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Efficient private sector CEOs and MDs could make state institutions productive -Minister Navin Dissanayake

Public Management Reforms Minister Navin Dissanayake said President Mahinda Rajapaksa is the ideal leader who can successfully address the Sinhala people when a political solution is evolved for the people in the North and the East. The Minister told the Sunday Observer that nobody commanded the respect that President Mahinda Rajapaksa commanded from the Sinhalese and can educate them about a political solution for the North and East.

The issue is implementing the 13th Amendment or going beyond that. A Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) will represents the views of all political parties. The UNP must make an effective contribution to the PSC. Having introduced the 13th Amendment, the UNP has a moral right to back it to devolve power.

The SLFP has also shifted its position in this regard. The need of the hour is to sit with the TNA and other minority parties like SLMC and come to a reasonable settlement.

The Minister said President Mahinda Rajapaksa is the key Leader who can successfully fulfil this task. The Minister was optimistic that the UNP will be sincere and genuine in extending its support to the Government to evolve a political solution to the problem.

Minister Dissanayake said the Government should examine the LLRC report and see the pros and cons. The Government has to implement the good recommendations in the report. However, it cannot be done in 24 hours. But the Presidentís thinking is very clear. He wanted the LLRC to come up with meaningful proposals for the problems faced by the people in the North and the East and the incidents that occurred at the final stages of the military operations against terrorists. Finally the LLRC has come up with a solid document. Certain elements are criticising it.

But we canít have personal agendas, we must have a national agenda. The LLRC has stressed the importance of a political solution. So we have to go on that track.

Excerpts of the interview:

Q: You hail from a political family and your father had been a prospective leader of the UNP. What made you to switch over to the UPFA?

A: It was a decision that I took during the last Parliament. We felt that we should contribute to end the war against terrorists.

That was my motive. President Mahinda Rajapaksa took the decision to finish the war against terrorists in a military manner. As patriots we felt that we should help the President and strengthen his hands at that stage. Since then I have been with the President. Everyone then rallied round the President. This could be seen from election results.

Q: Werenít you happy as a UNP Parliamentarian under Ranil Wickremesingheís leadership?

A: I think he personally gave me the organisership and he brought me to Parliament. But I regret to say that once he became Prime Minister, he forgot all the people who stood with him throughout those years and he brought newcomers to the scene. He forgot the people who stood with him and safeguarded the party from 1994 up to 2001.

Instead, he offered positions to the newcomers. In a situation like that itís difficult to have a long-term plan. Politically also I felt that the decisions he made were wrong. You can see what is happening in the UNP today. I donít like to comment on it. But I am in a satisfactory position today because I am a Cabinet Minister. I want to fulfil my duties on behalf of my people.

Q: Your father-in-law Karu Jayasuriya resigned from his important portfolio of Public Administration saying that the government was not heading in the proper direction. What is your stand on this?

A: What he said when he resigned from his portfolio was that the war against terrorists was coming to an end, because of that he wants to leave the Government. His position was that he only joined the Government to extend his support to the President to end the war. So when the war was nearing the end, he left the Government.

That was his position and I respect him for that. I think being in the same family members can represent different political views. That is not an issue at all as long as it does not become personal. So I respect him. He is going on a different track with the UNP. I am in the UPFA Government with the President. There is no problem.

Q: The UNP membership is constantly agitating for a leadership change and your Father-in-law Karu Jayasuriya was promoted by the dissident group for leadership. But at the Working Committee, Ranil Wickremesinghe had a resounding victory over Karu Jayasuriya. In other words, Wickremesingheís leadership is accepted by the majority of the party. What is the reason for it and what is your personal view on it?

A: When itís for a leadership change, it has to be done through a ballot. My father Gamini Dissanayake was able to do that in 1994 when a secret vote was called among Parliamentarians for the post of Opposition Leader.

He won that secret vote. I donít like to comment much on the internal issues of the UNP because I am not in the UNP. But I feel itís morally wrong for a Party Leader to continuously loose elections. I am not just saying about Wickremesinghe.

If I lose two presidential elections, I would step down without hanging on to the leadership. That is why there is agitation in the UNP. Because the grass roots members of the UNP donít see any future.

Q: The UNP is anxious to have a Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) on the problems faced by the people in the North and the East. Do you think that they are genuinely interested in solving this problem under President Mahinda Rajapaksaís leadership?

A: My position is that for a political solution, President Mahinda Rajapaksa is the ideal Leader who can give the message to the Sinhala people. Nobody commands the kind of respect the President commands with the Sinhala people. The president is the only Leader who can actually tell it to the Sinhala people and they trust him. They know the President wonít do anything against the country and he will never betray the country. Now itís in the process of either implementing the 13th Amendment or going beyond that.

