Be worthy

Monday, 30 December 2013 01:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

The credibility of Sri Lanka’s public service has been eroding for decades, with little effort being expended on empowering this once-great service. Now the public, which usually complains about its corruption and inefficiency, has the chance to rescue it, at least in part, from Government capture, nepotism, cronyism, opaqueness and greed. Over the weekend it was reported that the Government has called for public views to amend The Establishments Code (TEC). The TEC was first introduced in 1971 and comprises service conditions, privileges and rights of public officials. It includes provisions related to promotions, discipline and financial disclosure. The Code has been periodically modified. A public notice by the Ministry of Public Administration and Home Affairs says, however, that “no structural change has so far been introduced”. It is intended to revise the Code after considering the views and suggestions of the general public, the notice says. The objective is cited as the achievement of development goals in keeping with the standards of a middle income country. The public has been invited to send their input on provisions of the Establishments Code to be revised, new provisions to be included in the Code, provisions to be removed from it and other relevant matters. A deadline of 14 March 2014 has been given. While the legal reach of the TEC is a bit hazy, any chance to give the beleaguered public service a leg up cannot be ignored. This code may not go the extent needed to reduce bribery and mismanagement but it could give more breathing space to public employees, if used wisely. In all countries citizens entrust governments, the public sector and State enterprises with their tax money and the resources of their country to manage the public good, present and future, and to provide essential services and infrastructure. It is this element of trust that the public service so lacks. State corporations are the extension of governments: just as citizens rely on governments, they trust state enterprises to manage public resources and provide essential services in today’s complex societies. The public have come to expect centralised systems for providing water, sanitation, transportation, and power. Taxes are paid so this work is delegated for cleaning streets, educating children, paving roads, tending to healthcare needs. And in many countries state enterprises manage the natural resources and their extraction – the coal, the oil, the gas and forests – that make up a significant portion of the gross national product. The importance of these roles and responsibilities, underscores the importance of the trust the public places in those who undertake them. People have a right to expect that these service providers carry out their duties mindful of those for whom they are in essence working: all citizens. It means providing quality services, of ensuring honest and prudent management of financial resources and assets. It means providing these services in a safe way, in a fair, honest and professional manner. And, at the end of the day, it means demonstrating full accountability to the people and to Parliament. Needless to say, the public service in Sri Lanka is a very put-upon institution. Without legal, institutional and resource empowerment as well as being mired in politicisation, it has long lost the public’s trust. Therefore, the Government has to swiftly move beyond the Code if it wants to genuinely change the public service. Those in Government are there to uphold the rights of the citizens; they hold positions of trust. They need to be worthy of that trust.