Friday, February 15, 2008

Encounters with the Sri Lanka Administrative Service - I

The Sri Lanka Adminstrative Service is official title of a creature that the general public usually describe as bureaucrats or government servants.

The SLAS was created by Sirimavo Bandaranaike in the 1960's. The original admnstrative system was the elite Ceylon Civil Service, which had a well earned repuation for efficiency and integrity. Civil Servants were drawn from the very best of the University graduates (believe it or not, the local universities produced world-class products, before politicisation). These were men on high intellect and integrity, their service ethos was to serve the general public efficiently, withn the parameters set by the Minister in Charge, but ensuring that nothing contravened the constitution, the Financial and administrative regulations and the conscience of the officer. Being of high intellect and often of independant means they would not be browbeaten into anything. The ministers thus had a tough time implementing impractical, unnecessary or silly rules. The minister would need to convince the Permanent Secretary or other department head of the usefulness of the measure before it could be implemented properly.

This grated on the nerves of Felix Dias Bandaranaike and Mrs Bandaranaike. They decided they wanted a more servile system, one in which Civil Servants would not question, but obey. They decided to abolish the Civil Service. Existing officers were offered either immediate termination of service with pension or a limited further period of service (upto 10 years Or retirement I believe) and then termination with pension.

At a stroke, a system carefully built over a century and a half was skewered and half its guts removed. It evolved into the Ceylon Administrative Service and later the Sri Lanka Administrative Service.

The edifice did not crumble overnight. Although a good many officers left immediatedly, and were eagerly snapped up by such instututions and the World Bank and the UN, others remained.

Politicians began to stuff the service with their catchers. As the older CCS officers retired their place was taken by the newer appointees, who were mostly political appointees, chosen for their loyalty to ministers and not on ability.

In the meantime, the authorities, in wisdom had turned their attention to the destruction of the education system, first the Universities and then the schools.

Gradually the system crumbled and we have the monster of today. Who is interested in a government job today? Mostly people will little ambition and less ability. Who is interested in entering the local University system, at one time amongst the best in Asia?

This brings me to my next post - an encounter with ths Sri Lanka Customs.


pissu perera said...

this is something i heard in office, and being the kind of office that it was, i'm sure there is more truth to it than to what usually floats around the grapevine. quite a few educated people in middle management in the private sector with comfortable salaries are leaving those jobs to enter the government sector in an effort to turn things around. an example would be the GM of railways, gunaruwan somebody if i remember right. the problem here though is that the system is too strong to be changed by a few people and they might leave in frustration before any change occurs.

Jack Point said...

It is good to hear that a few people are trying, although, as you surmise, it is difficult for one man to put a whole system right.

Still, any improvement is a plus so lets hope whoever tries succeeds!