The Government has announced plans to employ over 57,000 unemployed graduates by the end of next year, which is likely to significantly expand the public sector that is already in excess of 1.3 million and raises questions about how efficiency would be improved within the already bloated public service.
The Government has also increased the upper limit recruitment age from 35 to 45, meaning that at least some graduates may work for just ten years before being pensioned off. The public sector is undoubtedly crucial, but it needs to make recruitments to areas that are linked to economic goals, increase its productivity, and would provide to the public that justify the perks given to them.
One great example of this is the recruitment of nearly 80,000 ‘development officers’, which was initiated by the previous administration but has continued under this Government as well. The Management Service Department under the Treasury has observed that there are still 18,000 positions vacant in this category, but some of the officers who were previously hired are not given specific work in the institutions they were sent into. These employees are paid by taxpayers and it is incredible that these appointments are given preference above vacancies in healthcare, education, engineering and other technical fields.
Similarly, according to a recent Census and Statistics Department survey, 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. It is likely that many of the new recruits will be from the arts stream as well.
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 liberalise, ink trade deals, reduce tariffs, and 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.
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 customs clearance, 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. This should not be lost in the rush to get votes.