Letters to the Editor

25th January 1998

Mirror Magazine


Let public office be, public trust

Avadhi Lanka, many of whose members are retired public servants who have given of their best to the country, consider it its duty to respond to the observations made by the President regarding the public service in a recent question and answer programme on Rupavahini.

Quite obviously the President appeared exasperated. She made no attempt to conceal her feelings. Indeed, we consider that when she castigated present day public servants she was articulating the silent agonies of the mass of ordinary citizens of this country as well. Many of us have ourselves been at the receiving end of the appalling incompetence, lack of concern and dedication, and indeed of the incomprehensible absence of even elementary standards of courtesy and decency in many public officers of today.

Having said so Avadhi Lanka considers it necessary and desirable to go into the problem in some depth.

The maladies of the public service run deep. At independence, we inherited a public service which was noted for its integrity, political impartiality and ethos of service to the people. But after independence, particularly since 1971, governments became more and more politically partisan, less accountable, and sometimes downright sleazy.

It is up to the President to commence such reform.

Firstly, politics in the vulgar sense as part of the "spoils system" must be banished from governance. Ministers who still resort to corrupt practices must be sacked. The fact that government has a thin majority in Parliament should not be made an excuse for turning a blind eye to corruption.

The public service is today riddled with inefficiency and corruption both at the top and at the bottom. It is the President who can take action to cleanse it.

The President is absolutely right to insist on efficiency and honesty from her officials. She should hold them accountable but only through the established channels of authority which are an essential part of effective administration. Rules of sound administration have to be part of effective administration. Rules of sound administration have to be followed by the President who is at the top of the hierarchy. She should hold her Ministers accountable in the first instance and fine those who cannot deliver. A Minister in turn should hold the officials accountable through the Secretary to his Ministry.

In any large organisation it becomes humanly impossible for the functionary at the top of a hierarchical set-up to have all important policy matters to be referred to him/ her. lf the Head of Government attempted to do so, the entire machinery would cease to operate and collapse. We suspect that this is what is happening today.

In theory, Ministers are expected to set-down policy and Heads of Department to put them into effect. This made Walter Bagehot to say that where there is a failure of policy the Minister must resign and where there is a failure of implementation, the officials should take the rap.

We urge the President to lay down a code of ethics for both her Ministers and Public servants. Britain issued the Armstrong Memorandum called "The duties and responsibilities of Civil Servants in relation to Ministers.''

The code we have in mind should set down as explicitly as possible what is expected of public servants and their Ministerial masters. We urge the Government to seek the co-operation of the Opposition to pass such a law.

Avadhi Lanka


Help us lord

An extract from the book "The Spring of Love and Mercy," a collection of religious poems by A.C.S Hameed. In his introduction Mr. Hameed says he wrote these poems to demonstrate to the world the Spring of love and mercy Islam holds for humanity.


Last week I visited a friend of mine who is at present warded at the Cancer Hospital at Maharagama. Some of the things I saw there were really shocking.

If I were to write about the overcrowding and the general conditions at the hospital, I am sure this would be very stale. What I want to bring to the notice of the public is the total indifference shown by the staff towards the suffering patients. While some of the patients were struggling to make their way to the toilet or just to sit up, no attendants were to be seen anywhere close by.

And what do you think the most of them were doing? Any guesses? They were busy watching the Test match on TV! All this while the hospital stinks to high heavens and the patients are suffering in pain.

I think it is time we as taxpayers in this country start getting something in return for the large amounts we are paying as taxes. Can't the so called qualified doctors at this hospital instill some discipline or more importantly some human feelings into these attendants and nurses?

Come on, the top administration of the Cancer Hospital pull up your socks! Have some consideration for the patients, after all if they had the amount of money you had they will definitely not be there.

Lloyd de Zilwa


"I didn't say that"

I would like to bring to your notice that the writer Farah Mihler has quoted me in the article under caption. (Sunday Times, January 11, 1998, "Features" page 8)

To cut a long story short, I said: quote: "The Holy Quran tells you how to wear and not what to wear" unquote, and then I gave her two verses from the Holy Quran on the general principles, that was all. Moreover, I never ever made any other statment. All that she has written are figments of her imagination.

M.L.M. Nazim

Colombo 10

The writer states that " the Holy Quran tells you how to wear and not what to wear" appeared as "the Holy Quran tells you what to and not how to wear." The error is regretted. However the writer stands by the rest of the story.

More letters to the editor * Al Aqsa: the golden dome * Burghers have an identity too * The greatest treasure they left behind

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