A commendable decision | Daily News


 

A commendable decision

A directive issued by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to all state officials prohibiting them from doing political work relating to the upcoming General Election deserves praise. According to the Presidential directive all heads of government institutions and members of Director Boards should refrain from engaging in political work during the forthcoming General Election.

The officials should not involve themselves in any political activities in favour of any political party and should they decide otherwise, they can do so after resigning their posts, the directive states. Not just the General Election, State bodies should be free of politics altogether and State officials made accountable for the reversals in the organizations under them.

Hopefully the Presidential directive will signal a new outlook in all State institutions leading to their depoliticization and in turn result in their viability rather than be a drain on the public purse.

President Rajapaksa certainly is the first Head of State to issue specific instructions to State officials to keep off political work during election time though many others paid lip service in this regard. No doubt the President is well aware that all Government Departments become hives of activity during an election when hardly any work get done. Besides, State officials are also at the beck and call of politicians at election time to do their bidding while others directly engage in election work flouting all norms and election guidelines.

True, the establishment of the Independent Elections Commission had gone to a great extent in ensuring a level playing field and there can be no doubt on this score. However, there is no denying that the ruling party always held the whip hand, enjoying an unfair advantage in the disbursement of largesse and, what is more, the deployment of the State machinery in the form of direct or indirect involvement of state officials in the electoral process, although the Elections Commission Chairman is at great pains to pinpoint the irregularity. All parties have been guilty in this regard. Now perhaps the Chairman’s burden will be eased to a great degree with the President, no less, putting his weight to stem the rot.

It must also be mentioned that President Rajapaksa who has effected many changes since assuming duties to ensure clean governance and eliminate waste has no doubt spotted the flaws inherent in having Government officials getting involved in election work and decided to take action.

Besides, State officials getting directly involved in election work also entails waste in that State resources necessarily will have to be used and this is one aspect which the President strongly feels about as seen by the various directives he issued upon being elected, to State bodies towards eliminating waste and corruption. There are many State officers who are eager to please their political masters to whom they owe their positions in the many ministries and Government bodies, who will not hesitate to volunteer their support to ruling party candidates to be on their good books, at public expense.

With the “Manape” battle that will come into play prominently at this election (the preferential numbers were issued yesterday) and with the restrictions now in force occasioned by the Coronavirus, there is no knowing to what lengths politicians would go to enlist the support of State corporation bosses for the release of resources.

Hence, the President’s directive to keep officials on a leash is a timely one that would salvage scarce public resources at a time the national economy is in dire straits. The President should also direct all Ministers and other politicians against enlisting State officials do to do political work on their behalf at the election. Not just officials, but even employees in state bodies are released to do political work at election time in support of politicians to whom they owe their appointments, neglecting their official duties. This practice should cease.

Of course, political loyalties come to the fore at workplaces during election time and state officials are no exception. But these should not be at the expense of their official duties and what is more, at public cost. Like the President noted, all officials paid for by the public should work diligently, efficiently and honestly in discharging their duties. What they should do is to transform State institutions into efficient, corrupt free and profitable ones, he said.

The President cannot be unaware of the state of affairs at most Government bodies due to their highly politicized state, regardless of the Government in power. Hence, his directive to the officials to be more focused on their work rather than dabble in politics. Hopefully his appointment of retired military officers, who do not care much about politics, to top positions in some of the State bodies would help turn around these institutions. What is most needed in some of these loss making state bodies is a firm hand and discipline to ensure they are free of corruption that is the chief cause for the downfall of these State bodies.


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