The National Human Resources Development Council (NHRDC) has prepared a report on improving ways of working in the public sector.
This has been forwarded to the President and the Prime Minister, and responses are awaited to take things forward.
The report was prepared by a committee appointed by the NHRDC, which included representation from the Ministry of Public Administration, the Labour Ministry, the Public Service Commission, the Sri Lanka Institute of Development Administration, the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce, the Jetwing Group, World Bank and the Asian Development Bank. It was chaired by Prof Rajiva Wijesinha, Chairman of the Tertiary and Vocational Education Commission, and former Secretary to the Ministry of Human Rights and Disaster Management.
The Committee benefited from written inputs from distinguished retired members of the public service, including Dharmasiri Pieris, H. M. G. S. Palihakkara, Mahinda Madihahewa and Malini Pieris. Dharmasiri Pieris made a presentation in person, and drew attention to the need for fundamental changes.
Amongst the areas addressed in the report are: Ensuring both the independence of the public service and continuity with regard to policies and practices,
increasing productivity, in particular through promoting greater professionalism by laying down rationales for any appointments, entrenching accountability mechanisms, including internal adherence to agreed goals
The main recommendations were:
a) Secretaries to ministries should be appointed on a permanent basis, by the Public Service Commission, and may only be removed by the Commission for reasons adduced
b) The constitution should be amended to lay down a specific number of ministries, and departments of government should be attached to these ministries through a schedule, without being shifted about between ministries. A list of proposed ministries is attached.
c) ‘The unsustainable and highly politicized practice of treating the public sector institution as a means to solve unemployment problems through ‘sponsored employment’ should cease forthwith.’ Quote from one distinguished Secretary, reinforced by another - ‘Don’t treat the public sector as a refuge for unemployed graduates’.
d) Appointments to boards etc should be on the basis of specified criteria, and should not be changed with a change of minister.
e) Regular consultative meetings should be held (already specified but not coherently observed) and minuted with clear action points and responsibilities. Most vital amongst these would be the Development Secretaries Forum, so that senior public servants can engage in more effective coordination and consulation
f) Clear performance targets should be set and measured with provision for incentives
g) Training should be better focused and should develop communication skills, in particular reading and writing and presentation capacity in English
h) While accountability should be stressed and public servants protected from political pressures, they should not be subject to nitpicking harassment that limits flexibility and effectiveness.
In line with the forceful commitment in the manifesto of His Excellency the President, and in the interests of more effective government, the Committee has suggested that the Cabinet be limited to the following ministries.
- Finance & Planning (inclusive of Economic Policy)
- Foreign Affairs (inclusive of Foreign Employment)
- Education (inclusive of Higher Education and Vocational Education)
- Trade and Commerce
- Industries, Science and Technology
- Agriculture, Food and Plantations
- Provincial Councils, Public Administration and Home Affairs
- Land, Environment, Water Resources, Mineral Resources (inclusive of Disaster Management and Irrigation)
- Housing, Construction and Urban Development
- Ports, Shipping and Aviation
- Power and Energy (inclusive of Petroleum)
- Social Welfare and Empowerment (inclusive of Women and Children’s Affairs, Secretariats for Disabled and Elders )
- Social Amenities (inclusive of Cultural Affairs and Sports, Archaeology and National Heritage)
- Religious Affairs
- Reconciliation, Rehabilitation and Resettlement
- Posts and Telecommunications
- Tourism and Media
- Transport and Highways
- Labor, Employment and Entrepreneurship
- Plan Implementation and Coordination
It was agreed that the first and the last two ministries above should not be entrusted to constituency MPs, but should go to those without electoral interests or obligations.