Trimming the fat | Daily News

Trimming the fat

The Yahapalanaya government, it appears, has taken a meaningful step to confront head on the perennial issue of over-staffing in the state sector. The failure and/or the reluctance of successive governments to trim the fat has prevented most of our state institutions from functioning as financially viable entities. Needless to say, the surplus is chiefly due to political patronage in the recruitment process. For obvious reasons, this has led to indiscipline and insubordination in our government departments and corporations, over the years, that has not only affected productivity but made these institutions dens of corruption.

According to our main story yesterday, the government, henceforth, will make state sector heads foot the salary bill of the excess staff under them. According to Director Information Ministry of Finance and Mass Media M. Ali Hassen, Secretaries to Ministries, Heads of Departments, Chairpersons, executive officers and Accountants of Government Institutions will be made liable to pay the salaries of redundant workers they have employed in excess of the approved cadre. The Cabinet has taken this decision after the Report of the Final Quarter of the State Sector Employees - 2017 was submitted by Media Minister Mangala Samaraweera recently. According to this report there are over 7,500 persons employed in various government institutions above the cadre positions approved by the Management Service Department of the Treasury. It states that during 2017, alone, 23,224 persons were recruited to the state service while at the same time 5,000 public servants had retired from service.

Hopefully, the government will have the will to go ahead with what is admittedly an unpopular measure. But it has to begin somewhere if the government departments and corporation are made to run as viable entities. Today, government institutions such as the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation and the CEB have been virtually run to the ground, financially, mainly due to the bloated staff on their payrolls.

But the problem should be addressed at the source. It is common knowledge that it is the politicians who are the chief culprits where the excess staff in government departments is concerned. The problem has exacerbated after January 8. We say this because, while in the past, only the victorious party at the elections packed the state sector with its supporters, the present dispensation, being a unity government of the two major parties, supporters of both parties have been recruited to government departments and corporations without let or hindrance, inflating their salary bills out of proportion.

Hence, as already mentioned, trimming the fat is going to be a herculean task, what with the Chairmen and Directors of these Corporations who are now called upon to foot the salary bill of the excess staff, themselves responsible for recruiting their own friends and relatives for nonexistent posts at these institutions. In any event, these individuals themselves are placed in a dilemma. They cannot dismiss the excess employees recruited by their predecessors or those recommended to them by ministers of an earlier government. To do so would be quoting litigation, if these employees are below the retirement age. The only option, therefore, appears to be to force the politicians concerned to foot the salary bill of those whom they recommended.

This may be justified, given that Chairmen, or, Directors of the government institutions concerned would be powerless to ignore the orders of a powerful minister to recruit his/her supporters.

Come election time, politicians of all hues offer jobs to their supporters and once ensconced in power they are bound to oblige. Political patronage in granting jobs prevailed under all governments since independence. However, things got out of hand in 1970, when, after the victory of the United Front, supporters, in their droves, were given government jobs. Not to be outdone, the UNP even recruited baila singers to the CTB, after the 1977 victory, and, similarly placed square pegs in round holes in other government departments as well.

The outcome is that today the government is saddled with a huge pension bill to maintain the excess staff that was recruited to the state sector over the years by successive governments. Not only were they contributing to the financial ruination of the public institutions but also acted immune to regulations and disciplinary codes due to their close connections with the ministers responsible for their recruitment.

Hence, rather than penalizing the hierarchy of the government departments by way of forcing them to foot the wage bills of the excess staff, legislation should be introduced to ban politicians from packing state institutions with their supporters. Laws should also be brought to make merit the sole criterion for jobs in the state sector. This is the reason why the private sector is way ahead in efficiency and financial viability, adhering to this norm.

State sector employees should also be made to follow a proper work ethic. The legendary indifference and lethargy attributed to the government servant should be transformed if efficiency is to be promoted in the government departments and corporations. Steps should also be taken to eliminate waste and corruption in the state institutions which is costing the government much more than the salaries squandered on excess staff. 


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