Never in our history has any trade union leader criticized his members or at least mildly pointed out the injustices that are meted out to the general public by his members. Daily Mirror on Tuesday reported such a rare incident where the General Secretary of the Government and Provincial Council Public Service Trade Union Federation Ajith. K. Thilakarathne had taken up an issue of wasting time by public sector employees with President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe.
In a letter addressed to the President and the Prime Minister Thilakarathne had pointed out that 60 percent of the 1.5 million public servants (both under the central government and provincial councils) were engaged in browsing the internet, Face Book and other entertainment sites using the office computers and their own smart phones for more than two hours of their daily eight hour duty.
This amounts to 40 hours of their working hours being spent on these hobbies for a month and the total man hours robbed from the public sector runs into 1.8 million a day.
Thilakarathne must be commended for his rare genuineness and courage in bringing to light what can be deemed as a heinous crime committed by his own members, whereas normally trade union leaders are blind to such aspects of their profession and are only concerned about rights and privileges of their members.
He had said that these facts had been revealed during a confidential survey that had been conducted in selected government institutions on an idea mooted by his Federation. Thilakarathne opined, that the valuable time wasted in this manner by government servants who were paid by the public led to the entire service becoming inefficient, and also led to loss of confidence by the public in the government service.
However, facts revealed by Thilarathne’s union are not new or something that is unknown to society. The fact had been in the public domain for decades and there have been so many yarns, jokes, cartoons and even songs like “Kanthoruwa, kanthoruwa mama wedakarana” sung by veteran singer Anton Jones some decades ago,on the time wasted in the public sector. The hassles faced by the ordinary people in getting something done are also so widespread. The significance in the survey conducted by Thilakarathne’s union is that a well known fact has been established with facts and figures and for the first time it had been officially notified to the highest authorities in the country.
Public sector employees are not supposed to work on their files in every second of their eight hour duty. One might work overtime while another might have some leisure time after finishing his or her assigned duty which can be used for other purposes. However, that is not the case according to Special Assignments Minister Dr. Sarath Amunugama. A statement made by the minister had been carried in the Daily Mirror along with the news item on Thilakarathne’s letter to the President and the Prime Minister in which the minister had said that a large majority of public servants did not work at least four hours of their eight hour duty.
“Officers in clean suits sit around in spacious and comfortable air conditioned rooms. However, the problems of the people are mostly neglected. People visit offices to get solutions to their problems, spend a lot of time there, but most of the time go back disappointed. We hear these complaints from the people all the time. We are paid from the taxes that people pay,’ he had stressed.
The much-talked about good governance includes an efficient public service. On the other hand frustration among the people due to this kind of lethargic activities in the public sector coupled with the incredibly slow pace of keeping the promises by the government might lead to the denial of entire concept of good governance by the people.