I think through a PSC where all political views are represented, we can have a final document. Being one of the largest political parties, the UNP must come into it. The UNP having introduced the 13th Amendment, they have a moral right to back it to devolve power.

I think the SLFP has also shifted its position in this regard and they are also for devolution. Now we have to sit with the TNA and other minority parties like the SLMC and come to a reasonable settlement. I think President Mahinda Rajapaksa is the key Leader who can successfully fulfil this task.

So I hope the UNP will be sincere and genuine to extend its support to the Government to evolve a political solution.

Q: The UNP wants the Government to implement the LLRC recommendations immediately. What is the reason for the delay on the Governmentís part?

A: I think even a month has not elapsed since the LLRC report was released. It was tabled in Parliament just before the end of the Budget debate. The Government should examine the document and see the pros and cons. The Government should get the good recommendations of the LLRC and implement them. We canít do that in 24 hours.

The Presidentís thinking is very clear. He wanted the LLRC to come up with meaningful proposals to the problems faced by the people in the North and the East and the incidents that took place in the final stage of the military operations against terrorists. The LLRC has come up with a solid document.

But some people are criticising it. We canít have personal agendas. The LLRC has stressed the importance of a political solution as well. So I think we have to go on that track. The main thing is to get it on track. If we are on track, we can somehow finish it. Again I must emphasize, the direction and the leadership must come from the President.

Q: Since its inception, this is the first time that the Nuwara Eliya Municipal Council was won by the UPFA. Are you personally responsible for the victory of the Nuwara Eliya Municipal Council?

A: I canít say I am personally responsible for the victory. I say its a team effort. This time also the UPFA had a very good team consisting of Mahinda Kumara who joined the UPFA from the UNP and was elected as the mayor. He is a well respected person.

The people like him a lot, he is a clean politician. Many UNPers voted for him due to the successful campaign carried out by him. I think that was the main contribution. The other fact was the people felt that, the Municipal Council should be from the party already in power. Otherwise they canít get resources from the Central Government. After 30 years, the UPFA was able to win the Nuwara Eliya Municipal Council. So I want to consolidate and build on that. I am sure even at the next election we can win it without a problem

Q: The closure of universities due to various student protests and unruly behaviour has become a common phenomenon. Do you think there is a political move behind these incidents?

A: I can emphatically say there is a very clear political hand behind this. The JVP-backed Inter University Studentís Federation is behind these incidents. Because universities are the last battle ground for the JVP. They donít want to let go.

They want to harass the youth and politicise them. They want to spread a propaganda and use them as their pawns. This is what is happening right now. The majority of university students are not in favour.

Of 20,000 university students, they get about 10 percent which is about 2000 students. But, they act as if that the entire student body is behind them. This is not the case. The Government is well aware of it. The President is meeting this challenge. We want a university system which caters to youth in this country.

Of the total number of students who sit for the G.C.E. Advanced Level Examination, only 10 percent qualify to enter universities. That is the cream of society.

The cream of our intellectual base is there in the universities. We are not going to forget that. We have a responsibility on behalf of students to educate their parents as well. We are not going to allow these psychotic people to destroy the university system.

Now the President has given this task to Higher Education Minister S.B. Dissanayake to stop ragging. About the Jayewardenepura university issue, I can responsibly say they blasted the statue themselves and created an issue by attempting to mobilise the students. But it did not work.

As a Government, we have a responsibility to the students. University students, teachers and parents have to be patient. These universities have been built up with lot of funds and effort.

Q: There is a belief that state enterprises are inefficient. What are the steps being taken to rectify this situation?

A: My Ministry is really interested in reform. If a statutory body is gazetted under another Ministry, my Ministry has no hand. But we can make recommendations.

If you take the real issue of state losses at the Ceylon Electricity Board, Ceylon Petroleum Corporation and other Boards, we must streamline these institutions and do some cost cutting and increase revenue by running them as professional bodies.

To do that, political commitment and political will is necessary. These institutions have unions. So we cannot make decisions overnight. We have to consult the unions and make them understand that they are not going to get hit or we are not taking any action against them.

I think its a very difficult process as we have to bring so many parties together. But the political decision to turn these institutions around is of paramount importance.

Q: The last COPE report spotlighted that a large number of state enterprises were loss making. Are there any plans for reforming these ventures?

A: My own thinking is that we must give some kind of market plan- a vision statement and mission statement to all the Boards that are running at a loss. Those Boards should have very good General Managers or Chief Executives from the private sector.

