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Public Servants, Trade Unionists and People

Daily News logo Daily News 21/11/2022 Daily News (via HT Media Ltd.)

Last week, a news item published in one of the Sinhala newspapers was certainly an eye opener. That was about the graduates and the Public Service. According to the news item, 77 percent of Sri Lankan graduates are employed in the Public Service (State sector) while only 23 percent of Sri Lankan graduates are employed in the Private sector. This latest study was conducted by a Japanese institution. Now the time has come to turn this situation around.

According to a prominent Economist who was attached to the Management Faculty of the University of Sri Jayawardenepura Prof. Janaka Kumarasinghe, the Private sector workforce has helped improve and contributes to the growth of the Sri Lankan economy while the State sector employees has done just the opposite. That is why the Private sector is known as the Engine of Growth while the State sector has become a burden to the economy and has weakened it. He pointed this out with all relevant statistics during an interview conducted by the State television channel, Rupavahini a few months ago. The bitter truth is that the Private sector employees work hard, pay taxes and also help feed the Public sector while the Public sector enjoys a luxurious life without having to do much work. In simple words, Private sector workers are paying the bills of the Public sector employees who draw their salaries and go home practically doing nothing thus becoming a burden to the country’s economy.

President Ranil Wickremesinghe proposed in the Budget speech to appoint a Presidential Commission to review all the aspects of Public service in line with the current requirements and make recommendations including the necessary reforms. This is a very timely action because at least after 74 years of Independence Sri Lankans should realize the bitter truth and face reality without pleasing 1.5 million Public servants and their immediate families as the country did during the past seven and half decades. The Public service should not be used as a tool to win elections hereafter. The country should stop funding and pleasing this white elephant.

State Vs. Private sector

The retirement age should be 60 or so for the State and Private sector. This is because population projections show that the proportion of Sri Lankans above the age of 60 years will increase from 14 percent in 2017 to 22 percent by the year 2037. By October 2021 Sri Lanka recorded the highest proportion of older adults in South Asia. The Western Province has the highest percentage of the country's elderly at 31.7. Maybe these statistics have further increased by now.

Last week, the railway engine drivers launched a lightning strike over a minor issue related to a rest room. Earlier, some nurses and doctors staged a lightning strike without being able to share a room in a leading State hospital in the South. This is the typical Sri Lanka we are talking about. It is the ordinary poor Sri Lankans who suffer at the hands of Public servants. No one else gets affected due to these actions.

Those acts do not stop there. In the recent past some State schools located in the Bandaragama Divisional Secretariat Division were robbed at night. Usually those schools hire private security guards in the daytime and rarely for a night or two and State security guards (Public servants) at night. No robbery takes place when the private security guards are there and all robberies take place when State security guards are on duty. What is surprising is not this. Nothing happens to the public servants who failed to do their duty and enjoyed a peaceful night’s sleep at home. No action had been taken against those Public servants who did not guard the State schools at night. And they continue to work like nothing happened, even though valuable items were stolen by the robbers at these schools.

Public servants take an oath to serve diligently.

Last week another very funny news item was published in the newspapers which highlighted a group of high officials in the Health Ministry who are scheduled to retire next month going abroad for ‘training’. Some of them had not obtained the Health Minister's approval. This is how Ministry officials waste public funds to have fun. The Health Ministry is not the only place where these types of incidents take place. It is the same with all the other State institutions.

Billions of rupees have been spent to purchase unusable compartments for the Railways Department during the tenures of previous Governments together with outdated machinery for other State institutions. On the other hand they never put to good use the items and equipment purchased for these institutions by spending millions in public funds. They let these items lie idle, corrode and decay inside rooms, corridors etc. They spend public money, enjoy those foreign tours and still lead a comfortable life without any problem or responsibilities. Public servants get their dues no matter whether they perform their duties or not. There is no assessment. In the end, they blame politicians who are only in office for a limited period.

But, it is a totally different scenario when it comes to Private sector employees. Even a minor fault is enough for their employers to sack them without any payments. This is why Private sector employees work hard with diligence and dedication paying full attention to their duties. They get paid only if they complete their task or workload. Corruption and strikes are hardly heard of in the Private sector. Their salaries are cut whenever they cause a loss to the company.

Now it is the right time for the Government to employ at least 75 percent of graduates in the Private sector while employing 25 percent in the State sector. Enough is enough and the graduates should work hard in order to earn a living. Most Public sector workers resort to corruption, neglect of their duties, launch strikes on a regular basis while enjoying all the perks such as a full month's salary including all public holidays.

Private sector workers who work hard without resorting to strikes, get punished even for a minor offence, and are subject to pay cuts for every trivial thing while only being entitled to only 21 or 28 days of leave for the entire year.

Coastal Line Train Service

Another excellent example for the ignorance and irresponsible behaviour of Public servants is displayed when it comes to the current situation faced by the coastal line train service. There were almost 45 incidents of derailments reported only during last week with over 15 train trips from Maradana to Panadura, Kalutara etc. being cancelled since last Friday due to a dilapidated bridge. It was said that it will take over five days for repairs to be completed on the bridge. But train services on the line have been cancelled until further notice. In other countries, it takes only a few hours or may be a day or two for repairs to be completed on any major bridge, long tracks or trains, but, here in Sri Lanka, the workers and engineers do not know when they can complete it. Sri Lankan public servants only work during official duty hours which are from 8.15 or 8.30 am to 4.00 pm. They never do any urgent work outside of this time period no matter how many people face hardships.

They do not care at all about the inconvenience faced by fellow public servants and all the other workers in the Private sector who travel by train and feed them by paying huge taxes. They never spare a thought for the poor people and workers who can’t get trains are forced to use other modes of transport. They do not care about the huge amounts of money paid by their fellow public servants and all the other workers for their monthly season tickets. Commuters do not receive a discount for the next month's season ticket for the number of days where train services are not available or in operation. Instead of this they receive pay cuts from their companies for the number of hours they get delayed.

The Transport Minister cannot go to the site and repair the bridge himself. It should be done by engineers and other workers in the CGR who are Public servants. The current economic situation in the country has very little to do with it because the engineers know very well how to manage with available resources. A priority list can be made, urgent work can be done and the railway tracks that have not been used as much as other lines can be given less attention. The people do not know whether to cry or laugh when they hear about the amount of overtime paid to some Public servants who ‘work’ when some institutions are officially completely closed down, while staying at home on every weekend and all public holidays and while working only from 8.30 am to 4.00 pm on weekdays.

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