Sri Lanka needs a ‘State Service’ more than a ‘Public Service’
It was refreshing to read former Secretary –Ministry of Plan Implementation, Chandrasena Maliyadda’s article on the Public Service (PS). With his experience in the service, he has pointed out the changes and reforms that are needed in the service. I too agree that it’s not the independence of the service that matters, but the importance, the integrity and the dignity of the service. It should be given its due place as an important “State Service” responsible for the implementation of policies and to take a more active part in the socio-economic development of the nation. Like in developed countries, the state service should be looked up to rather than looked down upon as a servant of a master, but a dignified service, taking the responsibility and accountability for actions. No doubt this is a difficult task to be achieved, with the officers who have been, looked down upon, ridiculed and at times pushed about, by those who wield power, poorly paid, and who have not been trained and developed. These officers have survived by bending down and yielding to pressure, rather than take up the challenge, and lose their jobs.
I remember one of my former bosses telling me that ‘it is better to be sent out doing the right thing than give into pressure’. Today this does not apply since the officer could be framed, however if the officer is of high calibre with a track record and plays straight, then he can clear himself. Unfortunately most officers are unable to do this due to the circumstances beyond their control.
On August 30, 2009,the Sunday Times carried a news item, quoting a top government officer as saying that the officers in the PS need to be courteous, and they lack professionalism. I replied to this, in the following week’s paper, focusing on the need to train and develop the correct attitude in the public service. The dignity of the service has to be maintained by performing one’s service correctly and efficiently with polite humbleness when and where it is required, and not by taking things lying down.
In my view changes and reforms to the PS, alone will not bring about desired results, without making necessary changes to the environment and the legal framework in which the PS operates. As Mr. Maliyadda has stated, many changes have occurred since the inception of the PS. However the structure of the PS has remained practically unchanged; only the changes to names of designations, doing away with accountability, and transfer of officers and sections of departments, with the changes to the ministries, have been done. Although the Constitution of the country was changed twice, no real structural change was made to the PS. It appears that it still continues to serve the master more than the public as stated in the article.
Further there is no point in carrying out any structural changes to the PS, at this moment in time without refining and amending the erroneous basic law of the country. The ‘role’, function and its overall structure of the ‘State Service’, and its place in the state machinery should be indicated in the basic law, along with the ‘roles’ of the executive, and the citizen, so that the PS has a legal status to function, rather than taking directions from the masters.
The primary law the Constitution of a country should focus on the three fundamental concepts of: State, Government of the People and a Panel of independent Jurists.
a) The State, which is the country and all its assets and resources including the ‘State Service’ and the Judiciary who are, also State Officers and a Head of State,
(b) The people, citizen of the country who live in the state and their representatives forming a Government, and a Head of Government,
(c) A body of Jurists responsible to ensure the legality of the socio-economic system and to ensure a balance between the state and the people, through jurisprudence and a methodology to monitor assess, and audit national accounts, human rights and other important areas.
The prime ‘Role’ of the ‘State Service’ should be clearly defined in the basic law or the constitution of the country. This is particularly helpful to an officer in the ‘State Service’ taking over a top post in the government; he need not go by precedence or advice, which is not very healthy. Unless and until such changes are brought about, Sri Lanka’s PS and also the citizen will continue to serve and comply with master’s needs rather than the requirements of the nation.
