In defence of public sector
Compared to the
private sector the public sector is much maligned. It is accused
of corruption, lethargy, inefficiency, bureaucracy and what not.
While there is some truth in these allegations it does not
automatically follow that the private sector is the epitome of
virtue, efficiency and skill. However, few accusing fingers are
pointed at the private sector. This is easily explained by the
fact that public sector bashing is usually associated with an
ideology that has occupied a dominant place in this country and
elsewhere for several decades. It is the ideology of
neo-liberalism, which though battered is still dominant.
Though this column has also been critical of the shortcomings
and maladies in the public sector they were not on ideological
grounds. In fact much of the criticism that was leveled against
the public sector could be equally leveled against the private
sector too. This is true in relation to corruption, lethargy,
mismanagement, inefficiency etc. Numerous instances could be
shown to substantiate this claim.
In view of the barrage of criticism that was leveled,
especially at election time for political reasons it is
necessary to put the record straight. The public school system
in Sri Lanka is much superior to the private school system in
spite of the poor resources at the command of the former. The
performance of students at public examinations, the G C E (O/L)
or (A/L) amply proves it. If the public school system is
inefficient and poor why is there such a scramble for admissions
to popular schools? Or take the country’s professionals and
academia. How many of their members are products of public
schools both popular and not so popular? Or even take the best
sportsmen and sportswomen.
True, there were serious lapses on the part of officials and
administrators. Yet the system has produced results despite the
shortcomings of certain personnel. What has to be done is to
improve management, resources and skills to fit in to the 21st
Another much maligned sector is national healthcare. However,
Sri Lanka has recorded one of the lowest infant mortality rates
in the world. It is much above the developing country average
and is comparable to that of many developing countries. Could
this have been achieved if we did not have an efficient
healthcare system? True, there are defects and shortcomings in
certain fields. Yet it is unfair to blow up stray incidents and
blame the entire system. For example, the Sri Lankan
immunization program is one of the best in the world despite
isolated accidents causing a few deaths following vaccination.
The Accident Service of our National hospital and even
outstation hospitals did an excellent job in attending to
victims of terrorist attacks and natural calamities under trying
circumstances. In this, our healthcare services are among the
Take transport. Any unbiased observer could see the
superiority of the services offered by the State transport
services over that offered by the private transport services.
The private bus operators are a law unto themselves. They have
failed to provide even the minimum facilities to the commuters.
It is no wonder many commuters still nostalgically recall the
heyday of public transport when Anil Moonesinghe headed the
Ceylon Transport Board.
Speaking of the public sector one cannot forget the Three
Forces and the Police whose commendable contribution in
defeating terror is world acclaimed.
Another commendable achievement of the public sector is its
contribution in building the much needed infrastructure
facilities for economic growth. The wide network of roads,
bridges, communication facilities that span the country today
speak for itself. The private sector has not shown any
inclination to take up the challenging task of building both
physical and social infrastructure that is a prime necessity for
economic take off. Of course, it is “the engine of growth”. So
let it be. However, it is time to recognize the indispensable
and signal contribution of the pubic sector to the economy and
the people’s well-being in the country.