Public officials need re-assurance | Daily News

Public officials need re-assurance

President Maithripala Sirisena observed that during the last three years public officials have increasingly shown a resistance to go along with wrong decisions of ministers, under whom they serve, which he saw as positive development. Addressing the National Awards Ceremony, organised by the Committee on Public Accounts (COPA), to recognise State Institutions with a high level of performance, at the Parliament Complex, on Monday, President Sirisena noted that public officials have developed a fear to commit wrongdoing, fraud and engage in corruption, in the last three years, giving rise to a positive culture in the public service. “Public officials’ fear to commit wrong had vanished over the past years, especially due to the misconduct of politicians. We have been able to gradually change this attitude. Now I hear them saying that they would have to go to the CID, or the FCID, if they do wrong. We have had a committed, clean, public service, in the past, and I want to restore the same in the country, under my rule”, the President went onto assert.

The number of state officials, who served under Mahinda Rajapaksa, now being paraded before the various Commissions and the courts, give an indication of the extent of the pusillanimity of our public servants, confronted with the illegal orders, of government ministers, in that era. The sil redi case is a stand out in this regard, where public funds, amounting Rs. 600 million, was spent without batting an eyelid, by an official, who was the topmost public servant, in the country. Need one elaborate on the situation that would have obtained down the line?

It is not that we were wanting in upright officials, who stood up to politicians, who wanted their illegal orders carried out. The pluck and courage shown by the former OIC of the Peliyagoda Police, Inspector Samurdhajeewa, who point blank refused to release the notorious criminal Baddegane Sanjeewa, on the orders of the onetime powerful Chief of the Presidential Security Division SSP Nihal Karunaratne, readily comes to mind. The intrepid OIC, no doubt, knew he was treading on dangerous territory, and, would have to pay dearly for his darring. But this did not deter him from refusing to carry out an illegal order. There was also the famous case of a DIG ordering out a powerful minister out of the Galle Police station, for forcing the police to execute an illegal order. Among officers, from the Civil Service too, there were individuals who refused to toe the line, and, who quit, leaving their honesty and integrity intact. Such officials, lamentably, were few and far between.

Of course, the rot set in the early sixties, in the aftermath of the attempted coup d’etat, to topple the Sirima Bandaranaike government, by a section of the security establishment. The backbone of the Sri Lanka Administrative Service, which, up to that point, was stiff and erect, was broken, with politicians starting to rule the roost.

This is why, the new culture that is woven into service, where public officials have become bold is to be welcomed. This has been doubly reinforced, with powerful government ministers, too, being arraigned before the investigating commissions, to answer for their acts of omissions and commissions pertaining to expending of public funds. Nay, no less a personage than the Prime Minister had been summoned before the Presidential Commission on the Bond Scam, merely because some reference was made to him, during the hearings.

Juxtapose this scenario with the Rajapaksa era, when the country’s first lady Chief Justice was given short shrift, and, driven out of office for ruling against a Rajapaksa sibling, who wanted to spend billions of public funds, by-passing parliament. Not only that, the Attorney General’s Department was turned into a cipher, of the ruling clan, with orders going out to close the files of individuals arraigned for rape and murder, breaking the spirit of it’s officials. Public officials were made to grovel before powerful ministers.

Be that as it may, the government should ensure that the kith and kin of ministers, or, their favourites, are not appointed to responsible positions in the public service. It is not just the ministry secretaries who carry out illegal orders. There are other appointees, who owe their positions to the subject minister, who may wield more power than even the secretaries and use their clout to cause loss to the public, by illegal acts. These movers and shakers, too, should come under the scrutiny of the authorities.

The President should also extend a firm guarantee to the public officials that they would, under no circumstances, be penalised for resisting politicians, to carry out illegal orders. This includes transfers to other posts in different ministries. The recent transfer of the Chairman of the Mineral Sands Corporation, to another post, over a dispute in the import of a coal consignment, and, the eviction of the former Director General of the Wildlife Department are two such instances. It would certainly send the wrong message to others, that, it would not pay to be honest. 


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