An efficient public service, our aim - minister Ranjith Madduma Bandara | Sunday Observer

An efficient public service, our aim - minister Ranjith Madduma Bandara

Public Administration Minister Ranjith Madduma Bandara said, the Government has no plans whatsoever to curtail public service. In an interview with the Sunday Observer, the Minister said, even at present recruitment is being made to the public sector. The Government will not make any attempt to curtail the public sector, but it is important to harness maximum benefits from the public sector, in the context of development. Sadly, there are some public servants who don’t have any duties at all, so that there is an actual need to streamline the sector. Therefore, instead of giving promotions based on seniority, the Ministry is now formulating a methodology to grant promotions to public servants based on efficiency and competency.

Q: What is the progress of public sector reforms?

A: We have to increase productivity and efficiency in the public sector. At present ,the Ministry, through the Sri Lanka Institute of Development Administration (SLIDA) provides special training programs, while the Productivity Secretariat has also implemented a series of programs to improve productivity and efficiency of public servants. We have now brought a large number of Government offices under this scheme. Instead of giving promotions based on seniority, we are now formulating a methodology to grant promotions based on efficiency and competency of the employees. Most developed countries including UK, India and Singapore have adopted such methods.

Q: What are the main components of the public sector reforms?

A: The public sector includes services of all island administration, planning, engineering, accountancy and architecture. In addition, there are combined services. Therefore, the Ministry has decided to make reforms in key segments. While developing these areas, we have to train the public servants, as well. To provide overseas training to public servants, we have signed agreements with Monash University, Civil Service Colleges in UK, Singapore and Malaysia.

Q: What is the aim of the reforms of the public sector?

A: When the Government’s policies and development work are drawn up and planned by the political authority, the public sector is fully responsible for its implementation. The Government’s capital and recurrent expenditure are mainly channeled through this sector. If the public sector is not efficient, it would be difficult to implement Government’s development policies.

Q: How can you make public servants and public sector more efficient?

A: We have to infuse new technology to increase efficiency in the public sector and its employees, e.g. we have to introduce a new methodology regarding promotions. Instead of giving promotions to public servants after completing five or ten years, we would formulate a system to give promotions based on competency, efficiency and productivity. We are also now in the process of changing primitive rules, regulations and service minutes.

Q: There are rumours that the Government intends to privatize a number of state enterprises. Is there any truth in this? Is privatization the answer to the inefficiency of the public sector?

A: There are two segments in the public sector. Semi government institutions such as, the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC), Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) and SriLankan Airlines, which are running at a loss. These institutions are maintained by taxes paid by the people. Therefore, we have to go for a public-private partnership to develop these institutions and make them profitable ventures. Most developed countries have opted for public-private partnerships to develop loss making state enterprises.

We should also adopt such a methodology to develop some of our semi government institutions. Otherwise, we would have to maintain them from the taxes paid by the people. We have to decide whether we increase the taxes, or opt for a public-private partnership to develop them, and reduce the tax burden on the people. Public-private partnership is the solution for loss making state enterprises.

There is a problem of efficiency in the public sector, as compared to the private sector. We have to find out the reason for it. There are over 1.4 million public sector employees. We should consider whether to increase the number of public servants, or the efficiency and productivity. There are about 400 employees in some Divisional Secretariat offices and some of them don’t have chairs and tables to do their work. Actually, we don’t need a public service dependent on the taxes paid by the people. We want an efficient public service which can contribute to develop the country.

Q: There are many loss making Government institutions such as, the CPC, CEB and Sri Lanka Railways. How do you plan to restructure these institutions to make them more efficient and profitable?

A: At present, the National Unity Government in power has been able to minimize fraud and corruption in the public sector and reduce the loss incurred by some state institutions. For example, nearly Rs. 20 billion loss incurred by the SriLankan Airline has been reduced to Rs.12 or 13 billion. Similarly, the Government has minimized the loss incurred by the CPC and the CEB.

When the UNP handed over the Government to the SLFP led People’s Alliance in 1994, the CPC, CEB and Sathosa had been profit making ventures and had maintained their own fixed deposits. However, all these turned into loss making institutions due to inefficient administration on the part of the previous regime. It is not politicians who pay for the huge losses, but the people, through the various taxes imposed on them. Therefore, steps have to be taken to bring them into profit making institutions.

Q: There are about 1.5 million public servants in the country, which is a remarkably high number when compared to the 20 million population. Are there any plans to trim the public service to reduce cost and make it more efficient?

A: The Government has no intention whatsoever to curtail the public service and even now recruitment is carried out. Last year, a large number of recruitments were made to the public sector. During the past few years, in addition to new Management Assistants, engineers and accountants, a number of recruitments were made to the administrative sector.

The Government will not make any attempts to curtail the public sector. At present, there are some public servants without any duties to perform, so that there is an actual need to streamline the public sector.

Q: There is a lot of talk that the Government intends to do away with the pension scheme, or change its present structure. Is there any truth in it?

A: Changes have to be made to the present pension scheme. Developed countries like Japan, and Western European countries have formulated a contributory pension scheme. Even in the past, various views were expressed on the pension scheme. We have decided to formulate a contributory pension scheme, and have already prepared a draft bill.

We have held several rounds of talks with trade unions, and would conduct further discussions in the near future. The proposed contributory pension scheme would not bring any advantage to the Government, because we have to pay them after 20 years. We should go for the contributory pension scheme in the interest of the country.

Q: There are allegations that the Government has cut down provisions for health and education, the most important sectors. What is the position with regard to allocation of funds for these two sectors?

A: The Opposition has levelled the allegation that allocations for health and education have been reduced, as compared to 2016. But, during its entire history, the highest number of allocations for health and education were made in 2016. On the contrary, the allocations for the two sectors have been drastically increased, compared to 2014.

Q: Will you be looking into adopting foreign practices such as, Japan’s ‘5S’ to make it more profitable or are you looking at entirely locally developed methods?

A: The Productivity Secretariat has already looked into this aspect. Japan was developed through the adaptation of new systems like, 5S and KYSON. Some Asian countries like Singapore and Malaysia were also developed with the help of such systems.

The Ministry, through the Productivity Secretariat has already commenced to develop both, the public and private sector through systems like 5S and KYSON. At present, they are implemented in the public , private, education and service sectors.

Various competitions are also organized to promote these concepts and nearly 800 officers are working countrywide to introduce these systems to public sector institutions. Some institutions have been developed into the level of getting the licence to work from home. Systems have also been developed to check pensions via the web and send the pension home on time. We have also introduced 5S to Government offices in village areas.

Q: The language barrier has become a major problem for public servants in the North and the South. What is the progress of the plans to accomplish a truly trilingual public service?

A: We have introduced an efficiency test for public servants. Accordingly, they should pass their second language. Learning at least two or three languages is the solution to the language barrier. It has been made compulsory for public servants to pass the second language, especially, for those in the executive level. A separate circular has been issued regarding this.

Q: How independent is the newly appointed Public Service Commission (PSC)? Is there any interference in its work?

A: There is no interference to the PSC. Under the 19 th Amendment, it has been established as a fully independent institution. The public sector is now closely working with the PSC, adhering to policy decisions taken by it. The Government has provided the opportunity to the PSC to function as a fully independent institution.