President Gotabaya Rajapaksa this week called on the public service to be more efficient and proposed that the weaknesses in the sector should be identified promptly so they can be addressed. He also said technology should be used to support the public sector and increase their competency.
This is a positive step and in terms of shortcomings many have already been identified. According to the most recent census, 1,109,475 people, excluding the armed forces, have been employed in the public and semi-Government sectors as of 17 November 2016. Among these employees, 65.3% hold positions in the Central Government and 34.7% hold positions in the Provincial Councils.
The report notes that 55.1% of the employees are male while 44.9% are female. When considering the Central Government and the Provincial public sector separately, there are clear differences in these percentages: in the Provincial public sector, 61.6% are female, whereas in the Central Government, the majority 64% are male.
Taken overall there are also questions over whether the qualifications of these public servants are aligned with promoting economic goals. For example the census revealed that approximately only 35% has passed the G.C.E. (Advanced Level) examination.
Similarly, only one in four (26.2%) of public and semi-Government sector employees hold degrees. Of the roughly 290,000 degree-holders, more than half (approximately 54%) have obtained their basic degree in the Arts stream. Likewise, roughly 14% have obtained degrees in the Management/Commerce stream while about 10% are from the Science stream.
This provides a huge challenge for policy implementation, especially since Sri Lanka as a developing country with an aging population has to look to infuse innovation, research and development into its labour force at a much earlier stage in the development process. Larger economic reforms such as liberalisation, improving the investment climate, implementing sector-specific policies along with a plethora of other measures outlined by the Government become much more challenging if the qualifications of the public sector officials are mismatched with the development needs of the country.
Deeper knowledge of different economic and business-related subjects including innovation, research and development and technology is needed for Sri Lanka’s economy to grow at a substantial level.
The inability of public officials to understand the latest trends, global events and opportunities open to Sri Lanka could mean an implementation gap that could delay reforms and reduce efficiency. As Sri Lanka looks to fast track growth, increase exports and investment, it becomes even more imperative to have a better match between the qualifications and skills of public sector workers for growth.
Information on public and semi-Government sector employees’ information technology knowledge and usage was also recorded. As revealed by this census, only 66.8% of employees (approximately 741,000) have the ability to use computers, while roughly 404,000 employees use computers to carry out their official duties. Yet only approximately 56.3% of public and semi-Government sector employees use the internet, while 38.4% use electronic mail.
This would explain the massive challenge successive governments have faced in creating a paperless public service as well as other critical services such as paperless export and procurement serves, which would make exports more seamless and improve Sri Lanka’s Ease of Doing Business. This and much more are dependent on an effective and efficient public sector and the outcomes of training also need to be measured. The issues have been long identified, it is the solutions that have proved challenging.