Financial Times

Public officials worried over ‘politi cal’ orders
Following Supreme Court criticism of Dr P.B. Jayasundera
By Bandula Sirimanna

Sri Lanka’s senior public officials have expressed serious concern on future legal repercussions for carrying out ‘wrong’ orders of political leaders as it will affect their career and pension benefits. A senior Ministry Secretary, who wished to remain anonymous, told The Sunday Times FT that sometimes officials had to carry out directives of political leaders whether it is right or wrong. But the Supreme Court's ruling against Treasury Secretary Dr. P.B. Jayasundara, had led senior officials to seriously consider all aspects including legal implications before implementing directives from the top, he said.

He added that officials have expressed their reluctance to sit on tender boards which fail to follow proper procedures. Another senior Ministry Secretary said officials are now compelled to be cautious and will carry out their duties in accordance with administrative and financial regulations in a more transparent manner.

He disclosed that this matter will be brought to the notice of the President and the Sri Lanka Administrative Services Association soon since innocent public officials should not be blamed for the wrongs of political leaders and politicians. Answering a question on action against Ministry Secretaries who are guilty of corrupt practices, he said that unlike in the case of an average public servant, the Public Service Commission has no jurisdiction over ministry secretaries, and all powers governing them are vested with the President.

Director of the Ministry of Nation Building K. Opanayake said that the public officials are being penalised even if they refuse to carry out wrong administrative decisions of political leaders and top officials. He said that he has filed a Fundamental Rights petition in the Supreme Court after he was penalised for refusing to sit on a tender board meeting to award a contract without following proper procedures. He added that the Court ruling against Dr.Jayasundara will be an eye opener for public servants to think twice before implementing orders given by the top. He pointed out that Ministry Secretaries are the Chief Accounting Officers of Ministries and they should not carry out wrong orders of political leaders.

In the meantime, Dr Jayasundera’s offer to be ‘relieved’ of his duties is yet to be accepted by President Mahinda Rajapaksa. However in the event the offer is accepted some names including Central Bank Governor Ajit Nivard Cabraal have been mentioned as possible replacements for this position, a senior Presidential Secretariat official said. He told The Sunday Times FT the cabinet didn’t meet this week due to the SAARC summit and thus no changes in the Treasury Secretary’s position will be made until next week.

Dr Jayasundera came under fire from the Supreme Court last week in the court’s judgement on the privatisation of Lanka Marine Services Ltd. The court ordered that the Treasury Secretary pay a sum of Rs 500,000 as compensation which the latter did on Monday. The official said Dr Jayasundera, in his letter to the President, has also suggested that Deputy Secretary of the Treasury Sumith Abeysinghe be appointed as the acting Secretary to the Treasury.

While Mr Cabraal’s name has been suggested to the President as a possible candidate for the Treasury Secretary’s job, other names being mentioned for this position are Highways Ministry Secretary S. Amarasinghe, Additional Secretary to the President Gamini Senarath and Deputy Secretary to the Treasury Sumith Abeysinghe.

Even after submitting the ‘resignation’ letter to the President, Dr Jayasundera was in his office for the rest of the week except Friday which was declared a holiday for the Finance Ministry in view of SAARC traffic restrictions.

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