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Wednesday, 23 June 2010

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Public service reform

Sri Lanka's public sector has come in for much criticism over the years and for good reasons. Its history of inefficiency and lacklustre performance is only too well known for elaboration. At a time when the economy is poised to take off in this post conflict period, there is a need for a healthy efficient public service to back up and play a pro-active role in the Government's development drive. But is our public sector prepared for this challenge? The way things are, our public service is today moribund and still mired in hidebound concepts. Hence there is a need for a complete overhaul to make it adapt to the new milieu. But this may prove a Herculean task given the entrenched nature of the country's public sector.

Today, as is common knowledge most public sector institutions are a liability to the State but maintained at heavy public cost. Hence one would expect these State bodies to be obliged to provide a better service to the public. The reality however is completely different. Today, the country's public service is marked by arrogance with its employees treating their duties to the public in terms of doing them a favour. This is an attitude that should be banished if the public are to be served as they deserve.In the interim basic, courtesy should be inculcated in the public sector staff and above all their service to the public to be treated as an obligation. These institutions are maintained by public funds even though most of them are white elephants guzzling up State resources but giving little return.

It goes without saying that our public sector has earned a very low esteem among the public who considers it an ordeal to have any dealings with a Government Department. One has only to walk into a State Institution to confirm this view. A general air of lethargy and drift greets the visitor. The empty desks, groups of employees huddled in corners or hanging on to telephones, idle fans, mountains of files all goes to paint a picture of decay.

The lackadaisical attitude to public inquiries,inordinate delays, being sent from pillar to post and the general feeling of being an intruder into a well-guarded citadel complete the picture of what our public service is all about. A harried public can only throw their hands up in despair as excuses are trotted out for the non-performance of a basic function.

It is in this context that an observation made by Public Management and Reforms Minister Ratnasiri Wickramanayaka bears relevance. Addressing representatives of Trade Unions he has enjoined public servants to discard the words 'No' and 'Can't' from their vocabulary. Or told in plain Sinhala 'ne' 'be' kiyala deyak 'ne'.

Unfortunately this 'ne' 'be' culture is firmly ingrained in our public sector and the former Prime Minister who counts over 50 years of public life is only too aware of this. Today Public servants consider themselves as a privileged breed and though they may get less paid than their counterparts in the private sector make up for it by their impudence and insolence at the cost of the general public.

Of course it goes without saying that the rot set in with the politicization of the public service. Discipline was thrown out of the window and it was a case of the tail wagging the dog when employees carrying political clout began to rule the roost with even the Head of Departments fearing to upset the status quo. This has led to the gradual deterioration of our once coveted public service.

As a result today, the public service is filled with square pegs in round holes that have spawned incompetence, inefficiency and lethargy with the public made to grin and bear the indignities it is made to suffer at the hands of political stooges.

Therefore the solution to end this 'ne' 'be' culture is only too obvious. For this there has to be a political will on the part of the authorities. The public service which was once held in much esteem should be weaned away of the deadwood and made a really service oriented one that would meet the aspirations of the public. For this, the public service should be excised of its rotten core. Nothing else would suffice.

Trust built between North and South:

Change is possible

Power devolution under the 13th Amendments would end the ethnic problem, Traditional Industries, Small Enterprises Minister Douglas Devananda says. Excerpts of the interview:

Full Story

The Morning Inspection

On the necessary investigation of mirrors

Whose existence we refuse to acknowledge?

There are times I feel that there is nothing more fascinating than a mirror. No, I am not talking about the vanity-element embedded in mirrors and what they do, meaning ‘reflection’.

Full Story

Back to BASICS

Our hope for the future...

Children from a village close to the Singharaja rain-forest were self-sufficient in the electricity they needed to power their school’s modest computer room. The mini-hydro unit they set up on the stream by their school in Gonagala in the Galle District was the source of that power.

Full Story

 

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