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Monday December 5th, 2022

Sri Lanka chamber recommends new way to appoint politicized temporary secretaries

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s Ceylon Chamber of Commerce has suggested a new way to appoint temporary secretaries, the key problem which critics had blamed for ending a once apolitical public service headed by permanent secretaries and the progressive spread of arbitrary rule.

Under British system Sri Lanka inherited at independence – borrowed from China’s Mandarin system – politicization of the state system was cut off at ministry secretary level through the establishment of a permanent apolitical civil service.

The ministry secretaries, appointed by a civil service commission of peers, also protected department heads from being arbitrarily changed and formed the bulwark between the elected ruling class allowing public servants to serve the public instead of the rulers.

Sri Lanka has set up a constitutional council to appoint some department heads and judges, but the key problem of temporary secretaries, which led to the politicization of the public service and the permeation of arbitrary rule down entire state system, has not been addressed.

The destruction of the apolitical public service was begun with Sri Lanka’s 1972 constitution where secretaries were appointed by the cabinet with outsiders being brought in.

Under the 1978 constitution, temporary secretaries serve at the pleasure of the President, which critics say has turned a ‘public service’ into a ‘rulers service’. As a result, secretaries have less security of tenure than deputy secretaries, critics say.

The temporary secretary system has also allowed the number of ministries to be fluid leading to an arbitrary expansion of the cabinet and the subjects under ministries to be fluid and break the barrier between the elected political administration and the permanent public service.

In another unusually fluid situation, Sri Lanka’s ministry secretaries lose office when the Prime Minister and cabinet resign.

The logic behind a apolitical permanent public service in Britain was set out in Northcote Trevalyan report of 1854.

The Ceylon Chamber of Commerce has recommended a different way to keep make appointments less arbitrary without changing the politicized temporary secretary system itself.

The Chamber had also suggested other improvements.

The full statement is reproduced below:

Press Release on Reforms to Ensure an Independent arePublic Service

The progression of Sri Lanka’s economy is dependent significantly on the performance of the public sector. A more efficient and productive public sector is an absolute need in driving forward Sri Lanka’s economic recovery. In this context, it is important to have an effective and efficient service delivery of the public sector.

In this regard, complimenting the on-going efforts towards public sector reform, the Steering Committee on Public Sector Reforms of the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce recently presented a set of proposals to the policy makers. These proposals were developed after carefully analyzing the constitution of Sri Lanka and documents such as the Administrative Reform Committee Reports (ARC) of 1986/88 headed by S. Wanasinghe.

The identified proposals aimed to ensure formal checks and balances within the public sector, and improve efficiency in order to transform the public sector into a people centric arm of the state. So that national development can be accelerated through efficient and effective service delivery by the Government.
The document consists of amendments to the constitution and other recommendations. Below provides a summary of these proposals.

1. Re-establishment of the Constitutional Council

The Constitutional Council (CC) with wider powers (similar to the 19th amendment) should be reintroduced through an amendment to the constitution. The majority of the members of the Council should be independent citizens and be appointed through the approval of Parliament. In order to strengthen the work of the Constitutional Council, we recommend that an office be setup with the necessary staff to assist with its operations.

2. Limiting the number of Cabinet Ministries

The number of Ministries should be fixed by the Constitution (even in the case of a National Government in power) with no State Ministries. We recommend the number of Cabinet ministries to be limited to 20 by clustering the existing subjects with the same number of Deputy ministers.

3. Appointment, Evaluation and Removal of Secretaries to Ministries

A) Appointment of Secretaries to Ministries

A selection process of appointing Secretary to the President and Prime Minister, Secretary to the Cabinet and all other Secretaries to the Ministries was developed. This mechanism is proposed with an aim of allowing appointments to be made fair and subject to open competition, and not have any political interference.

The recommended process for appointing Secretaries is presented below.

