Public servants must pull up their socks | Daily News

Public servants must pull up their socks

Public Service needs to be streamlined.
Public Service needs to be streamlined.

Few years ago, Government workers in Sri Lanka became the laughing stock among other public services in the world when one of our trade unions resorted to strike action against installation of fingerprint machines to mark attendance. Sri Lanka is among the top in the list of countries with too many holidays. In spite of enjoying all the holidays, half-day leave, short leave and other privileges for abstaining from work, Sri Lankan trade unions brazenly resisted all attempts by authorities at least to get the Government servants to attend office at the stipulated time and to prevent their departure from office ahead of the closure of office.

Many studies, surveys and evaluations have found the vast majority of Government servants to be inefficient, lethargic under-performers. The analyses have concluded the output of public servants is as low as 25% of their required services. In rough arithmetic, the total output of 1.6 million public servants tantamount merely to the total output of 400,000 workers.

Hence, there is no reason to be shocked about the plain truths uttered by President Ranil Wickremesinghe, Prime Minister Dinesh Gunawardena and some courageous ministry secretaries about the expectations of the duties and services of the Government servants.

Without mincing words President Wickremesinghe said public service in Sri Lanka is not an eight-hour job and urged public servants to work overtime to make the cash-strapped island a prosperous nation this year. “Each person’s duties cannot be limited to eight hours a day and five days a week. Let's all work with commitment. By the end of 2023, I hope to take this country forward with the support of all of you and restore normalcy,” he said.

The people are well aware that the country was hit by an unprecedented financial crisis last year due to a severe paucity of foreign exchange reserves that also sparked political turmoil. The President said no public servant can shirk responsibility as 2023 was a crucial year for the country's economy.

Further elaborating the current needs, Prime Minister Dinesh Gunawardena urged the public servants to work together as inheritors of a nation with a bright future. Speaking at the commencement of duties in the new year at the Prime Minister’s Office in Colombo, he said: “This is the moment to announce the pledge and resolve to work with commitment for the betterment of the nation.”

He said the Government led by President Wickremesinghe is committed to achieve the targets in the next 25 years on behalf of all the Sri Lankans with determination and commitment to ensure reaching the goal by the time the country marks 100 years of independence.“While making this pledge today, the only wish of the President’s Office including all other ministries, departments and public service institutions spread across the country that represent thousands of Government employees as well as private sector employees who join us, is to build a proud future for the country and the people.

“In fact, a larger responsibility is assigned to the public service. We are dedicated to the process of bringing efficiency, orderliness and effectiveness of public service to the people and to the entire country,” the Prime Minister highlighted. He further commented that as a country that has experienced setbacks and resurgence throughout its history amid various challenges, it could transform into a proud nation once again. “We are currently going through one of the most challenging times in history. As the Prime Minister, I appeal to you to extend your hand and fulfil all the duties of the public service to become a developed, modern and self-sufficient country and to build a new generation that will embrace new developments in various fields,” the Premier said.

Public complaints against Government officers directly dealing with the people include that they come late to office then spend a considerable time for breakfast exchanging gossip and without any concern about the waiting public.

They also say, some officers do not attend to work in a serious manner and spend time on mobile telephones either calling friends or watching internet sites. One of the new secretaries, Public Administration Ministry Secretary Neel Bandara Hapuhinna, took the bull by the horns saying he would act tough on the use of mobile phones by State officers during office hours. He added that he had seen in some places public offices navigating through Facebook, WhatsApp as the first thing in the day while looking at the people who had come to obtain services.

He said he was wondering whether to issue a circular on the use of mobile phones during office hours. Secretary Hapuhinna pointed out that some private sector offices had to place their mobile phones in a locker on entrance and take them back as they leave after work.

Considering the need to reduce the number of Government servants, the Government took several actions towards that end. One was to offer public servants no-pay leave for two years for them to work abroad without breaking their service seniority. Already more than 125,000 requests have been received from public servants who are eager to avail this opportunity.

Another step was the compulsory retirement for those who attain the age of 60. More than 60,000 have already retired. However, some trade unions have come up with strike action threats against this regulation. The same trade unions that always demand the elders must not be given service extensions depriving jobs for the youths, now say the elderly employees must be retained. Public sector employees started the work for the New Year on January 2, amidst cancellation of at least 15 office trains. The reason for train cancellations was the go-slow action by railway workers who wanted the Government to extend the services of retiring railway workers. The trade unions should have asked those who were retiring to train replacement staff before they retire instead of making such absurd demands now.

It is high time the public servants take the warnings given by the President, Prime Minister and the Ministry Secretary now and realize the fact that they are public servants and their duty is to serve the public.


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