Making a candid assessment of the public service, a former Ministry Secretary C A Maliyadde provided answers to often answered questions at the launch of the Governance Report 2010 released by Transparency International Sri Lanka (TISL) recently.
Although the public servant has wide discretionary powers, he either doesn’t use it or misuses it. Why? Mr Maliyadde gave several reasons. In his opinion, the public servants are more regulatory minded than service oriented. He is the self-appointed guardian of public property. He believed he should protect it. He doesn’t share – he doesn’t consult.
Another reason is the lack of autonomy and politicisation. “There are two sides to the story. We public servants also like to go behind politicians and curry favour with them for our own benefit – either to get a letter for a transfer or some other favour,” he confessed. “At the end we become obliged to the politicians. They abuse their positions.”
Being poorly paid was quoted as yet another reason. Lower salaries meant lack of enthusiasm and initiative to work. Here too Mr Maliyadde saw another angle. He had the experience of seeing graduates who had got jobs in the private sector coming over as trainees to the public service. They preferred the additional perks and recognition. The perks were both monetary and non-monetary. The public servants had status. They get invited to state functions and of course, they are eligible for pensions at the end of the service.
Mr Maliyadde found that some circulars make provision for malpractices. Quoting one instance, he said there were instances when contracts can be handed over to rural organizations without calling for tenders.
“We fail to take a holistic view. We do things in bit and pieces,” he said. He quoted the example of banning jay walking but turning a blind eye to u-turning. This sort opf attitude leads to inefficiency, waste, bribery and corruption.
Mr Maliyadde saw the public service as a much maligned service hardly earning a commendation. According to so many media reports and views expressed by individuals and organizations, the public service has failed to live up to the expectations of the public. It is being criticised by the private sector, by the NGOs, by political authorities and by the public.
From what it was, he sees a big change today in the public service. It is much more different from what it was at the inception. The role of the public service has changed from enforcement of rules and regulations, it has moved over to promotion, facilitation, development, coordination and participation. Today it is development oriented. It has become a development agent. From a passive reacting role, it has moved to a more proactive role.
The decision-making levels have changed. From a centralised base, decision-making has moved over to regional level – to the Provincial, District and Divisional levels. A vertical hierarchy has been turned to amore lateral operation.
The clientele has changed. It’s no longer confined to the public. There are so many stakeholders to deal with – the private sector, the NGOs, CBOs, donors, politicians and the general public.
A large number of parallel services have been introduced in the process – the SLPS. SLAS, SLOS, Scientific, Technical services and so on. They have inter and intra service differences and concerns.
All these changes have created challenges as well as opportunities, he stressed. The changes call for reforms, training, composition, and regulations. This is not either happening or happening slowly. Therefore a public service which can handle a complex situation is not available. As a result, either things are not done or not done at the right time. The reason is the inability to make decision or not making the right decision at the right time. When it doesn’t happen, it leads to inefficiency, delay, waste and finally corruption. Then it becomes a governance issue.