Figure 01: Process of Selecting Secretaries

The pool should be larger than the number of slots available at any given time. The appointments should not have a fixed term and could change with the government to reflect the mandate given by the people. However, if the Cabinet ceases to hold office, the Ministry Secretaries should stay on till new Secretaries are appointed without hindering the regular operations of Ministries and institutions under them

B) Performance Evaluation

Performance evaluation of Ministry Secretaries should be carried out by a 5-member panel. This includes President’s Secretary, Prime Minister’s Secretary, Cabinet Secretary, the Subject Minister and an independent person appointed by the Public Services Commission (PSC) such as a retired secretary.

The Ministry Secretary’s performance should be evaluated based on certain pre-determined criteria. The Secretary will have the opportunity to make representations for himself orally at the evaluation and also in writing. The final evaluation will go to cabinet.

C) Removal of Ministry Secretaries

When removing a Ministry Secretary, the Minister can recommend to the cabinet the reasoning for the necessity of the removal. The cabinet can then request the PSC to conduct an inquiry and revert back to the Cabinet accordingly. In the event there is a financial irregularity (actual or intent), then PSC can inform the Auditor General and Committee on Public Accounts (COPA) for further investigations within their respective mandate. The following set of criteria can be used for the removal of a Ministry secretary;

1. Poor performance – based on performance appraisal (KPIs)
2. Integrity challenged – taken into custody under the Bribery and Corruption Act/ criminal action charge sheet being served
3. Health issues
4. Engaging in political activities
5. Disciplinary control issue

Further, if the PSC recommends to the cabinet to remove the Ministry Secretary, then the Secretary will be removed from the pool of ministry secretaries. If the PSC finds in favor of the Secretary, then the Secretary will not be removed from the pool and may be appointed to another ministry.
Other Suggestions

a) In article 51 (2) the wording “direction and control” should change to “leadership and policy direction” to avoid politically-driven interferences on administrative matters by Ministers and to enable a fair decision-making process.

4. President’s Power to Appoint His Staff

A provision should be made to appoint a Secretary to the President following a prescribed procedure as proposed for a Ministry Secretary. The President may have the discretion to appoint a Private Secretary, a Media Secretary, 3 Coordinating secretaries, 5 consultants and 5 non-executive grade private staff members totaling to 15 staff members. This should be the maximum limit the President can hire as private staff.

5. Improvement of the functioning of the Public Services Commission

Public Services Commission should have the powers described in Article 55 (1), (2) and (3) and should not delegate such powers to any other authority. Particularly, the powers pertaining to the executive officers should not be delegated.
The following recommendations are suggested for the PSC:

i. It is suggested that Human Resources (HR) reforms should be included in (55) (1) as a policy matter and the PSC should establish an Administrative Reforms Unit (ARU) to provide recommendations on public sector HR matters and system improvements (including other related matters). This can include Voluntary Retirement Scheme (VRS) for right-sizing the cadre strength. These recommendations should be submitted to the PSC who will be mandated to implement the ARU recommendations that are accepted.

ii. The appointments of Heads of Departments, Director Generals and Additional Secretaries should be vested in PSC. The PSC should not delegate the authority of appointment, promotion, transfer and disciplinary control of the Heads of Departments, Director Generals and Additional Secretaries to any other entity.

iii. Digitization of government activities too can drastically reduce the public service cadre particularly in the primary and secondary cadre categories.

6. National Procurement Commission (NPC)

The National Procurement Commission (NPC) should be re-established as an independent commission with wider powers under an amendment to the Constitution. The NPC should have a facilitating, advisory and monitoring role but not of a regulatory where it can issue penalties. These functions must be applicable for pre/during/post procurement process. It should also not have executive powers where they have the ability to stop procurement activities as this can lead to delays in the procurement process.

