Sunday Observer Online


Sunday, 16 January 2011





Marriage Proposals
Government Gazette

Towards a vibrant public sector

Public servants are in the news again. Their role in the country’s rebuilding process has come under the spotlight. President Mahinda Rajapaksa has said that the trust placed in the Security Forces in liberating the country has now been placed in public servants in building the country.

“Today we have taken the development challenge in which you are the leaders. The progress we achieve in this regard depends on your commitment. Like the Security Forces you also should commit yourselves to the country’s cause. It is your responsibility, take the same path,” the President has said.

This is a noteworthy and commendable statement from the country’s First Citizen as Government servants can be considered as the livewire of the country’s administration process. Sri Lanka has nearly one million public servants, including Security Forces/Police personnel, health workers and teachers. In other words, one person out of 20 in the population is a public servant.

There indeed are a lot of lessons other public servants can learn from the Forces and the Police. One is their sheer dedication. They work without any ‘rest’ as such for hours on end. Many of them visit their families only a few times a year. They can never strike, unlike other public servants. They do not demand higher pay or better working conditions. Rain or shine, these guardians of the Nation are at their posts. In peacetime, they are playing even more diverse roles from flood relief work to consumer protection.

It is this kind of dedication that should permeate to the rest of the working population, not just public servants. If all workers in the public and private sectors have the same kind of dedication and commitment, it will not be a difficult task to develop this country further.

Just as the Forces and Police personnel are working towards reconciliation, other public servants should also be involved in this healing process. The first step is learning Sinhala or Tamil, as the case may be. If all public servants are bilingual, the Government’s task of fostering reconciliation will be much easier. Needless to say, they should also have a good knowledge of English as well. The ability to work in all three languages will go a long way towards achieving the goal of national rebuilding.

Public servants should also change their attitudes concerning a variety of matters. They should love their respective organisations and strive to minimize waste and corruption. Reducing waste is not a difficult feat - it can be as simple as turning off an air conditioner, fan or a light bulb that is not needed. Telephone usage, especially for personal calls, can also be minimized.

After all, the Government pays these bills with public funds, including those contributed by public servants themselves. Keeping the workplaces clean is another essential task. Most Government departments have now joined the ‘Pilisaru’ programme of the Environment Ministry, which is a step in the right direction. That will make Government offices more pleasant for the public who come to them.

That brings us to the very meaning of the term ‘public servant’. It simply means ‘one who serves the public’. This is the primary task of a public servant. Public servants should not think of the people who come to Government offices as a hindrance. On the other hand, they are the very reason why various Government offices exist. Thus a courteous service to the public is a ‘must’. A smile and a warm welcome will always be appreciated, even if his or her requirements cannot be met immediately.

It is time to think of members of the public who come to Government offices as ‘customers’, in line with the private sector, where the customer is considered ‘king’. Serving these customers should be a priority and they should not be sent from pillar to post to get their work done.

Public servants, at least those with considerable authority, should be able to take snap decisions without necessarily being bound by rules and regulations, especially in an emergency. This was proved during the current flood situation, where some Government departments had not taken immediate action for relief measures as they were waiting for the outcome of lengthy approvals processes. A mechanism should be evolved to address such situations which demand immediate action.

Honesty should be a hallmark of all Government employees. While the authorities can and do take measures to stamp out corruption and catch any culprits, all public servants must commit themselves to work honestly. A civil society organisation recently presented a posthumous award to an honest Customs Officer who was killed in the line of duty.

The Government should also have a similar programme to recognize and reward honest Government employees, in addition to any reward programs already in operation in organisations such as Sri Lanka Customs and the Police. This will be an example and encouragement to the others to lift their standards. Individual institutions can also initiate ‘employee of the month’ programs, as in the private sector, to spur their workforce to reach greater horizons.

The heads of Government institutions should have a regular dialogue with their subordinates and get their ideas for uplifting their organisations. Such brainstorming sessions may yield proposals and innovations that may make a difference to the efficiency, viability and profitability of Government organisations.

The present Government has already proved that privatisation, once a mantra for economic emancipation, is not the panacea for all ills. Better management and a highly motivated workforce can be described as the key to improving the productivity of Government organisations.

The public sector can draw many vital lessons from the private sector in this regard. The Government’s laudable decision to appoint several key private sector personnel to head or advise certain Government institutions seems to have paid off handsomely as these organisations are already showing signs of an upturn. The public sector should be as vibrant as the private sector - we need an active partnership between these two sectors to develop the country and usher in prosperity.



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