As a result of the institutional decay that followed the installation of the Executive Presidency in 1978, there have been adverse impacts on the governance structure of the country which in turn impacts on the lives of the people. With an all-powerful individual at the top of the governing hierarchy in the form of an [...]


All’s not well in the public service after the 20th Amendment


As a result of the institutional decay that followed the installation of the Executive Presidency in 1978, there have been adverse impacts on the governance structure of the country which in turn impacts on the lives of the people.

With an all-powerful individual at the top of the governing hierarchy in the form of an Executive President it was inevitable that the various institutions of governance would be weakened. With politicisation at all levels taking root, professionalism in governance has taken a back seat. Experienced public officials did not have the space to do the right thing and have had to give way to (some) politicians who hardly gave them an ear and refused to any salutary advise that these officials could give them.

The weakening of the public service including the Police has resulted in disastrous consequences over the years.

The most recent instance of such weakening was evidenced during the Easter Sunday attacks. Despite the availability of adequate intelligence with regard to the impending attacks it seems that not one Police officer was able to take preventive action without orders from the top.

If a serious crime takes place or is imminent in a particular area one would have thought that the officer in authority had the power to act spontaneously to deal with the situation. It seems that the practice of operational autonomy in the Police had over the years fallen into disuse as a result of which a number of valuable lives were lost.

The independence of the public service in particular deteriorated over time with the Executive Presidency holding sway. It was to arrest this tendency that the 17th Amendment was introduced and several independent commissions set up. This was reversed by the 18th Amendment but was subsequently restored by the 19th Amendment and the independent commissions began to function again giving both the Police and the public service the strength to execute their duties independently.

While the Police and public service were gradually finding their independent feet after several years, the disastrous 20th Amendment, which has snuffed out any hopes of governance institutions coming into their own and functioning independently, came into place.

That is why many conscientious officials have stood their ground and have often been compelled to tender their resignations. The spate of resignations by top officials during the tenure of this government has been endless and distressing, but also encouraging. Encouraging because it is a sign that officials want to do what is right and not simply follow a politician’s diktat.

The first two casualties of Governmental pressure came when two members of the Monetary Board, Nihal Fonseka and Dr. Dushni Weerakoon, who were appointed during the previous regime, tendered their resignation in May 2020.

Ex-banker Mr. Fonseka was appointed to the Monetary Board in July 2016, whilst Dr. Weerakoon, the Executive Director of the Institute of Policy Studies, was appointed in July 2019 through the selection process of the Constitutional Council under the 19th Amendment.

In November 2020, Police sources revealed that a number of CID officers who were investigating the Easter Sunday attack and identifying suspects had been removed from the CID. This included several officers who were transferred on November 11.

Media reports revealed that the Police department had transferred a number of officers who conducted investigations and supervised the search to locate around 100 kilos of explosives and 100 detonators that were allegedly hidden for large scale explosions in Sri Lanka. Internal sources state that SSP Shani Abeysekara, who supervised the search operation for the explosives in Wanathawilluwa, was removed from the CID in November 2019. Since then, a large number of SPs, ASPs and OICs who had been investigating the Easter attack have been transferred.

The health services and its efforts to curb the COVID-19 pandemic also have been constantly undermined by the exit of respected and competent medical professionals at regular intervals. A few of the names that come to mind are Prof. Neelika Malavige, Dr. Ananda Wijewickrema, Dr. Asoka Gunaratne and Prof. A. Pathmeswaran.

Many of them claim that decisions taken by medical professionals are often changed elsewhere, which render their efforts in contributing to the national effort to control COVID-19 in vain.

Several members of the National Medicines Regulatory Authority (NMRA) have also either resigned or have been removed. Some of them are Dr. Palitha Abeykoon, Dr. Nithushi Samaranayake, Dr. Kapila Ranasinghe, Dr. Harsha Karunaratne, Chamindika Herath and NMRA Chairman Asita de Silva.

Other officials who have tendered their resignations in the recent past are the Agricultural Ministry Secretary and the Chairman of the Paddy Marketing Board.

The latest to tender his resignation is Prof. W. D. Lakshman who advanced his date of retirement as the Governor of the Central Bank. At a special media conference he said he was compelled to advance his intended retirement by six weeks because he had been hurt by recent events that had taken place at the CBSL. He did not elaborate what these events were.

He said he was retiring from the post on September 14 although it was his intention to resign on his 80th birthday.

Answering questions from the media, Prof. Lakshman said “If you take a look at what happened over the past two weeks, you may understand the situation and inconveniences caused that led to my decision.”

He did not wish to comment on a question on whether the Government had forced his premature retirement. His refusal to comment was itself answering enough.

One is not aware how many other officials have resigned, been sidelined or removed from their positions. But it would not be wrong to state that there has never been an exodus of so many public officials in such a short time.

One of the allegations that the present Government made when in Opposition was that public servants were scared to act because they were being hauled up by the Law enforcement authorities for questioning. Of course they did not say this was to inquire into irregularities that had to be investigated. But today the 20th Amendment is causing great tremors in the public service as evidenced by the rash of resignations from different sections of public service.

It is no secret that a vast country as diverse as India is held together by a strong and vibrant public service that is able to withstand the political changes that come with a change of Government. Unfortunately in Sri Lanka we have a long way to go in strengthening the public service despite the presence of competent and excellent public servants. (

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