Intense focus on delivering a better service | Daily News
United Nations Public Service Day today

Intense focus on delivering a better service

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa inspects work at Government offices
President Gotabaya Rajapaksa inspects work at Government offices

The United Nations Public Service Day is celebrated on June 23 every year. The UN Public Service Day was designated by the United Nations General Assembly’s Resolution A/RES/57/277 of 2003, to “celebrate the value and virtue of public service to the community.” The United Nations Economic and Social Council established that the United Nations Public Service Awards be bestowed on Public Service Day for contributions made to the cause of enhancing the role, prestige, and visibility of public service.

The day also marks the anniversary of the date when the International Labour Organization adopted the Convention on Labour Relations (Public Service), 1978 (No. 151). This Convention is a framework for determining working conditions of all civil servants across the world.

A public service is a service intended to serve all members of a community. The term is associated with a social consensus (usually expressed through democratic elections) that certain services should be available to all, regardless of income, physical ability or mental acuity.

Public services make the state visible to its citizens, often forming the principal tangible link between governments and their people. Public services carry and diffuse the values of the new nations and contribute to the bonding between the state and citizens.

In short, public servants see their work as important for a wide range of reasons – from helping to uphold our democracy to making one person’s day slightly better. But no matter why Government employees find their work important, they have all committed their lives to public service – and that is worth honoring.

Today’s public servants must have an openness to learn, a desire to help others, an ability to engage people and an understanding of commercialism in the context of the Public sector.

Public servants shall be guided in their work and their professional conduct by a balanced framework of public service values: democratic, professional, ethical and people values. These families of values are not distinct but overlap. They are perspectives from which to observe the universe of Public Service values.

When it comes to the Sri Lanka, unfortunately the public service does not have a high popularity and a good image among people. The most common accusations pointed at Sri Lankan public servants are delaying services as much as possible, wasting valuable time and money of the public, making it impossible to get things done easily from public offices by pointing out various rules, regulations and demanding formal documents that cannot be provided at all or cannot be provided within a short time, favouring relations, friends, etc., not answering telephone calls at all or just forwarding the call here and there without attending to it during this COVID-19 outbreak, etc. Some public servants use state properties, such as vehicles, stationery, photocopy machines, etc., for their personal use.

When compared with the private sector in Sri Lanka, Sri Lankan public servants enjoy a good life with salaries paid to them no matter whether they deliver the required services satisfactorily or not, with 42 days paid leave while teachers enjoy another three months of paid vacations, state medical insurance scheme (Agrahara) which offers up to Rs.350,000 annual cover plus many other benefits, various scholarships and other official foreign tours, etc. In addition, some sections in the public service have special benefits for the employees and their families.  

Certain parts of the Sri Lankan public service such as the Armed Forces, Health staff, etc., started to work 24x7 in March last year with the outbreak of COVID-19 in Sri Lanka. Since that day all members of those sections in the public service still work without a break. The nation should salute them on this day. 

Public service can create a positive image or a negative image in the minds of the people on whichever Government governs the country. Therefore, it is essential to make sure that public service delivers what is required by the people on time, ensuring quality.        

(Resources: PSC website and UN/Wikipedia)

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The Public Service Commission (PSC) of Sri Lanka is a Constitutionally enshrined body, which is answerable to Parliament in relation to the appointment, promotion, transfer, removal and exercise of disciplinary control over public officers. The vision of the PSC is ‘Dedicated Public Service for the Nation’s Excellence’. The mission is ‘To Establish and Promote an Efficient, Disciplined and Contented Public Service to Serve the Public with Fairness, Transparency and Consistency’.

The objectives of the PSC are to establish, improve and sustain the efficiency and effectiveness of the human resource by upholding standards, policies, guidelines and rules governing the appointments, promotions and disciplinary control of the Public Service, to be sensitive to the needs of the changing environment in order to support the process of decision-making for continued progression in public service, to be responsive to the grievances of the public officers aggrieved by orders of the delegated authorities in consideration of the interests of both parties and making fair and correct decisions, to establish a recognized career path for the public officers in order to ensure the career development of individuals with exposure to varied skills, knowledge and experience with a view to retaining the most appropriate officers in service by motivation and job satisfaction and to create a disciplined public officer adhering to professional ethics void of acts of misconduct.

