Dawn of a new era: Professionals to head SOEs | Sunday Observer

Dawn of a new era: Professionals to head SOEs

8 December, 2019

At long last, as one of the most important, socially and economically beneficial decisions was made by the newly elected President, His Excellency Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, recently to appoint a high profile Selection Committee to pick Chairpersons and Board members for state owned commercial entities, statutory bodies and regulatory and promotional agencies. As a citizen of Sri Lanka engaged in the private sector commercial establishments over 40 years serving and working alongside many Government & Semi Government institutions, this writer believes that this move is by far one of the best since independence. This act paves way to negate the long term malpractice of many politicians of recommending their buddies manage many loss making institutions merely to please them for supporting election campaigns and at times to make money for themselves.

It is no secret that the vast majority of Government owned commercial entities are white elephants costing tax paying citizens billions of rupees. It is also common knowledge that most of these institutions are not managed by suitable persons with proper relevant qualifications or experience but who are appointed with political influence. Usual practice of these persons is to recruit cronies of their own political party working in the said establishment as advisors to run the place due to lack of their own knowledge. Hence, the total failure of most of these Government owned commercial establishments. There were rare instances where private sector expertise were hired and made certain institutions profit making though usually those too are short lived as unfortunately they were not allowed to perform for long periods.

It is common knowledge that the Government is forced to fund these loss making institutions despite accumulating losses, year after year, with escalating debt pile. Funds pumped to these could have been utilized to infrastructure development and public welfare. The losses can easily be attributed to poor management primarily. When an unsuitable person without knowledge and without a clear goal is placed at the helm, the inefficiency undoubtedly creeps into to lower level employees. In addition, the known story is that most of these political appointees are constantly under the influence of their political masters and resort to various corrupt practices. Corrupt practices sneak top down to employees who in turn, most of the time, turn to malpractice. Up to now, the only way of public knowledge of these malpractices are through occasional report from the Auditor General Department although mostly these audit reports are swept under the carpet by politicians

The appointed elite panel contains the best and respected individuals from private and public sectors. Each of them is well qualified, mature and suitable for the job and carries high standard of credibility. Their ability, particularly in running best and most successful businesses, is a well established fact. In order to provide the balance and the required knowledge about how the Government machinery works, the President has appointed well experienced and respected Civil Servants to the committee.

There is no doubt in public opinion that the members of the appointed selection panel are familiar with the knowledge, skills and abilities required to perform the functions of the positions to be filled. If special knowledge, technical or otherwise is required, they will invite experts from the relevant fields to join the selection process. The panel will review the position description with information such as preferred qualifications, required qualifications, functions and working conditions prior to the preliminary selection. By using their highest level of combined knowledge on the private and public sector and combined experience, they will develop a selection matrix in order to make the ultimate decision.

It is a known fact that there is an extremely vast gap between the public and the private sector in productivity and attitude when taken as individuals or entities. It is also known that the significance of the private sector contribution to the economy is enormous. Therefore, it is strategically vital that these SOE’s to remain in the State and inculcate private sector practices and employee attitudes to the establishments from top to bottom. If the intention is to transform loss making State institutions to a commercially successful business, the best suggested remedy is to place a person with a track record of commercial success.

However, the selection panel no doubt will come up against a few technical concerns, predominantly on age barriers and conflict of interest issues. Many of the applicants who are applying for the key positions expected to be highly successful entrepreneurs who are in their mature ages. Furthermore, many of them will be interested in the SOE’s in the sector in their own business expertise. The Government will have to formulate a proper system to overcome the usual blame game by interested parties with political agenda, who will be looking forward to disturb the process, especially if and when this effort is successful.

The entire nation sees a silver lining in dark clouds. In social media, many Sri Lankans express joy about this brilliant and absolutely necessary decision which is normal procedure adopted in developed countries. If the selection committee is given adequate freedom by politicians, this process will be the best remedy to make a turn around and make commercially viable and profit making state owned businesses making a huge contribution and impact to our troubled economy.