NPC can conduct audits of government procurements and this report should mandatorily be given to Auditor General and COPE/COPA. There should be separate sessions of COPA/COPE to examine those reports. COPA and COPE should have a meeting once/twice year with NPC and relevant ministries. In the event malpractices are detected, the NPC must mandatorily send a
report to the Bribery Commission.

7. Staff and facilities for the Ministers

Staff of the Minister should be limited to a maximum number of 5 staff members with an addition of a personal driver. The 5-member staff should ideally include an economic advisor, relevant subject knowledge advisor, political advisor, private secretary and coordinating secretary.

8. National Audit Act and Audit Commission

Reestablish the National Audit Service Commission (NASC) as originally proposed by the 19th amendment. When an activity related to any fraud, negligence, misappropriation or corruption is observed then NASC can recommend a surcharge to a parliamentary committee to recover the loss. The NASC can only recommend a surcharge and it will be implemented by a parliamentary committee.

9. Declaration of Assets and Liabilities by Members of Parliament and Public Officials

Asset declaration for Members of Parliament (MPs) and public officials can be done via an online system thereby keeping the information confidential. Such an online system can be designed to detect anomalies in declarations (i.e reconcile assets with income declared over two successive periods). If anomalies between declarations are detected, a third party with the relevant expertise should be called in to review the declarations. For the public sector officials, the third party can be the PSC.

MPs should declare their assets before they take oaths and make subsequent declarations each year by 31st December. If the assets are not declared initially before oaths, then the public nominee should not be able to take oaths. If the subsequent declaration of assets is not adhered to, then a suspension from parliament sittings can be considered. A 30-day grace period can be granted to comply with the declarations.

10. Facilities to Chairmen of District and Divisional Councils

MPs who are appointed as Chairmen of District and Divisional Development Councils are given additional vehicles and allowances which have become a substantial expense to the Treasury. These costs and allowances should be curtailed.

The full submission can be accessed via Ensuring an Independent Public Service

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Time right for elections, Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna ready to face any poll: Basil

File photo: SLPP national organiser Basil Rajapaksa

ECONOMYNEXT — The time has come for an election in Sri Lanka and the ruling Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) is ready to face any election, SLPP national organiser Basil Rajapaksa said, dismissing claims that the party has come to fear elections in the face of growing unpopularity and increased factionalisation.

Speaking to reporters at an event held in Colombo Monday December 05 morning to mark the fourth anniversary of the party’s media centre, Rajapaksa handwaved off assertions that the SLPP has splintered in the wake of the mass protests that ousted his brother and former President Gotabaya Rajapaksa.

“No, our party hasn’t fragmented, not the way this cake was cut,” he said, pointing to the cake that was cut to celebrate the media centre’s anniversary.

“There may be some [dissenters], but we are with the people,” said Rajapaksa.

Political analysts, however, note that the once mighty SLPP has indeed fractured to at least four or five distinct factions. One group, according to party sources, is with President Ranil Wickremesinghe who is keen to involve younger SLPP legislators in his economic reform agenda. The second is with former Media Minister Dullas Alahapperuma who launched an unsuccessful bid for the presidency and was roundly defeated by Wickremesinghe at the July 19 presidential vote in parliament. The third group now sits as independent MPs in parliament, while a fourth faction are with former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, the SLPP patriarch.

There is another group that remains loyal to Basil Rajapaksa, though all but one SLPP legislator voted for the 21st amendment to the constitution that prohibited dual citizens from entering parliament. Rajapaksa, a dual citizen with US passport, recently returned to the island after a private visit to his second home.

The former finance minister, who resigned after a wave of protests that demanded his departure along with that of his presidential brother, for their alleged role in Sri Lanka’s prevailing currency crisis, the worst in decades, was in a jovial mood at the anniversary event on Monday and was seen heartily indulging reporters who were throwing loaded question after loaded question at him.

Asked about future plans of the SLPP, Rajapaksa quipped that they couldn’t be revealed to the media at this stage.

“However, time has come for an election. It’s difficult to say how it will be at present, but as a party, we’re ready to face any election,” he said.