A major factor which affected the decline of the PS was the replacement of Permanent Secretaries of ministries who were accountable for their ministries, with outsiders from specialized institutions, like the Central Bank, to meet the need for specialized work to start up new ventures like the Shipping Corporation. But this resulted in the practice of officers holding two positions, that of the Secretary, and also the post of Chairman of Corporation under the ministry. These precedents paved the way to overcome inbuilt controls of the system and the PS. Another major factor was the reshuffling of institutions under ministries and renaming them to suit political interests. Both these changes were due to the development policies of governments, being based on political manifestos and not on ‘National Planning’ based on Macro Economic policies and socioeconomic development strategies to meet future requirements of the country. Consequently Sri Lanka is facing unequal development of provinces, environmental problems, and host of other problems including problems of human resources. For the PS to be productive and contributing to the national development, the officers should be quite clear about the type of work which becomes specialized, so that they can build up their competencies over the years to contribute to such work. It does not necessarily mean that any higher and senior officer in the PS could handle any top level job effectively with out being competent in the subject area. Mr. Maliyadda knows this as he has been handling the work of the Ministry of Plan Implementation. In this context it is extremely important that the number of Ministries required to run the country be identified, and fixed and stipulated in the primary law of the country, and not changed with the change of government. This action will ensure continuous development as well as the human resources development and specialization in specific areas in the PS. A long term training and career development plan could be prepared for the officers with the flexibility of being able to acquire multi-skills and competencies. We have to rethink how our “State Service” could help the socio-economic development of the provinces, making use of the available resources in the provinces and districts. Also there should be a method of having a dialogue with the respective universities and the academics to inform them of the development plans of the state and government and obtaining inputs from the universities. There is no such dialogue at present.
Also the planning of provincial development has to be carried out at provincial level, with planning experts-not at the centre away from the area.
The officers of the PS should identify projects where government and private sector cooperation is possible. Since Sri Lanka has a mixed economy, there is scope for expansion. What is needed is strengthening of the provincial administration of the PS.
The major hindrance to provincial development is the division of the 25 districts into nine provinces. This division restricts the size of a province and consequently reduces the areas available for development, and also increasing the administrative costs tremendously, affecting the viability from the macro-economic point of view. Provincial development becomes easy and practical if we divide the 25 districts into three provinces in place of nine. Resources, raw materials and national assets in each of the provinces could be identified, including the universities and sea-ports.
Though 65 years have passed since independence, we have developed only one international sea-port, for the island nation, although there are seven sea-ports and at least two other locations for sea-ports totaling nine, around the coastline. It will be possible to develop these seaport sites for different purposes like commercial, industrial, leisure/ tourism, and for transshipment, coastal shipping etc. When connected by road and rail they can form transport and logistics net works, which will enhance socio economic development. These considerations require long term planning and implementation at national level as well as at provincial level with the participation of the PS and the private sector. This is a new role for the PS. These functions cannot be handled by respective ministries, as long term national planning is involved, which goes on for 10-15 years.
Also there is no procedure or methodology in the PS to evaluate proposals forwarded by persons trained in specific fields. Mr. Maliyadda is well aware of this fact as he was unable to proceed with a proposal forwarded by the writer in 1995, during his tenure of office as Additional Secretary in the Ministry of Planning, Ethnic Affairs, and National Integration. He was so kind enough to acknowledge the receipt of the papers. Unfortunately there was no correspondence after that as there was no possibility of dialogue with the respective department of the PS.
In conclusion it must be stated that piecemeal improvement and development of the PS is meaningless without long term planning and also correcting the fundamental law of the existing erroneous constitution, which is beneficial to all politicians but not to the common citizen and the general public.
Ironically constitutional reforms were initiated by a Select Committee of parliament in 1994, which called for submissions from the public on reforms to the 1978 Constitution, and a “Constitution of the Republic of Sri Lanka Bill” was prepared by the Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs and distributed among the public. It is not known whether this Bill was tabled in parliament and defeated, or was not presented in parliament.
However when the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) called for submissions from the public, the writer made representations as an independent and non-political citizen.
The whole country had been affected by the long drawn terrorism which was a result of the erroneous constitution of 1978. Recommendations were made to the LLRC to change this erroneous constitution. Although the submissions were well received by the panel of commissioners, it is not clear whether the change of constitution has been included in the recommendations.
The public or the public service will not reap the benefits from the elimination of terrorism, unless and until the constitution is changed. The need for reforms to the existing 1978 constitution has already been accepted since a Constitution of the Republic of Sri Lanka Bill has been prepared in 1995. What needs to be done now is for a Select Committee of parliament to review the draft bill in the light of the recommendations of the LLRC, and prepare a fresh draft for public comments. The more we drag and delay this important and vital remedial measure; we are exposing our country and the nation to international pressure. This is a very important and urgent task to which all citizens of Sri Lanka, irrespective of political views should focus their mind on. This is a critical matter for sustaining our unique nation.
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