In a recent interview, senior civil servant Jinasiri Dadallage spoke about the public sector of the country. He is presently functioning as the Advisor to Prime Minister’s Public Relations Office. Excerpts of the interview:
- Accountability, a principle of good governance
- Secretaries can only recruit drivers and peons
- Public officers entrusted with huge responsibility
- Govt. servants need to hone managerial skills
- Change present administrative pattern before devising new constitution
- People should cast votes to change policies
- Need to streamline public relations
- Civil servants politically influenced
Q To begin with, can you enlighten us on the role of the Public Relations Office?
Several state institutions are responsible for disseminating factual information on various spheres including land, politics, education, health and so forth, to Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and to his Secretary. However, before this institution was established, these information was communicated through several sections of the Prime Minister’s Office. Today, this institution has been formed incorporating all those sections. When we receive a complaint over some issue, we direct it to the relevant institution and follow-up to see if justice is meted out accordingly.
QDoes the Constitution provide legal authority to other entities coming under the purview of PM’s Office to give orders and follow-up the work of other state institutions?
There is a possibility to follow-up action. No legal condition is required for it. It is managerial access. When people request something from the Prime Minister, it is this office that manages it. When we forward such requests to relevant institutions, we inform them of follow-up action. Then, the relevant institution is held responsible for looking at the problem.
No provision is made to pass the buck. We live in a country where poor people are directed to various institutions when they come in search of a solution to their problems. Government servants should have a responsibility on their part. The public service is established to attend to the needs of the citizens.
QAre you of the opinion that officers in the government service have no such accountability?
One of our objectives is to improve accountability. When a citizen comes to us in search of a solution, we have two answers: either we are capable of solving it or we are not. If the problem cannot be addressed, then its legal position should be explained.
Accountability is one of the principles of good governance. Similarly, we have focused our attention to streamline public relation sections in every ministry and state institution.
No provision is made to pass the buck. We live in a country where poor people are directed to various institutions when they come in search of a solution to their problems. Government servants should have a responsibility on their part. The public service is established to attend to the needs of the citizens
QAs a civil servant, how do you view the 19th Amendment? Has the change brought about expected results?
The appointments, promotions and transfers in the public service are done with the knowledge of the Public Service Commission. For instance, no political appointment can be made. Some politicians say the Public Service Commission has not done any work because they cannot make appointments according to their whims and fancies. As a former Public Administration Secretary, I am aware that the only power a Secretary has is to recruit drivers and peons (KKS).
Q Although the nominal situation is as such, the practical situation is different, isn’t it? There are reports of political interferences on numerous occasions…
Not really. There may be political revenges. The other thing is that we cannot ignore factors like ‘politics.’ It is the people who appoint their representatives. So it is not necessary to ignore their views. But, it can be done only on certain matters. The other thing is that we witness a ‘mixture’ in the field of public administration.
The chairmanship of divisional development committees is held by a politico of the area; in some instances a Cabinet Minister.
I have worked with Ratnasiri Wickramanayake, Sarath Amunugama and Karu Jayasuriya for a long time. Once, I was ordered to transfer the officers of the Colombo Municipal Council, but I refused to do such a thing without any valid reason. At last that transfer could not be done. The officers should have that kind of courage
It is only through politics that we find if correct decisions are taken. In such a process, government officers are influenced to some extent. If not so, bureaucracy will reign supreme. Or else, the politician has no right to transfer a person elsewhere saying “he is not my man.”
QDo you think government officers exercise sufficient independence to refuse such political involvement?
They should have the ability to do so. If there are no such things, it means the officer concerned has no courage. The Ministry Secretary should have the courage to point out a wrong decision. I have worked with Ratnasiri Wickramanayake, Sarath Amunugama and Karu Jayasuriya for a long time. Once, I was ordered to transfer the officers of the Colombo Municipal Council, but I refused to do such a thing without any valid reason. At last that transfer could not be done. The officers should have that kind of courage.
Q It has been revealed that government officers are inconvenienced in performing their duties at the provincial level because LG polls were not held, especially in the case of garbage disposal and combating the Dengue epidemic. What are your thoughts?
Officers are entrusted with a huge responsibility. When politicians are present, the work is being done with double engine. It is true. I see managerial loopholes. Those who work in local government offices need to hone their managerial skills.
For instance, if the local government office informs a date, time and venue for garbage collection, the whole problem could have been solved. I lived abroad for a long time where these types of issues are barely heard of.
What we lack is knowledge on garbage management. This will be successful if it is done with the politicians and officers of the Divisional Secretariat.
QDoesn’t regime change affect the duties of government officers?
Then, the people should cast their votes to change the policies. For instance, there was a peoplisation policy in the past. Later came the privatization policy.
When there are permanent policies, they will rust. Consider the state of Socialist China today. The other thing is that if the parliament passes some policy, the successive government is compelled to implement them.
QA new constitution is being devised amidst many disagreements. Will it be successful?
The constitution is an essential constituent to a country. If there are any loopholes in the existing constitution, then it has to be changed.
There is a big hue and cry over the new constitution. What I am going to say about this matter through a managerial access is that a constitution should not be made without addressing certain changes in the present administrative pattern. For instance, we should change the constitution only after resolving the administrative problems in provincial councils.
Devising a fresh constitution would not be difficult if we ensure these institutions function properly.