During the era when Sri Lanka was a colony under the British Empire, the first Public Service Commission was established by the Ceylon (Constitution) Order in Council of May15, 1946. The Public Service Commission was thereby vested with the executive powers of appointment, promotion, transfer, disciplinary control and dismissal of public officers.

With the adoption of the first Republican Constitution in 1972 the Public Service Commission which was hitherto in existence for 26 years was abolished and the authoritative power over the Public Service was vested in the Cabinet of Ministers.

The second Republican Constitution of 1978 re-established the Public Service Commission and it functioned only as the Appellate Authority. In 1992, this Commission by virtue of the delegated authority vested in it by the Cabinet of Ministers exercised the executive powers of appointment, promotion, transfer, disciplinary control and dismissal of public officers (except higher positions of Senior Assistant Secretary and above). The Cabinet of Ministers retained with it the authority to alter, vary or rescind any decision made by the Commission or a Committee thereof with delegated powers.

The 17th Amendment to the Constitution in 2001 nullified the Chapter IX of the Constitution concerning the Public Service which hitherto existed and a new chapter was incorporated. As such, the Public Service Commission consisted of members, not more than nine in number, appointed by the President on the recommendation of the Constitutional Council and one person from among such members was appointed as the Chairman of the Public Service Commission.

This particular amendment brought about a robust change into the profile of the Public Service Commission and the authority vested in the Cabinet of Ministers with regard to appointment, promotion, transfer and disciplinary control of the Public Service was delegated to the Public Service Commission subject to the provisions of the Constitution. Moreover, the Public Service Commission in this instance was made an institution accountable and answerable to the Parliament adhering to its Standing Orders.

In the year 2010, matters pertaining to the establishment and functions of the Public Service Commission have been revised by the 18th Amendment to the Constitution. This ought to be a Commission answerable to Parliament in keeping with its Standing Orders. In terms of Sub Article 54(1) of the Constitution as amended by its 18th Amendment, the Public Service Commission consists of not more than nine members appointed by the President. Of this number, members not less than three should be persons with experience as public officers for more than fifteen years. The President will appoint one of such members as the Chairman of the Public Service Commission. They hold office for a term of three years and are eligible for reappointment for one further term.

In pursuance of Article 55(1) of the Constitution as amended by its 18th Amendment, the Cabinet of Ministers shall provide for all policy matters concerning the public officers. Subject to provisions of the Constitution, the Public Service Commission has been vested with the powers of appointment, promotion, transfer and disciplinary control of the public officers including police officers.

In terms of Article 54(1) of the Constitution as amended by the 19th Amendment, the Public Service Commission consists of nine members appointed by the President. Of this number, members not less than three should be persons with experience as public officers for more than fifteen years. The President will, on the recommendation of the Constitutional Council, appoint one of such members as its Chairman. Subject to provisions of the Constitution, the Public Service Commission has been vested with the powers of appointment, promotion, transfer and disciplinary control of the public officers. Powers over police officers and audit officers were removed from the scope of the Public Service Commission with the establishment of the National Police Commission and the Audit Commission by the 19th Amendment to the Constitution.

The Education Service Committee and Health Service Committee have been established in terms of the provisions in Article 57(1) of the Constitution.

The Public Service Commission was established as an independent commission by the 19th Amendment to the Constitution in the year 2015. The President herein appoints members constituting nine persons for this Commission as recommended by the Constitutional Council. And also, the President, on the recommendation of the Constitutional Council, appoints one of such members as its Chairman. Consequent to the establishment of the independent National Police Commission and National Audit Commission anew by the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, appointment, promotion, transfer, disciplinary control and dismissal of officers appointed by such Commissions were removed from the scope of the Public Service Commission.

A Parliamentary Council was established by the 20th Amendment to the Constitution in the year 2020 and the President on observations of such council appoints for this Commission a group of members not less than five and not more than nine. Furthermore, by abolishing the Audit Commission which hitherto existed, all functions such as appointment, promotion, transfer, disciplinary control and dismissal from service of officers of the Audit Service made by such commission and the appointment, promotion, transfer, disciplinary control and dismissal from service of police officers made by the National Police Commission were once again delegated to the Public Service Commission. 

Accordingly, this Commission presently discharges the duties of appointment, promotion, transfer, disciplinary control and dismissal from service of all other public officers as a whole numbering approximately one million including the officers in the field of education in the Provincial Councils except the officers appointed by the President and the Cabinet of Ministers and officers in three Armed Forces.


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