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President Chandrika Kumaratunga in a recent interview with Ram Manikkalingam of the Front-line magazine has cast some strong aspersions on the Public Service of this country.
She has stated that the Public Sector was not moving fast enough and that there is a malaise that occurred before the PA Government came in. She said the malaise had come down the line and pointed the finger at the UNP government which "traumatized the public servants by transferring individuals 10 to 15 times a year".
She charged that this malaise was due to terror on the one hand and corruption on the other.
The President said officers whom she knew personally to be very honest ended up being very dishonest because it was the order of the day. "And things moved depending on the amount of money handed out by various people. We inherited a sick public service." She admitted that the Government had done little to improve the public service.
Though the public service has seen little reforms in the past and subjected to political pressure, some officials have served it honestly and with dedication.
The Sunday Times interviewed two highly respected public servants "D. C. L. Amarasinghe and Bradman Weerakoon" who belonged to what is called the Civil Service.
Mr. Amarasinghe had held many an important post including the Chairman of the Shipping Corporation, Fisheries Corporation and Milk Board. Mr. Weerakoon had been the secretary to seven prime ministers of Sri Lanka and Presidential Advisor to former President Premadasa among many other prestigious appointments.
Mr. Amarasinghe said they were used to the British model prevalent not only here, but in India and Pakistan where the Public Service came under the Public Services Commission which regulated promotions, appointments, transfers and evoked disciplinary action when necessary.
"I am sorry to say the rot set in during Dudley Senanayake's time and J. R. Jayewardene was also responsible for its loss of prestige and powers. Earlier the public service was a qualitative body and controlled the entire public service from transfers to promotions. "When the powers of the Public Service were delegated, deterioration of the public service itself began. If today the public service is not functioning properly it is not the fault of the public service as the President seems to think. The fault lies not only with this government but successive governments for not being able to put forward plans for the development of the economy and the country.
"With the Public Service Commission losing its clout the temptation has arisen in successive governments to give jobs to the 'boys' thus interfering with and demoralising the public service.
"Take my case. I started a condensed milk factory, imported a herd of 1000 cattle for the Milk Board. This was thirty years ago and since then no cattle of any magnitude or otherwise have been imported. We found new projects and generated jobs for the people. But of course we gave jobs on merit and not on political loyalties.
"The President has made strong indictments on the public service. May I ask whose fault it is. I must say that as far as the public service goes there is no difference in intelligence then and now.
"The fault is that today the public servant is not told what his duties are and what policies the government is pursuing. The public servant has no guidelines in the way of documents and annual reports which are inevitably late.
"If some of those in the pool are allowed to work without interference, things would be different and the government would succeed. They are able men and not just 'yes men,"
Mr. Weerakoon said the President had not brought out any statistics to say that how many public servants were corrupt. he asked why was she referring to the UNP era only. "She can't get over what she says by blaming the UNP alone," Mr. Weerakoon said.
"Yes" said Mr. Amarasinghe. "There is the question of corruption which the President is referring to. I can say that earlier there was corruption only among headmen who were accused of taking bribes. Of course, there was an MP also, D. B. Monnekulame of the SLFP who was charged in court. But people were disillusioned when he won his seat again at the next election.
"Today corruption is on the rise because large sums of money allocated for projects receive little supervision."
Mr. Weerakoon said: "I think things changed after 1970. Felix Dias Bandaranaike wanted to broadbase the Public Service and in the process the Civil Service lost its cohesion and stability. He wanted to broadbase the administrative service so that it would do what the people's representatives wanted. Earlier the Civil Service with its independence assured by the powers of the Public Service Commission had a reputation of not being mere pawns and yes men of politicians.
"The 1972 Constitution changed the position of the public servant and the Public Services Commission. The Soulbury era public servants defied political pressure and did what they thought was correct. All that was changed. It was the Cabinet responsibility to give direction to public servants making them the creatures of politicians rather than independent men. The Government Agent was over shadowed by the District Political Authority who installed himself in the Kachcheri. Leading politicians were above the G. A.
