoint a high
powered team comprising a few top officials with a penchant for training
and development of personnel, to draw up a training curriculum and
self-confidence building measures so that SLIDA’s training can be made
more effective and attractive to the SLAS and in deed other professional
It must also be made mandatory for all, without any exception, to
undergo a recommended period of training during one’s career before they
reach the highest positions.
These must be coupled with a realistic and pragmatic performance
appraisal scheme if we are to enhance the quality of the SLAS. Then, and
only then, that we will be able to produce quality public administrators
who are able to perform up to expectations. The Reformist.