Public administration to be streamlined - W.D.J. Seneviratne
Public Administration and Home Affairs Minister, W.D.J. Seneviratne
said that Western democracies talk about accountability and transparency
with regard to Sri Lanka but these are openly violated by the West in
Egypt, Libya and various other countries in the Middle East. The
Minister in an interview with the Sunday Observer said there are so many
instances in these countries where human rights are blatantly violated
and torturing and indiscriminate killings are resorted to. The Minister
queried as to why these open violations of human rights and killings of
civilians by powerful countries were not taken up at a world forum.
The Minister said that Sri Lanka had to face the menace of terrorism
over the past three decades. A large number of innocent civilians
including school children and infants became victims of terrorism.
However, when terrorism was eliminated, certain Western countries were
demanding accountability and transparency with regard to what Sri Lanka
did to defeat terrorism. Western democracies preach about human rights
violations but they observe it in the breach in countries where they
have a foothold.
Minister Seneviratne said that the country's development programs are
under the purview of nearly one million public servants. My Ministry
always maintains that it is the responsibility of the Ministry to see
that goods are delivered to the people on time through the development
drive. The performance of public servants will be judged by the benefits
that will be reaped by the people. The purpose of appointing public
servants is to ensure that problems are attended to and resolved
Q: It is alleged that red tape, bottlenecks,lethargy and arm
chair administration are rampant in public administration. Do you agree
with this notion?
A: There maybe instances where they can pinpoint a lethargic
attitude of certain public officials, but taken as a whole the public
service is nothing to grumble about. I must say that we are rectifying
shortcomings that exist in the public service. We are trying to train
public servants, upgrade their knowledge and make them more efficient.
We also want to see that public servants maintain a good relationship
with the public. To achieve these targets, there are certain measures
that have been adopted by my Ministry. Training of public servants is
done by SIDA in Colombo, but training is seldom carried out. We hope to
train them region wise and have a full-fledged training centre in
Badulla or Bandarawela, where they will be stationed and trained.
President Mahinda Rajapaksa has also instructed to construct a building
complex for this purpose in an area where public servants can be trained
in a salubrious climate. These measures area to be adopted to see that
public servants are brought in line with modern trends.
Q: Today public administration is also described as an engine
of growth, because Government policies are implemented by the public
service. What changes do you anticipate to galvanize public
administration into a productive area?
A: That is very essential because public servants who are in
charge of the implementation of the Government's development projects
must be responsible and committed. We will take stern action if we find
that public servants are not performing upto expectations. We have
dismissed several officers who have been found guilty of corrupt
practices and also those who are not aware of their responsibility in
implementing development projects.
Q: Complaints are mounting that public servants specially in
the periphery are indifferent towards the public, despite the
decentralisation of administration. What are your comments?
A: Public servants who work in rural areas should attend to
the needs of the poor people. People in the rural areas are not
educated, but they come to these officers with their problems, seeking
solutions. Sometimes these problems do not come within their purview but
those in the rural areas have no other alternative but to approach these
public servants to find a solution. It is the duty of public servants to
talk to them and give a hearing to their grievances and resolve them.
Our instructions to them are “see that the tears shed by these people
are wiped away”. The purpose of appointing public servants to is to
ensure that problems are resolved as expeditiously as possible.
Q: The output of public servants in the context of development
seems to be pathetically low. Don't you think it is timely to introduce
a “Work Measurement Formula” to boost output?
A: My ministry monitors the output of work done by public
officers. We have set up certain monitoring committees to visit the
Divisional Secretariat offices and inspect these offices and report back
to the Ministry. At the same time, there is another investigation unit
to deal with public complaints. The investigation unit will visit these
offices and conduct investigations thereby we are trying to stem
corruption and inefficiency in the public sector. We expect public
servants to be alert and attentive to public needs.
Q: The Emergency has been withdrawn. But the Opposition
alleges that the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) has filled the gap.
Though the PTA is a UNP creation, don't you think there is still a need
to invoke it to counter terrorist activities?
A: I think the UNP's biggest complaint was against the
enforcement of the Emergency that affects every aspect of the lives of
the people. But the PTA is different, it only deals with those involved
in terrorist activities. Although terrorism has been defeated, there may
still be remnants. Meanwhile, LTTE combatants who surrendered are being
detained. Since we eliminated a ruthless terrorist outfit, we must be
prepared to prevent another uprising and see that the people under
detention are kept until they are rehabilitated. Nearly 11,500 LTTE
combatants who had surrendered have been rehabilitated. There is a small
number still in custody, they can be produced before courts and it is
left to the courts to decide whether they should be released or further
detained. There is a view the mindset of a hardcore terrorist cannot be
easily reformed that. The PTA will have to be in operation for sometime.
Q: A separatist agenda was promoted presumably due to adequate
economic and social dividends not being passed on to the people in the
North and the East. Can you explain how this situation could be met by
the Government's brainchild-the development drive?
