NCCSL outgoing Chief shares insights to revamping public service

Monday, 26 January 2015 00:55 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

Sunil Wijesinha recently stepped down as the President of the National Chamber of Commerce after serving his two-year term. The following are excerpts from his speech made at the Annual General Meeting. Hon. Karu Jayasuriya,Minister of Buddha Saasana, Public Administration, Local Government, Provincial Councils and Democratic Governance, Dr. Eteri Kvintradze, Resident Representative of the International Monetary Fund, Hon. Rajiva Wijesinha, State Minister of Higher Education, Members of the Diplomatic Corps, Ministry Secretaries, Heads of Government Departments, Government Officials, distinguished invitees, ladies and gentlemen. It gives me great pleasure to welcome you and address you at this ceremonial session, following the conclusion of our AGM. I am pleased to announce that Mr. Tilak Godamanna was just elected as the new President of the Chamber and I wish him great success at the helm of the Chamber for the next two years. It is indeed a great privilege to have a previous President of the Chamber as our Chief Guest, and I warmly welcome Hon. Karu Jayasuriya, who promptly accepted our invitation. The Chamber is also grateful to Dr. Eteri Kvintradze, Resident Representative of International Monetary Fund for being with us today. When I addressed you two years ago on my assumption of office as President of the Chamber, I urged the Government to make the best use of the “magic moment” and not to let the opportunity slip by, an opportunity created after the great achievement of winning the war. I warned about the ‘middle income trap’ and appreciated the Government’s efforts at containing inflation, enhancing economic growth, keeping the rupee stable and expediting many infrastructure projects. I spoke at length about the need for a quality, productivity and an innovation drive, and outlined what the Chamber hopes to do and how the Government could make use of Chambers. I even congratulated the Government for declaring a Year of Excellence in the Public Service which unfortunately was forgotten soon after the declaration. The country continued making steady economic progress although there were some negative factors which continued to be discussed first in hushed tones, and then, during the last year, more openly. It became clear that tackling some of the critical issues in the system was needed to get Sri Lanka on a more sustainable economic growth path. The Chamber made a lot of progress during the last two years. We hosted a large number of foreign delegations and signed many MoUs with foreign chambers, we completely re-hauled the National Business Excellence Award to be on par with similar international awards, conducted the joint Arogya and the Intrad Exhibition, held a large number of seminars to educate our members, initiated a CEO forum and commenced a very comprehensive program of work for SMEs. We also initiated a Business Excellence Summit with a separate Productivity and Quality stream, which we hope to continue on an annual basis. What is unique about our Chamber is that it still has as its primary focus on the development and upliftment of truly Sri Lankan businesses in Sri Lanka. This was the primary objective of our founding fathers and will continue to be so. I do not wish to delve at length about the economy since it is the prerogative of the new Chamber President to announce his vision for the Chamber and for the country he would wish for. However, let me leave a message for the new Minister. If Sri Lanka is to reach the status of a developed country it must initiate an improvement of the public sector, and what better time than now to initiate such a program, when the impartial and firm stand taken by the Commissioner General of Elections is being admired by every section of the population and the entire public sector has earned a renewed respect. Hon. Minister, you do not have to re-invent the wheel to reform the public service. There are several initiatives in other countries which could be studied and adapted for Sri Lanka.   Foreign examples Not far away from us the reform of the Singapore Civil Service with Work Improvement Teams, Suggestions Schemes, and the like, finally ended up in a much more comprehensive program called PS21, which was essentially a program to prepare the public service to face the aspirations of the Singaporeans in the 21st century. This program even included elements such as personal health, courtesy and public contact management. A similar program was implemented in Canada - the Public Service 2000 program - a program to change the structures, processes and culture of the public service, in order that it will have a higher capacity and serve Canadians efficiently. The Canadian model rejects the belief that less Government will result in better Government and believes that Government institutions are essential for a well performing society. The Canadian model recognises that for a well-performing, professional and non-partisan public service it is necessary to attract, retain and motivate a cadre of knowledgeable, skilled and experienced professionals capable of handling the demands of a modern global environment. Even more recently the UK commenced a program called the ‘Red Tape Challenge’, which was aimed at reducing the time and costs to the Government as well as the private sector. The private sector could suggest areas for cutting ‘red tape’ and the processes were studied and modified. A UK business leader says, “Due to the Government’s action to remove red tape, we are now able to focus our time on our business and not on bureaucracy.” We all know the lamentations of our business people and the exasperation they go through to get approvals, licences, or permits. Hon. Minister you are perhaps the best person to initiate this reform, with your experience in both the private sector, and the public sector. We saw what you did as the Mayor of Colombo. We saw your management skills in organising the first ever EXPO in the early 1990s. Therefore our expectations from you are very high. I am personally very passionate about productivity and have been promoting productivity and quality in this country for many years. I believe we need good systems and good procedures in the public sector, modern and productive tools and equipment to facilitate these processes, but most of all Sri Lanka needs good people in the public service who are motivated and skilled. Honourable Minister, the first issue is to provide the public service with a suitable remuneration package that will enable them to live in dignity, and thereafter it is necessary to create a meritocracy where public servants will be rewarded and promoted on their achievements rather than on their connections or their servility. You may perhaps need to re-establish the Management Services Department, or use the National Productivity Secretariat to improve the systems and procedures of all Government Departments and Ministries. One of my former bosses, a retired civil servant, once told me that the best way of ruining the creativity and initiative of a clever individual is to put him into the administrative service! He also said that it is an inefficient and lazy public servant who uses ARs and FRs to do nothing! He would relate stories of how he had the courage to deviate from ARs and FRs to achieve desired objectives and how he defended his actions. He was never a ‘yes-man’ and sometimes disagreed with his Minister and even with Cabinet decisions, but he was proved right in the end. Whether such public servants would survive in today’s environment I do not know. Singapore Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew initiated a productivity program in the public sector first, in the 1980s because he believed that if the public sector moved efficiently the whole country will progress. In the past, the Ceylon Civil Service was the envy of the Commonwealth. Let’s elevate our public service once again to that position so that we in the private sector can carry on our work efficiently and effectively, and in turn the public service can be proud that it created an environment for people, and their enterprises, to thrive.