Rajapaksa’s apparent confidence in facing an election is in direct contrast to speculation that the SLPP is banking on President Wickremesinghe’s refusal to dissolve parliament anytime soon. Opposition lawmakers have accused Wickremesinghe of providing sanctuary and promising security to the deeply unpopular party by not calling early elections.

“We have won every election we faced so far. We are thankful to the Sri Lankan people for that. If we were unable to meet their expectations 100 percent, we regret that. We will correct any shortcomings and will work to fulfill the people’s aspirations,” said Rajapaksa.

Asked if he is going to remain in active politics despite the blanket ban on dual citizens, the former minister said, again with a chuckle: “Active politics… well, I’m not in governance anymore. Governance [for me] has been banned by the 21st amendment. So no, I’m not in governance, but I am in politics,” he said.

Pressed about possibly entering parliament again, he said: “How can I?”

Nor is Rajapaksa saddened by the development, he claimed. “No, I’m happy about it,” he said.

The former two-time finance minister, noted for his clash of views with Wickremesinghe when the latter was invited by then President Gotabaya Rajapaksa for a round of discussions on economic recovery, was cautiously complimentary when asked about the new president. It was the SLPP’s backing that guaranteed Wickremesinghe his lifelong ambition.

“I think that selection was the correct one. We have maintained from the start that all of us in government or opposition must be able to freely engage in politics,” he said, referring to assurances that the president has purportedly given SLPP parliamentarians that they will not face the kind of retaliatory mob violence that engulfed the nation on May 09 after alleged SLPP goons attacked peaceful anti-government protestors in Colombo.

A reporter asked if Rajapaksa believes the incumbent president is capable of taking the country on the right path to recovery?

“The first task was accomplished, by allowing us to engage in politics and to get on the streets. There are economic and other issues, and we have high hopes that they will be resolved,” he said. (Colombo/Dec05/2022)

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Sri Lanka proposed power tariff not to recover past losses: Minister

ECONOMYNEXT – The government has not proposed a power tariff increase to recover past losses, Minister of Power and Energy Kanchana Wijesekera in response to a statement attributed the head of the power regulator commission.

“The proposal that was presented was for an automatic cost reflective tariff mechanism to be implemented to supply uninterrupted power & to recover the current cost of power supply,” Minister Wijesekera said in twitter.com message.

“Govt has not proposed to recover past loses of CEB from a tariff revision…”

The cabinet of ministers had given the nod tariff revisions twice a year to prevent large losses from building up as in the past.

The Public Utilities Commission has disputed costs protected for the power utility saying the petroleum utility was keeping large margins in selling fuel.

The government in a budget for 2022 also proposed to tax surcharge to recover losses.

The regulator also disputed power demand forecasts.

Also read; Sri Lanka regulator disputes CEB costs, demand projections for 2023

The PUCSL cannot increase tariffs to recover past losses, Chairman Janaka Ratnayake said. (Colombo/Dec05/2022)

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Sri Lanka’s shares gain in mid market trade

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s shares edged up in mid day trade on Monday (05), continuing the positive run for seven straight sessions on news over a possible debt restructuring from Paris Club, analysts said.

All Share Price Index gained by 0.69% or 60.10 points to 8,829, while the most liquid shares gained by 0.96% or 26.59 points to 2,801.

“The market was pushed up over the news of a potential 10 year debt moratorium,” analysts said.

The Paris Club group of creditor nations has proposed a 10-year debt moratorium on Sri Lankan debt and 15 years of debt restructuring as a formula to resolve the island nation’s prevailing currency crisis. 

Related – Paris Club proposes 10-year moratorium in 15-year Sri Lanka debt re-structure: report

The market generated a revenue of 2.1 billion rupees.

Top gainers during 1130 hours were Expolanka, Browns Investment and LOLC.  (Colombo/Dec05/2022)

 

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