A: That would have been the case earlier. But now the Northern
and Eastern areas are involved in the development drive. As far as
infrastructure is concerned, they have been given top priority. Roads
are being made,electricity and other requirements like water have been
fairly distributed. Housing is being gradually sorted out and civil
administration has been restored. District and Divisional Secretariat
offices are being constructed and some of them have already been opened.
These areas are provided with necessary facilities for education and
Q: The main slogans made on Opposition platforms is wastage,
mismanagement, and corruption and that offenders are going scot-free. Is
there any truth in this and if so will the culprits be brought to book?
A: The Opposition is making these kind of allegations to
mislead the public. Corruption is the easiest slogan for the Opposition
to talk about. It is not in a position to sort out its own internal
issues and cannot even given priority to problems faced by the people.
The Opposition's cry to stem corruption has to be looked into, because
corruption should be eradicated. Therefore, everybody must fight against
corruption. Although the Opposition shouts, they have not been able to
substantiate any act of corruption on the part of the Government so far.
Q: Accountability and transparency are invoked by Western
democracies to attack the progressive path of this Government. Would you
like to comment on this?
A: Western democracies talk about accountability and
transparency with regard to our country only. But they are openly
violated by them in countries like Egypt, Libya and various other
countries in the Middle East. There are instances in those countries
where human rights are blatantly observed in the breach and torturing
and killing of people are taking place indiscriminately. But they are
silent about these incidents. As far as we are concerned, Sri Lanka
faced the menace of terrorism for 30 years. A large number of innocent
people including school children and infants were killed. When terrorism
has been wiped out, certain Western countries are demanding
accountability and transparency with regard to how we overcame this
menace. This is something these Western democracies preached against the
third world countries whereas they are the very people who violate these
principles in countries where they have a foothold.
Q: In the current human rights sessions in Geneva, Sri Lanka
is targeted “to be punished” when Sri Lanka's record is crystal clear.
What about the open violation of human rights and the killing of
civilians by powerful countries that are not being taken up at world
A: This is the question that we are also asking. But with
regard to countries who are members of the United Nations Human Rights
Commission, I think a large majority are in favour of Sri Lanka. They
understand the situation that we faced at that time when terrorism
existed in this country. The whole world rejoiced when terrorism was
defeated and the country was liberated. People were jubilant and they
celebrated the victory for several days. Now some Western countries are
calling for accountability and transparency with regard to some of the
activities that we did during the final phase of defeating terrorism.
This is very unfair, as some of the Western countries also helped the
LTTE at that time. That really made things difficult for us. But
nevertheless we were able to get the support of other countries and were
able to defeat terrorism. I got the opportunity to go to East Africa and
meet certain leaders there. They were of the view that as a third world
country, we have our sovereignty and that countries who try to interfere
with our independence should not be supported. So I am sure countries
like Russia, China, India and some other countries will stand up for us
on the issue of human rights.
Q: All eyes are on the outcome of the Colombo Municipal
Council (CMC) election. Is the UPFA strategy powerful enough to secure
victory when Colombo is supposed to be a UNP stronghold?
A: Putting forward Milinda Moragoda as the mayoral candidate
is a UPFA strategy. I don't think the UNP mayoral candidate can match
Milinda Moragoda. We have been able to get all the sections together to
work for the election and ensure victory. The UPFA mayoral candidate has
spoken to the people and told them that the UPFA will bring positive
changes in the CMC. It is high time the people opened their eyes now
because the UNP was in control of the CMC for many years and nothing
tangible came out of it. Now there is a visible change in the CMC and
the Colombo city after the CMC was dissolved and when it was brought
under a competent authority. At present, things in the city are
systematic and orderly and judging from this the people will come to
their own conclusions and decide whether a UPFA controlled CMC with the
help of the Central Government will develop Colombo.
Q: The Government is committed to redesign and develop Colombo
as a major commercial hub in the South Asian region. The UNP wants to
take the Government to task for demolishing poor people's houses and
disrupting their livelihoods. Your comments?
A: President Mahinda Rajapaksa and the Government have clearly
said that the people whose houses are demolished will be provided with
alternative housing. Even our mayoral candidate Milinda Moragoda has
said the shanties will be demolished because the people have to be
cleared from these shanties, but they will be given decent houses with
sanitary facilities and a continuous water supply. The UNP will attempt
to take undue advantage by making it a political issue. If the people
whose houses are demolished are given alternative houses, they will be
happy. However, the UNP will try to get undue political advantage from
it, but the people will not accept such baseless allegations levelled by
Q: Turning to your Ministry again, how would you respond to
the argument that public administration can be made an instrument to
increase productivity of the Government's development programs?
A: There are about one million public servants. The country's
development work is in their charge.
They are involved in planning or in taking decisions and implementing
them. Some are directly involved with the implementation. Likewise the
public service is responsible in the implementation of the development
work of the country.
Therefore public servants will have a major responsibility to fulfil.
I believe my Ministry takes the view that it is our responsibility to
see that goods are delivered to the people through development work.
The activities and performance of public servants will be judged from
the results that will be reaped by the people.