"Then began the real politicization of the public service at the cost of its independence and impartiality.
"But I think it very unfair of the President to taint the public service with corruption and bribery. The public servants do their duties according to their convictions and regulations. I grant bribery can come in despite their fear of getting caught to the Bribery Commission. This is because the politicians ask and get favors from the public servants from building a well to whatever else they want. The public servant feels an immunity having the political patronage and so he may stoop to bribery because he feels secure that the politician would intervene on his behalf. It is here that bribery comes in with political patronage.
"I think the morale of the public service is low because of political patronage and the lack of direction. Just see the many able public servants languishing in the pool. If they are brought back to serve the country half the country's problems could be solved. It is better to do this than indict them unfairly".
Ms. B: Hello. Talking about the Presidential election, the JVP told me not to contest. They said they are going to boycott it. I asked why. They said they cannot expect a clean election. I told them that the people are depending on us They suggested to put Ranasinghe as a candidate. Somavansa Amarasinghe (of the JVP) too came for that meeting. The whole crowd was at Rukman's. I asked them why they did not arrest Rukman. I said that we put forward Rukman. They were not pleased about it. I suggested Nalin They suggested R. Coomaraswamy, daughter of that Coomaraswamy. I said she has been away from the Island for too long, and knows nothing about our country. I said that she is not suited. They said there is another lady included here. I said it is OK. I asked why they cannot suggest a person like a Principal
AJR: There is one Alles, a niece of D.S. principal
Ms. B: She is all right, but the real person should be someone like a psychologist, sociologist, economist or an educationist. One who knows youth pschycology.
AJR: I told him to read the Hansard well. The President asked me how the speech was.
Ms. B: They spoke with me. The people who wanted me killed spoke to me. They seem to be under an illusion. They are disappointed. The lack of jobs and land is the reason. I said that in 1972, we brought the Land Reform Commission to settle your land problems. The lands that were given to you were later taken over again by the UNP. These lands were given to their people. The Britishers stole lands from our people and gave them to Indian laborers. So our people not only lost the lands but jobs too. We nationalized the Sterling companies. Mr. Thondaman opposed us. He stopped it. So there was trouble This is not a new problem,
AJR: Yesterday our friend Anura said something nice about this. He blamed all the governments that came to power. SLFP, UNP they keep changing. The UNP is undoing all that the SLFP did and vice versa. This is the pattern since the days of NM.
Ms. B: We must call these fellows, Che- Gueveras, and not JVPers. They started it in 1967. The then Police chief John Attygalle had a report on them. He gave it to Dudley. Who did nothing about it. Had something been done then, the situation today would not have arisen. G.V.P Samarasinghe put it in his drawer and did not want to nip the problem in the bud as they say. Later Samarasinghe took it away, thinking it is not good to warn the government about this. The JVP's entire plan was there.
AJR: They should have tackled it then.
Ms. B: I am giving details of these things, because people should know about it.
AJR: The President says that this must be finished soon. We told him to hurry, and not waste time, on conferences or committees etc. These Bulegodas and SDBs (apparent reference to Ariya Bulegoda and SD Bandaranaike) should not be taken seriously. They are worthless fellows.
Ms. B: That's what. Why should these people be recognized at all?
AJR: They got a hint or two the other day. Madam was absent that time. That some Walauwa or some such thing, I named it Madagaswalawwa. (Both laugh loud]
Ms. B: I am asking the question, why did they register these parties?
AJR: I don't know madam.
Ms. B: That's the trouble. They were registered overnight. No wonder they found a place among other parties.
AJR: They wont get even 100 votes madam, I always tell that these people only talk big, they cant get even 200 votes.
Ms. B: Bulegoda got only 33 votes.
AJR: He is a laughing stock madam,
Ms. B: We must recognize the youth now. The youth in the YMBA, and others. These organizations must give their views now. We can't do that with Radhika Coomaraswamy and such like.
AJR: I agree madam. This is a purely youth problem.
