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Name and fame


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Public officials are often at the front lines of fighting for better governance. They are also the first point of contact between the public and the State and as such, the standard of governance followed by a Government is often measured by their actions. Their efficiency is also crucial for the implementation of policy and the smooth running of a country, which makes them an indispensible part of a well-functioning nation.

It is for precisely this reason that public servants are often derided or praised. Complaints of public employees taking bribes or engaging in other misbehaviours are often highlighted because they are seen to have a greater responsibility towards the governance of a country than their private sector counterparts. Given that public servants are also custodians of tax money and public finance, they also have a greater responsibility to fight corruption, promote transparency and ensure accountability. 

However, these weighty tasks are often derailed by a general sentiment to lump the entire public sector with the bad apples. Transparency International this week outlined plans to select public servants who have displayed exceptional levels of integrity and competency to instil lost pride in the public sector. The aim of the new award system is to highlight the accomplishments of public servants who are going above and beyond their duty, often in challenging circumstances, to genuinely serve the public. 

As worthy as such a step would be it is important that recognition is linked to wider measures that promote reform and independence of the public sector, and provide them with clear policies and goals to implement. Ministries and departments are supposed to develop a vision and mission, strategies, goals and action plans. Departments in particular have a mandate established by acts in Parliament. Accordingly, their respective reasons for being present are well articulated. In essence, the outcomes that they want to produce and the impacts are self-evident in their vision and mission statements. 

Under the prescriptions of the General Treasury, each Government Institution submits its corporate plans each year. Accordingly, their outputs towards achieving the outcomes are made clear. Yet, few of them come into fruition at a level the larger public finds useful. Often the public only sees the bribe taking, the inefficiency, the strikes and protests. Despite repeated Government pledges the public service remains woefully dependent on the political system and has little space for whistle-blowing capacity to strengthen governance. 

This gap is particularly dire in State-owned Enterprises where large amounts of losses impact the economy and create macroeconomic pressures that are then felt by the entire population. Yet, improving the competence of the public sector is an important focus at a time when the Government is stepping up its recruitment ahead of elections and outlining ambitious economic reforms that desperately need competent public officials to achieve. In a country where there is a trust deficit between politicians and the public, the public sector is the ideal gatekeeper of governance and democratic institutions. Empowering millions in the public sector is the best investment for a developed Sri Lanka. 


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