Building public sector efficiency | Daily News

Building public sector efficiency

President Maithripala Sirisena has recently made the revelation that productivity and efficiency among public servants has dropped to an all time low of 30%. This means that 70% of the 1.4 million public sector workforce is comprised of idlers who sponge on the bulk of the financial resources of the state. Isn’t this a reflection on the financial mess most state sector institutions are in today? It will be interesting to ascertain if this 70% non performance is reflected in the colossal losses suffered by our public sector enterprises. Isn’t this an unforgivable crime perpetrated on the taxpayers who are asked to shoulder the financial burden of 70% of public servants who are idling in their work places? It was reported in the media sometime ago that a majority of the army of workers at the Colombo Municipal Council after clocking ‘in’ do ‘outside’ jobs and only report to the CMC to collect their wages. Hence, the President’s assessment could not be off the mark.

Delivering the keynote address at the 36th anniversary of the Sri Lanka Administrative Association (SLAS), at the Nelum Pokuna Performing Arts Theatre, President Sirisena said, during the seven decades since Independence, although the country has achieved a degree of physical development, no progress is seen with regard to quality. This is chiefly seen in the spheres of health, industry and agriculture. Whatever Government that comes into power in 2020 should direct its primary attention to this sorry state of affairs, since the country’s social, economic and administrative development was at stake, he said. Sustainable development would be impossible if the efficiency of the public servants could not be raised at least up to 50%, he asserted. Why only 50%? Are we still going to see only half baked solutions, then? No chief executive or production manager in a private sector organisation would settle for 50% output from his charges. Either you put in 100% or depart. That is why the state sector cannot match the efficiency and quality of the private sector. This is seen in all the sectors where the state and private sector are pitted against each other.

The President blamed all Governments for the drop in quality of development and progress and also the quality of politicians, whom too, he held responsible for the inefficiency in the public sector. Of course, the decline had its origins in the politicization of the public service in the early sixties where unprofessionalism became the hallmark, with important decisions made by the political authority. Meddling of politicians in the administration of the public service rang the death knell for these institutions, which, prior to that, functioned on purely professional lines. Adding to this is the appointment of unqualified and unsuitable persons, based on political loyalty, to man important positions in the Government departments and corporations. Is it any wonder that efficiency has plummeted to 30% in these bodies? Added to this is the mass recruitment of political party supporters to Government institutions, with nary a care for its overall effect or financial repercussions. The result? All Government departments were loaded with time servers with no work performed. Nor could any disciplinary action be taken against the shirkers due to the political clout they enjoyed. How could one hope for efficiency and productivity under such circumstances? Matters took a turn for the worse under the Yahapalanaya Government. Earlier it was only the winning party that stuffed Government departments with their supporters. Here we had a situation where both parties resorting to the practice, jointly, by virtue of governing in alliance, thus further plunging the public sector institutions into financial black holes.

If the President wants to build efficiency and productivity in state bodies, this runaway recruitment to the Government Departments and corporations should end. Perhaps, the Government had realized this folly, even belatedly, and took the decision to trim the fat by making all department heads liable to pay the salaries of any recruitment done beyond the requirement, out of their own pockets. It is not known, though, if this edict is being complied with. If not, it is time that drastic measures are taken to halt the decline.

True, the damage has been done and the dead wood cannot be got rid of willy-nilly in the bloated public sector. However, steps should be taken to ensure the malingerers pull their weight and deliver. In the alternative, retirement packages should be worked out to relieve the surplus cadre and replacements made from among those with ability. Merit, and nothing else, should be the criterion of all future recruitment and politicians clearly instructed to keep out of the process. This is the only way the state sector efficiency and productivity could be made to match the private sector.

It is time that all political parties take a collective decision to permit all state sector bodies function independently towards achieving financial viability. It is because these state sector institutions are driven to financial ruin due to political interference, resulting in maladministration, that Governments are driven to unpopular methods such as privatization. Hence the need to act prudently in this regard.


 

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