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Sri Lanka President to appoint new ‘impermanent’ secretaries

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka President is expected to appoint ‘impermanent’ secretaries shortly after the appointment of cabinet ministers Thursday, furthering a broken system of politicized administration that exists in the country now according to critics.

Sri Lanka at one time had an apolitical permanent civil service, which helped curb corruption and also ensured stability of policy and fair treatment of all citizens.

Permanent secretaries with security of tenure were an important institution of liberty, like the judiciary in the UK and in former British possessions. It was instutionalized following the Northcote-Trevlyen report of 1854.

"It may be safely asserted that as matters now stand, the Government of the country could not be carried on without the aid of an efficient body of permanent officers, occupying a position duly subordinate to that of the Ministers who are directly responsible to the Crown and to Parliament, yet possessing sufficient independence to be able to advise, assist and to some extent influence those are from time to time set over them," the report observed.

Sri Lanka auditor general and other governance activists pointed to the lack of permanent secretaries for the gradual deterioration, corruption and politicization of the public service.

Critics say the once public service has since become a ‘ruler’s service’

Until 1971, a civil service commission, appointed, transferred and took disciplinary action against ministry secretaries.

The institution was then scrapped with the new constitution and outsiders were brought in.

Sri Lanka’s public service was progressively broken through a Republican and Presidential constitution.

Remarkably under the current constitution, secretaries lose office automatically, when a cabinet is dissolved or the Prime Minister loses a no confidence motion and do not remain even until a replacement is appointed.





In the October ‘coup’, President Maithripala Sirisena sacked then Ranil Wickremesinghe’s impermanent secretary and Mahinda Rajapaksa brought in a retired secretary, exposing another facet of instability.

His impermanent secretary has since been re-appointed. (Colombo/Dec21/2018)

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