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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 public servants.

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 confidence.

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 trainees?

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 self-confidence.

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 administration forward.

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 services.

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.

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