A timely call | Daily News

A timely call

President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s advice to all Public Servants not to confine themselves to an eight hour work day nor a five-day working week, hopefully, would be taken by them in the right spirit and yield the desired results in this crucial year.

Addressing the staff at the Presidential Secretariat on January 2, President Wickremesinghe said no one can shrink away from their responsibilities in 2023, a crucial year for the Lankan economy. He invited Public Servants to dedicate themselves towards making Sri Lanka a prosperous Nation in the New Year.

“The most crucial year is 2023.We should move forward by implementing the debt restructuring programme, freeing the country from the debt burden. Moreover we have to build an economy that can compete with the rest of the world.”

He said each person's duties cannot be limited to eight hours a day and five days a week. “Let us all work with commitment. By the end of 2023, I hope to take this country forward with the support of all and restore normality,” the President told his staff.

Implied in the President's sentiments is the fact that Sri Lankans by nature have a poor work ethic. While there are dedicated Public Servants who put their heart and soul to the job, a majority are time-servers and clock-watchers who will do the least possible work they could to get away with. This category comprises mainly political appointees who are beyond the authority of the top management who too owe their appointments to ruling party politicians.

This is the chief reason why nearly 90 per cent of State-Owned Enterprises (SOEs) are in the Red and have become a burden to the public. With the mass retirement of Public Servants who have reached age 60 now proceeding in earnest, let no politician repeat the mistake of the past of appointing their stooges to Government posts. With the SOE divestiture programme getting off the ground soon, let there be a clean break with the past and confine all postings in the State sector strictly on cadre requirements. The economic ruin caused by overstaffing State bodies with political supporters should open the eyes of all at least now.

Apart from getting public servants to put in more hours to their work day, their work performance too needs evaluation. Today, in a typical Government office, one is accustomed to seeing a great deal of idling and indifferent attitudes to work. The immediate scene that confronted any visitor to a Government office in the past is staff huddled in corners engaging in idle chatter, empty desks, and a general state of disorganisation. The situation has somewhat improved but not by much.

On the contrary in the private sector, all promotions and salary increments are strictly based on performance and ability which is one reason why the private sector has forged ahead in terms of profit and financial stability, compared to the State sector and earned the honourific ‘the Engine of Growth’.

This is exactly the scenario the President had in mind for the Public Sector when he urged them to work with dedication, not confining themselves to an eight-hour work day and five-day working week. He wants the efficiency of the private sector to be emulated by the State Sector to bring about the desired results leading to economic growth. Let the Public Servants heed this call and change their attitudes now so that their dedicated service would help bring the country out of its present situation.

Meanwhile, the revelation by the Secretary to the Ministry of Public Administration N. B. Hapuhinna that the use of social media by employees during working hours has increased in some Government offices needs to be looked into and a clampdown enforced. He also made reference to the excessive use of mobile phones during office hours by staff and wanted restrictions imposed. Addressing staff of the Ministry at the beginning of work for the New Year, the Secretary made a reference to certain private sector organisations withholding all mobile phones of their staff upon entry to the workplaces and releasing them only on departure in the evening.

Of course, social media use during office hours is a common phenomenon with some employees even pretending to be engaged in their official work on their computers for the benefit of their superiors, only to change tack when the coast is clear. This is common both to the public sector as well to the private sector. It is an addiction that is very difficult to shake off.

So long as their daily work is in order at the end of the day there is nothing wrong with the practice. There are State Banks which have their TVs switched on during working hours but the work continues unhindered to the satisfaction of all. Office environments have changed drastically over the years since the advent of the communications revolution and one time stuffy offices and workplaces have undergone huge technology based facelifts and transformations making for pleasant work environments which could also increase output. Hence under the circumstances, the best possible option would be to live and let live.



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