How does Public Service Work? Can the Presidential Aspirants Come Clean?
Posted on September 30th, 2019

Dr D.Chandraratna

Given the rush to recruit personnel to the public service we need reassurance from the powers that be that the country is not condemned to be a banana republic in South Asia for decades to come. Those of us who worked in the Sri Lankan administrative service are generally aware of the methods and procedures governing the recruitment, dismissal and retirement provisions of public servants. Monies are allocated to different departments taking account of the budgetary requirements of the respective ministries. These monies are voted under various heads, which guide the disbursement of funds. Strict regulations exist to prevent the illicit transfer of funds from different categories of expenditure. All this because of the indisputable sanctity of public money and the limits to the discretionary powers of those who are in charge of the executive functions of accounting.  The authorized personnel exclude any who are related to the legislative functions of the state. So runs the public service, the executive arm to guarantee the separation of powers needed for good governance.

How the public service functions in Sri Lanka which claims to have ushered in Good governance and pristine democracy is puzzling to the average citizen. What budgetary provisions were there in the Appropriation bills of the year, which allow recruitment of thousands of public servants and Samurdhi payments overnight? Where do the monies come from? If they come from Consolidated revenue were they approved by parliament under supplementary estimates? We are aware that Sri Lankan politicians being the most corrupt in South Asia are capable of bypassing any rule through vicarious procedures which, if at all, were intended to be for one off events. Such expenditures had to be ratified subsequently through normal channels to avert unpredicted crises. But the practice, which was a stop gap measure to avert a crisis, has become the norm and cabinet papers have become the easy way to manipulate the public purse.

That the public servants of today have become the acquiescent underlings of the Cabinet Ministers is well known and the rampant corruption in the public service is not the exception anymore. Our knowledge of unbridled corruption is through personal experience. In importing my used vehicle from Australia at every point I had requests to grease the palm of many a public official from the customs to the Motor vehicle department. Every ounce of my effort expended to avoid paying bribes was hard to edcape and my patience was tested to the n’th point. In getting my apartment the deed from the NHDA was another saga of gargantuan effort spruiced up with greasing the palm at every point. It is only in Sri Lanka a legal contract signed with the Government Housing authority is not worth the paper, even in a court of law. They had changed the Master Plan after signing our contracts without our knowledge.  What democracy are we talking about?

How various ministers have stacked their departments with their men is an offence of mammoth proportions. In doing so you are putting on a burden on the tax paying public for over many years. The recruits salary (not approved in the Treasury allowed cadre plus his pension, w & op thereafter plus the new demand on the Ranaviru persons (outside the reasonable dues) to pay for the children until they reach 18 years is the extremity of the nanny state. Who can sustain an unproductive work force of this magnitude in this modern age? Imagine a country with 225 MP’s (mostly uneducated, who will not understand the fiscal or monetary repercussions of silly actions), 8000 odd absolutely wasteful local legislators and another 15 to 20 lakhs of public servants who are mostly there for welfare reasons than productive activity, what kind of economy can we build for this country. Is the way out going be to send all our women as maids to every corner of the planet and live on the blood, sweat and tears of the hapless poor? When we see the politicos who flit in and out of the President’s Palace in Mahagama Sekera Mawatha, in expensive limousines one cannot but curse these good for nothing people pilfering the public purse.

Will the new Presidential aspirants promise to stop this mass robbery of the public purse starting from the Country’s August law making body? Which presidential aspirant will have this as an item in the manifesto if he/she is serious about a corrupt free administration. If you do not, even retrospectively, collect the taxes they avoided by claiming some irregular loophole then the prospective President will never be for a corruption free administration. Remember that the rot must be cleaned from the head. Who will be man enough to turn the corner in this ‘land like no other’?

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