ISSN: 1391 - 0531
Sunday May 4, 2008
Vol. 42 - No 49
Financial Times  

Bonanza for public servants

Sri Lanka’s bloated public service numbering over a million workers are in for a treat with a discounted travel offer from the national airline, SriLankan Airlines. Our public service must be the only one in the world – it’s said to be the biggest in terms of population ratios – which receives perks for doing their job, or being paid to do a job.

Do they really need perks? For that matter is the public service efficient and serving the people as they ought to do? On the other hand should the national airline dole out benefits like this particularly at a time when it is finding its feet through a complicated end to the Emirates management contract? The planned amalgamation with Mihin Air is also going to add to the debt burden.

Public servants are entitled to a host of perks like tax-free salaries, free railway passes, pensions and -- for some categories – duty free cars (some of which are sold to others for a fee). In some instances, interest-free or concessionary loans are also on offer. SriLankan says all government employees ‘who would like to take a personal trip overseas are eligible to get a 25 % discount on economy class return market fares on flights to any destination in its route network.’ It is a year round offer for government servants, their spouses and dependent children under 21 years of age.

It is unclear as to how many trips public servants and their families are entitled to during the year or whether it is a lifetime offer. However for argument sake if one million workers and their families (add two others making it a total of three per family), then that’s some three million discounted tickets. Assuming an average ticket costs Rs 30,000, the discounted fare would be less Rs 7,500. That multiplied by 3 million tickets works out to a Rs 225 million annually for SriLankan; a princely sum to lose for any airline.

Of course this is not a real case scenario as only a fraction of public servants and their families can afford to travel. Yet even if 10 percent of the 3 million travel, that would work out to Rs 20 million – negative on the balance sheet. The flip side argument however is that this category of traveller could fill some of the seats when the flight is not full and in such a case, it is not a loss.

Yet should such benefits be made available to the public servants given the state of the public service and the public’s constant grouse about sectors where the public has most dealings?

Health, social services, transport, education, local government, etc are services that need to be badly overhauled and desperately require new thinking.

Who is a public servant anyway? The politicians will claim they come under this category – as they are entitled to duty free vehicles like any other high ranking public officer.

SriLankan Airlines should also be cautious about possible corruption in the scheme as there are thousands of tickets that would be on offer, which could be grabbed by others who may claim to be part of the family of a public servant.

Public servants and their families are also entitled to a 25% discount on holiday packages which would add to further losses to the airline.

The airline says that the scheme is intended to support the public sector and encourage the employees and their families to travel overseas. Certainly yes … everyone should be provided an opportunity to travel but at whose cost!

It would have been more commendable if the national airline came up with a package of discounted travel and holiday offers to Sri Lankan migrant workers who provide the bulk of the business for not only to the national airline but many others flying to the Middle East.

After all they are an asset to the nation and deserve some merit, respect and better recognition.


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