Feb 09

Recently, on TV, we saw and heard the amiable Minister of Health and Leader of the House of Parliament Nimal Siripala de Silva tell us that, although many people believed that there were 330,000,000 gods, he was having trouble with a new one, not known hitherto, namely, the Public Service Commission (PSC). Minister de Silva went on to say that this new god was more powerful than the Cabinet (which includes the President) and was solely responsible for the delay in the appointment of dentists. This remarkable discovery and the accompanying accusation need to be examined as they may otherwise become the stock excuse for Ministers and Ministry Secretaries to cover up their own lapses.

Minister de Silva was one of those Parliamentarians who, in 2001, helped the House to pass the 17th Amendment to the Constitution unanimously. Under this Amendment, the PSC is meant to be an independent (ie. apolitical) body, consisting of eminent persons of integrity chosen by the CC and appointed by the President. The PSC is intended to be responsible for the appointment, promotion, transfer and disciplinary control of almost all public servants. Until his recent revelation, Minster de Silva has, to our knowledge, not been particularly vocal regarding any specific shortcomings in the 17th Amendment. Instead, he has collaborated in the violation of this Amendment, with scant regard for his oath to uphold and safeguard the Constitution. Furthermore, he has acquiesced in the unconstitutional appointment to the independent commissions of persons whose impartiality and efficiency are, by the very impropriety of their appointment, necessarily suspect.

If Minister de Silvas current position is that the 17th Amendment, even if implemented properly, has flaws which would cause even a constitutionally appointed Public Service Commission to acquire an objectionable divine status higher than that of the Cabinet, are we to understand that he did not study this piece of legislation before voting for it in 2001? Is he saying, in effect, that he blindly followed the lead given by the JVP without any independent thinking of his own?

Much later, after President Rajapakse took up office, a Parliamentary Committee was constituted to make recommendations for removing certain unspecified defects in the 17th Amendment. We recall that the Minister of Constitutional Affairs & National Integration D.E.W.Gunasekera declaring more than once that the improved version was ready, and would soon be put before the House for adoption. Nothing of the sort has happened. Why did not Minister de Silva, as Leader of the House, use his considerable influence over the House to take steps to have the supposedly improved version passed into law so that the Cabinet could be protected from a troublesome new god? Taking note of the continuing transgression of the Constitution and the directions given by the Supreme Court to have the CC appointed soon, would it be too much to ask Minister de Silva immediately to let the public have the opportunity of studying the changes contemplated by the aforesaid Parliamentary Committee and invite suggestions from informed non-Parliamentarians to help prevent a situation arising later, when we might be told that the amended 17th Amendment needs yet another Parliamentary Committee to identify and remove additional hidden defects which the present Committee had failed to identify?

To our knowledge, the PSC (whether constitutionally or unconstitutionally appointed) does not generally issue public statements on the whys and wherefores of its decisions. Moreover, it would not ordinarily defend itself against accusations made by the President or Cabinet Ministers. In these circumstances, in the interests of justice and fair play, the Citizens Movement for Good Governance (CIMOGG) believes that it would be useful to bring to the notice of the public a few of the numerous problems which lead to the PSC being hindered in carrying out its functions efficiently.

The single most important restriction faced by the PSC is in getting efficient officers seconded from elsewhere in the public service because of the reduced opportunities for gaining experience in different disciplines, fewer chances of promotion, less access to overseas scholarships and so on. Furthermore, a few years ago, the PSC used to work in very cramped conditions and it may be that conditions have worsened with the ever-increasing size of the public service. Should not this institution, which is at the apex of the public service, be provided with facilities which are not markedly inferior to those in the better-provided Ministries?

A constant problem faced by the PSC has been the failure of certain Ministries to submit correct and complete documentation when seeking PSC approval. In some cases, details of the approved cadres are not submitted; the approved expenditure heads to which the salaries of those recommended for new posts are not revealed; details of how the posts should be advertised, the marking scheme, the composition of the interview boards, the criteria adopted for evaluation etc are not sent to the PSC in a timely manner. Repeated reminders do not always produce the information required. The blame for the delays, which are attributable to the defaults of the relevant Ministry Secretary gets passed on to the PSC. On the other hand, the poor Secretary himself is often in a difficulty because arrogant and impatient Ministers expect their Secretaries to flout the rules in order to get their protégés appointed, promoted or transferred in double quick time over better candidates. For its part, the Treasury, too, not infrequently, makes full use of its ability to decide on the funds to be released to the PSC to pressurise the latter subtly to cut corners in respect of the appointments which the Treasury wants made.

Not least of all, the powers of the PSC, even under the 17th Amendment, are circumscribed to the extent that it is not given any role in seeing to it that the public service serves the People with courtesy, efficiency and humaneness. These aspects are supposed to be handled by the Secretaries, who, the public know to their cost, are not very good at monitoring objectively their own Ministries performance. Hence, it is essential that there should be a separate autonomous organisation charged with the task of scrutinizing the administrative functioning of each Ministry and to publish its findings regularly so that the Ministry Secretary would find it both prudent and useful to assign one or more experienced officers to oversee the work of his staff on a continuous basis and get the appropriate corrective action taken.

CIMOGG urges that Ministerial shortcomings should not be unfairly blamed on new-found gods – or the Devil, for that matter.

Dr A.C.Visvalingam
President, Citizens Movement for Good Governance
Website: www.cimogg-srilanka.org