Time to trim the fat | Page 2 | Daily News


Time to trim the fat

Finance and Media Minister Mangala Samaraweera is one of the few straight-talking politicians we have in our midst, who never hesitates to call a spade a spade even if its costs him politically or his views are at variance with his Cabinet colleagues. Minister Samaraweera, it was, who suggested that liquor shops be permitted to open without a time restriction and women be allowed to purchase liquor, over the counter, and work at places plying the liquor trade.

The minister made the suggestion knowing full well that he was bound to incur the wrath of the Maha Sangha and also the harassed wives who undergo ordeals at the hands of their drinking husbands, no doubt costing the minister a not inconsiderable number of votes. The President, however, as expected, shot down the suggestion, letting the status-quo prevail.

Minister Samaraweera, once again, has made an unpopular suggestion, no doubt, knowing well the negative political consequences to him and the party he represents. Speaking at an event in Matara, over the weekend, the minister called for a total halt to all recruitment to the public sector, which, as is common knowledge, is bursting at the seams at present. He pointed out that many public institutions were presently overstaffed and recruiting more hands to the public sector will add more financial burden to these institutions."In fact the government service cannot afford to recruit more. In some public offices, where only 1,000 public servants are needed, there are about 3,000 workers. It is a sin to fill more and more people into these public institutions and I am also part of that sin. Over-staffing is a reason for those institutions to make losses", he explained.

This, indeed, is an understatement on the part of the minister. Over-staffing is the principal cause for the sorry plight our public sector institutions are placed in today which in turn has loaded a heavy burden on the tax payer. All political parties, since Independence, should take the responsibility for this sad state of affairs. Jobs were given through the 'chit' of the minister, or, sitting MP of the ruling party to his/her constituents, ignoring qualifications and suitability for the jobs dished out in this cavalier fashion. State Banks, the CPC, CEB were some of the state institutions which were turned into havens for the jobless, plunging the vital state bodies into financial black-holes.

The practice, no doubt, is continuing unabated, if the minister's statistics are to be believed. If, as he says, there are 3,000 workers in a government office when the requirement is only for 1,000, there indeed is something badly wrong somewhere, which calls for immediate remedial action. No doubt, this situation is brought about by the fact that both major parties are today sharing power. If, prior to this, only the winning party stuffed state bodies with their supporters, we now have public sector institutions having to take the combined weight of unproductive labour at the cost of the tax payer, although UNP MPs bemoan that they are yet unable to get jobs for their supporters even though it was the Greens who were at the levers of power.

The situation was reminiscent of the old SLTB, which was packed by political cronies under all governments, driving to the ground a once profit making public venture never to raise its head again. Baila singers who performed on the political stages were given top posts and other riff raff who went canvassing for politicians found their way into the SLTB, spelling doom to this vital public service body.

Hence, the time has come to do away with this ruinous culture and trim the fat in the public sector. Merit should be made the sole criterion for appointments. The recent move to hold heads of department in public sector bodies responsible for all excess staff in their departments, meaning they (heads of departments) will be forced to pay the salaries, out of their own pockets, of such excess staff, may well be the solution. Like the minister pointed out, at the same event, the public sector cannot afford to accommodate anymore recruits although there were plenty of openings in the private sector. These include labour sector jobs that offer better salaries than even what Lankan expats earn in the Middle East.

Above all, the era where youth were dependent on politicians for jobs should end. Like the minister said, the time has come to end the era where youth lined up in front of ministers' offices to get jobs. "We have started a new era where the people are empowered to take the responsibility for their future without going after politicians", Minister Samaraweera said.

For this, our youth should be equipped to fit into the modern day job demands. It follows that our education system too should be tailored to cater to this need, through a revision of curriculae. Avenues should also be opened for opportunities of self-employment. This is more so, since, by the minister's own admission, the public sector can no longer absorb any more labour. The time has, indeed, come for a sea-change in the whole aspect of public sector employment.

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