A welcome nudge to public servants | Daily News

A welcome nudge to public servants

Exonerated from all charges in what has now come to be known as Sil Redi case former Secretary to the President Lalith Weeratunga had some words of wisdom to all public servants. “Do not fear to take decisions without being slaves to memos and circulars to release funds for the benefit and welfare of the people.”

Speaking on the steps of the Superior Courts Complex after the Court of Appeal cleared him and former Telecommunications Regulatory Authority Chairman Anusha Pelpita of all charges, Weeratunga, one of the country’s top civil servants, said the Court decision was a victory, not just for him, but all public servants, for now they can act without being tied up by regulations and circulars when it comes to the release of funds, where deserving, that concerns the public.

Not just Weeratunga, the Yahapalanaya Government penalized many state officials, including Secretaries to ministries for alleged irregularities in the disbursement of funds for public purposes. All such moves, it has now transpired, were politically motivated and designed to rope in those at the top in the Mahinda Rajapaksa Government. Lalith Weeratunga’s was a classic case of such a political vendetta, which has now been attested to by the Court of Appeal.

Besides, Weeratunga’s advice has more than a ring of logic. Our public service is still bound by archaic rules and conventions that have no relevance to the present time. The red tape personified by the unwieldly ARs and FRs is designed to drive the ordinary public from pillar to post even to obtain a simple document such as a birth certificate and worse, to place obstacles towards attaining larger economic goals such as attracting foreign investments, should therefore be thrown out.

One of the first tasks of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa on assuming duties was to simplify methods whereby the public could obtain redress to their difficulties. In fact the President advised the public not to be hemmed in by Government circulars, but rely on his solemn word to have their matters attended to at Government departments without hassle. Isn’t this not a signal from the highest of the land that the public service regulations and conventions had long passed their shelf life stressing on the need for a move on in keeping with modern times signified by quick remedies and solutions?

Shades of this reticence on the part of public officials are still evident though as witnessed in the distribution of Tsunami relief and now the Coronavirus handouts with District Secretaries and lower ranked officials sticking to the obsolete and moribund rules leaving the deserving sections of the public high and dry. Examples abound where compensation due to people who were victims of natural disasters or other calamities are still waiting for regress. Those who had their homes damaged or destroyed in the Salawa explosion five years ago are still left in the lurch due to the long process of identifying victims and computing the quantums as dictated by the inevitable circulars and other red tape.

However, a word of caution is in order. True, ARs and FRs, oppressive as they may be for the smooth operation of the State machinery, were put in place for valid reasons by the British, chiefly for the prevention of abuse, corruption and to guard against misappropriation. Public officials of the calibre of Lalith Weeratunga are no doubt above board and persons with undoubted integrity and spotless rectitude. However there are officials in the public service who have not exactly stood up to probity and had been found wanting in matters of propriety. No less a personage than a Presidential Secretary, during Yahapalanaya was arraigned for bribery. Lalith Weeratunga’s advice therefore is certainly not intended as a carte blanche for public officials to go on a spending spree. What is called for is discretion in such matters, in a scenario where public funds are involved.

The plight of fisher-folk

With the mass detection of fish traders with the Coronavirus at the Peliyagoda Complex, the fishing industry, as a whole, is in the doldrums. Not only have fishermen been unable to put their fishing craft into sea due to curfews and lockdowns, but there are no takers for the catch, with the public at large entertaining fears of consuming fish following the wide publicity given to the episode.

True, doctors have allayed fears in this connection with a former State Minister even going to the extent of consuming raw fish in the glare of television, which drew world media attention. True, the politician concerned evoked much mirth by his antics, but the plight of fishermen is certainly no laughing matter.

Fishing and the sale of fish which is the main livelihood in the coastal belt is virtually at a standstill. With a vast majority of these fishermen being Roman Catholics- fishing having close links with their religion- the approaching Christmas, certainly is going to be a very low key affair for these folk unless the Government intervenes to salvage their lot.