Ms. B: You must seek youth views. You must give publicity via the media asking youth organizations, Christian youth organizations etc. to send in views.
AJR: Yes madam, that is a good idea. OK. I will stop now.
AJR: Hello, is that Madam?
Ms. B: Yes
AJR: I am Ranasinghe madam
What I want to say is that we had a meeting. I have some good news from the World Bank.
Ms. B: But to get help from the WB we have to heap burdens on the people.
Ms. B: People are already complaining the cost of living is too high.
AJR: But Madam, that is the way it is everywhere, in the world.
Ms. B: You heap problems on people, just to get aid. WB help means that everything will go up and up.
AJR: Madam, they are helping us to have a new road from Matara. They will help our communication network from Matara to Hambantota. So this is the time you must be with the government. Tomorrow there will be a MEP meeting. They will talk to the President. This is not about a caretaker government or any such . This is about a temporary move. This is to monitor the election.
Ms. B: Yes, it cannot be on a caretaker government. If there is to be one such, you will have to give what they ask.
AJR: We'll talk about it later.
AJR: Hello Madam. There is a talk going on about us. What is that do you know? I asked the President about it. He says, that he did not mean it, it was just a joke only. The President had not thought about it.
Ms. B: But our Mps have got angry over that talk. They wanted to stage a walk out in protest. They just could not do such a thing at that time. All our people said that it was not a good thing.
AJR: Madam, there are even UNP men like that. I once told you something about it. The President told me he has not done anything like it before.
Ms. B: But he has tried to justify that later. Why there was a letter in the paper about it.
AJR: I too saw that letter. I saw it in the 'Dinamina'
Ms. B: I had a letter in the evening. It was enclosed in a huge yellow envelope. It attempts to justify what he said. But it does not say it was a joke as you seem to think. To justify it is worse. I have to reply that now.
AJR: Madam, just listen to me. I know for sure that he did not mean it. I want to tell him to call for a conference. We Buddhists must join hands now.
Ms. B: So why cannot Premadasa think about it. We have extended our help earlier. We attended the APC. I was behind him, listening to everything.
AJR: Madam, it does not mean he wants to insult you.
Ms. B: Why not, he has hit everyone below the belt. He somehow became President.
AJR: It is true madam, What I want to say is that there are people to arouse you and the president also. If we Sinhala Buddhists get into different camps at this juncture, it is a dangers.
Ms. B: So he too must think on those lines like you.
AJR: No, Madam, the President did not mean it. I too was surprised. I asked him 'Sir what happened to you' Then he said 'Ranasinghe, I never thought of such a thing, I only said that there are wrong- doers on both sides'
Ms. B: No, but we were hurt, we really wanted to walk out. I came there on Peter's invitation. So it is not nice to say such things.
AJR: Madam, Don't you worry about that now. We are all Sinhala folk we should not fight.
Ms. B: I accept that. But he should have apologized no?
AJR: True madam, I too agree with you. While the Tamils up north are getting together, here we are fighting. Then our nation would suffer. We must stop this infighting madam. We will lose our identity as Sinhala Buddhists otherwise.
Ms. B: I agree with you. Again some of our people are said to be missing. About 25 of them. Some have been sent back. People are asking us, what is the meaning of these things. All casualties are SLFPers. I think ...(name deeted) is behind all these goings on. Our secretaries, Presidents all are missing.
AJR: I heard that most of the victims are from Attanagalla madam,
Ms. B: In the next village, there has been a kidnapping of a poor man. He is 52 He lives by selling a few things, goes to Gampaha for his sales. As he returned they have taken him away and shot him. Then poured petrol and burnt the body. They have set fire to their house also, the poor woman came with what she was wearing, and said that t is all she has now, as everything is burnt up.
AJR: What a crime. I don't know madam, I will stop now and talk to you later.Continue to the News/Comment page 4 - * Braemar as museum, * 'Braemar' Like Hamlet without the Prince, * Memories are made of these, * 'His economics will be a credit and his politics will be a debit'
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