A telling message | Daily News


A telling message

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, since taking over office in November last year, has introduced revolutionary changes in the style of Governance hitherto practised by all leaders before him. He has striven to be different from all his predecessors in more ways than one.

One of his first orders as President was to get all pictures and portraits of himself adorning State institutions removed forthwith, dispensing with the normal practice. He also drastically slashed the salaries and perks of all heads of State institutions and took the unprecedented step of almost a wholesale cutting down on his security detail and vehicle convoy, expecting ministers and MPs to follow suit.

On Monday, President Rajapaksa went another step further enjoining heads of a premier Government corporation to operate their institution efficiently and in a profitable manner, stressing on the fact that Government departments were maintained with the hard-earned money of the people. Addressing the top hierarchy of a leading corporation whose fortunes have been fluctuating over the years, the President said that it was not in his line of thinking that Government institutions should engage in politics - meaning promoting and kowtowing to the Government of the day and that what is foremost was running their institutions efficiently and as viable, profitable entities.

They should always look at ways to improve productivity at their institutions, and, what is more, eliminate waste, corruption and indiscipline. He also said that apart from health and education services which are run by the Government for the welfare of the public sans a profit motive, all other state bodies should strive towards self- generation of income for the development of their institutions and the welfare of workers.

Certainly a majority of our State institutions are a pampered lot. The astronomical debts accumulated by certain State bodies tell a tale. An emerging economy like ours cannot engage in lavish spending sprees for the maintenance of the top brass of debt ridden Government institutions, nor there do any question of pouring financial resources to a bottomless pit to keep loss making Government institutions afloat.

No doubt, hard decisions will have to be taken like the President implied. Obviously, among the foremost steps be taken, no doubt, is to cleanse all our state bodies of indiscipline which, admittedly, is the direct result of politicization of the state sector. This could well have prompted the President’s remark that he did not expect state institutions to dabble in politics.

As a strict disciplinarian, given his military and public service background, President Rajapaksa expects this attitude to seep down to all aspects of Government and functions of State bodies. Sadly, it is this vital ingredient that is essential for the development of an individual or an organization that is woefully lacking today in our Government bodies, with politics ruling the roost leading to a drop in professional standards and corruption.

The efforts at transformation, no doubt, will be a Herculean task given the patronage system and the political contours inherent in such an exercise. The effort would mean surgery, even if it means a piecemeal start. The fat needs trimming and the dead wood got rid of, if there is any chance of turning around these white elephants so that they will not be a burden to the State.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa will not deny that our Government institutions are bursting at the seams, with a large army of unproductive labour. Perhaps, the move to cut down on all non-essential staff during the Coronavirus was a telling revelation of how these state bodies were able to function efficiently and to their optimum without the additional (unproductive) labour. The problem was certainly exacerbated during the Yahapalanaya regime when the two major political parties entered into a marriage of convenience to govern together, necessitating both sides to pack Government departments with supporters of both the parties.

In the developed West, hard hit by the pandemic, the prevailing status quo of the ‘work from home’ rule for selected staff is to continue indefinitely. This no doubt would be food for thought to most employers in Third World countries who are reeling from the economic consequences of the pandemic. However, in our work culture, dismissal or layoffs are not contemplated at all and the Government has assured that both State and private sector jobs would be protected.

Be that as it may, there is a need for fresh thinking on ways to run our Government institutions as viable entities without them falling prey to the destructive influence of political or trade union interference. As already mentioned, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has wrung out timely changes that have impacted positively on the running of State bodies. Hopefully the discipline and regimentation inherent in the President as an ex- soldier would rub off on our moribund Government bodies to lift themselves from the morass and turn the corner soon.

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