We must pay them the salary that the private sector is paying them and tell them to turn those Boards around. There is no other way. Because the Government cannot keep pumping money like this to these Boards and these institutions.

As I said earlier, any institution can be salvaged. If it cannot be salvaged, it must be closed down. We canít allow organisations to function as loss making institutions. We must make very hard decisions now because this is public money. We must make decisions that these institutions are at least covering costs.

Q: One part of public management reforms would be changing the attitudes and mindset of public servants. Are steps being taken towards this?

A: Definitely. My Ministry is doing a very broadbase campaign to train public servants. We have got funds for that.

We are starting with Divisional Secretaries and then going to the Ministries. We are doing a functional review of 21 Ministries now. Once we have the report of the consultants on these Ministries, then we will make changes. We are also having Ministerial Reform Cells (MRCs) in all the Ministries. From these MRCs, we want get ideas how to change those Ministries. Because it cannot be from the top.

It must come from within the organisation. Unfortunately, unlike private sector organisations, there is no measurement in the public sector. How do we define public performance? If you are given a task, you must do it.

There are functions that you must do properly. You must carry out Government policy properly and must be people-friendly. You must also infuse modern technology like emails and internet to increase performance and productivity. There are modern management techniques such as the 5S system, productive cycles and team building. These are all new concepts that we want to give to the public service.

Q: There are allegations many Government institutions are politicized and unqualified people are heading such institutions. Even the COPE report referred to this. How do you address this issue?

A: I fully agree with that. I think we have to stop politicization of public institutions. It has been happening over a period of time. The people appointed must at least have a university degree at Board level.

Legislations must be enacted. We must make sure at least the top management level is qualified. Once the top management is in place then they can make crucial decisions. Of course politics must play a role because we are politicians.

We are engaging with the people all the time and politics is all about people. I donít blame a politician or a Cabinet Minister for giving employment to people of his electorate in institutions that come under his purview.

That happens and you canít stop that as well. But that must be at a certain level. You canít put a person who has got G.C.E. Ordinary Level qualifications to be a director of the Board. So you must know your limits.

At the end of the day we must have a professional public service. To do that, we must have professionals to run these organisations.

Q: How do you plan to eliminate bribery and corruption in the public sector?

A: This is a very important question. This is happening all the time. I think we must impose penalties and that is the only way to address this issue. We must have a reporting system which is called a ďwhistleblower systemĒ.

If somebody gives a bribe to a public servant, we have a method where we can report it via internet or some other way. Now we are working on those models. But there must be a penalty imposed. The bribe taker and the bribe giver must be penalised. If a public servant is involved must face the consequences. But the net is not big enough to catch everybody. That is the issue.

Q: What kind of contribution do you expect from the public enterprises to the Mahinda Chinthana development drive?

A: Its a huge effort. If the public service is not committed, the Mahinda Chinthana cannot be delivered. Otherwise these policies will always be limited to paper. I am happy that a vast majority of public servants have realised and are now conscious.

The Governmentís development effort is being successfully carried out.

Q: What is your view on the process of reconciliation as highlighted in the LLRC report? Are you aiming for a truly trilingual public service as part of this process?

A: Definitely. I think National Languages Minister Vasudeva Nanayakkara is passionate about this. Even when Cabinet papers are not trilingual, he gets very angry. I think this conflict has caused a lot of damage and mistrust between two communities. There must not be racism of any kind. All races must get together.

We can have different view points and issues. We can support anybody we want from any political party in the elections.

After the electoral process is over, we as a country must move forward. A Sinhala, Tamil or Muslim person is equal before the law. We must make sure that this conflict does not erupt again.

There has to be a political solution for the problems faced by the Tamil speaking people. There is no question about that. How to get about that is the issue. Again its a political process and we have to be very patient with that process.

Q: Are there plans for greater autonomy to Government institutions? How do you bring the Provincial Councils in line with proposed reforms because some Government institutions are under the Provincial Councils in their areas?

A: Under the 13th Amendment, the Government has a list and the Provincial Councils have a devolved list. There is an interim list as well that power belongs to both.

The Provincial Councils are asking for the interim list to be given to them.

I think there is a process that we can talk. My personal view is that more power should be given to the Provincial Councils. Certain issues like Police and land powers are becoming questionable. Because when my father Gamini Dissanayake and then President J.R. Jayewardene got the 13th Amendment signed, the situation was very different particularly in the East.

The East has completely turned around. Now Muslims, Tamils and even the Sinhala community donít want to be a part of the North. Perhaps we can look at other models for the Northern Provincial Council. I think its important that at least the 13th Amendment is fully implemented.

There are methods to overcome any issue.

 

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