23 June, 2024

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Government Services – Still The Same Chaos

By Asoka Seneviratne

Asoka Seneviratne

30 some years ago, as a very young man I was returning to London on an Air Lanka plane. A bunch of tourists returning to their countries were in the bus that takes you from the terminal to the plane. They were talking about a terrible experience they had in another tourist destination. And one said, “we thought we saw the worse, but now we have seen the worst!” They were referring to their total tourist experience in Sri Lanka.

Fast forward to today and not much has changed. Before flying into Colombo, I called the Colombo Hilton hotel to confirm my booking using the telephone number on their website. Boy or boy, all I heard was a bunch of prompts and none of those prompts resulted in talking to a person of even leaving a voicemail message. Despite repeated attempts, I was not able to get through to the Colombo Hilton. My email never got a reply either 

Upon arriving at the Colombo airport after a long journey, I was surprised to see how disorganized the immigration lines were. Airport has two section of immigration kiosks; one near and the other far. As the far kiosks are not clearly visible, all passengers congregate to the closer kiosks, making the lines very long.

Upon reaching the immigration officer, I handed him my passport. He took my passport, waved a gesture to me with hand and walked away from his kiosk with my passport in his hand. It turned out that he went out to control traffic and tell passengers about the FAR kiosks that nobody knew existed. He returned after a few minutes and another lady (staff) approached his kiosk from behind and they started chatting. I had to wait till they would finish chatting.

Why on earth there was not a single airport staff member to quickly guide arriving passengers to the immigration desks for a speedy process beats me. Who runs this airport?  A family member of a powerful politico, perhaps!  Very likely!

The airport looks totally run down. One can write graffiti using the layers of dust accumulated on cold air grills on ceilings. Worse, not a single immigration officer had a smile of welcome to this supposedly friendly tourist destination. We spend millions on advertising for tourists but upon their arrival, they walk into a dull, dirty, unfriendly, lethargic, inefficient environment.

Where are the promised warm welcomes and the much-needed guidance to get the tourist to their destinations fast? Are we a vibrant tourist destination or a country who brags about natural beauty but don’t do much upon arrival to meet and greet, welcome and quickly get them to their hotels? Is this so hard?

I wonder how much we cam learn from those tropical Caribbean destinations where they do a real great job to get tourists into a holiday mood! Well presented and spoken female guides reach up to the arriving tourists to help them to get to their hotels fast. The eventual departure areas into the country are not crowded so the arriving tourist from better organized societies don’t get shell-shocked on arrival walking into a crowded, chaotic taxi terminal

A few days later, I had the misfortune of visiting the new Immigration head office building at Battaramulla. A vast 21st century building filled with people of 20th century mentality. I was up on 7th floor. The place had absolutely no system or order. We lined outside the building labelled dual citizens. The line next to it was visas. A large crowd was on both lines. Suddenly, a shabbily dressed man came and opened the door of the Visa line ignoring the dozens of those who were lined up in the dual citizens line. So all of a sudden there was a barrage of people who rushed to the door but those who came first and standing for hours had to join the end of the line due to the absolute stupidity of the man who opened the wrong door.

Then he opened a big ledger and started asking for identification of everybody and writing the info on the ledger one at a time. No computers but the old-fashioned pen and paper system. Given that it was going to take hours to complete this process for everybody, the crowd got frustrated, they all started ignoring this man with a ledger and jumped into the main hallway to take elevators. 

I could not help thinking of Nandasena who promised artificial intelligence to make the public service Asia’s miracle! 

Then I was on 7th floor and another large crowd reaching out to a tiny counter manned with two nice ladies. They were doing their best but due to the lack of a proper system to process the crowd, the whole reception area was yet another disaster. No lines, no tokens, no system but chaos, everybody clamoring for attention of the two busy ladies.

I jumped to first hoop and was told to pay Rs 2000 to the cashier. I reached to the cashier’s counter only for him to close the counter and depart for his lunch of 45 minutes. Crowd was gathering to pay but the cashier was gone. Me and others waited and waited then got tired. 

I walked into the office of a so called ‘Deputy Controller” and there was a nice large office with a young lady occupying the hot seat. She was busy on a private call to a family member. When she dropped the phone, I told her that dozens of people who have come from far and wide are waiting for the only cashier who had gone for lunch. Right away her response was “so sit and wait a little. He will be beck soon”. No apologies, no sense of embarrassment for a terrible service! Then I asked her “why can’t you put someone to take the money while the cashier is gone”? She replied that the cashier is not from Immigration but from the ministry of finance and there was nothing she could do.

How pathetic!? Public service gone to dogs!

I really didn’t care about the delay for me personally. But I could not help feeling for those who were with kids and babies apparently travelled from faraway places, taking tiring bus journeys in hot sun.

The return to the airport to depart carry the same chaos. Two doors are opened for passengers to enter the terminal but not a single soul to guide the departing passengers into a line or even where to go. The arriving lounge into the terminal is too small and once again chaotic. The departing tourists looked fed up. Some of them were making fun of our systems (or no systems). I knew what they were thinking. What a mess is this place?

Took me back to memory lane and visits 30 plus years ago. Nothing has changed much! We are definitely not geared for a 21st century tourist operation.

A few years ago, when I returned to my hometown outskirts of Colombo, the little three-way junction bordering high level road were fitted with the classiest looking set of traffic lights. They did a great job controlling traffic in this busy intersection. They were very smartly done too. But this time, I found the lights still there but not functioning. What a shame? The place is totally chaotic again.

Dozens of traffic lights at several main intersections are broken too. Nugegoda high level road, Kohuwala, and several more nearby busy intersections that once had good functional traffic lights are broken creating total and absolute shameful chaos. And occasionally, one can see a powerful politico in a super luxury SUV passing through too, totally blind to the chaos. The whole Kohuwala and Nugegoda junction looked like a herd of cattle.

Granted traffic lights break. But why not stick a giant and simple sign on all entry points to the intersections to say “STOP. ONE VEHICLE AT A TIME” Then put a cop to ensure drivers follow rules. This is certainly not a magic bullet but why not do something rather than nothing at all. 

How many ministers and local ministers do we have?

Local elected authorities do not care for these broken traffic lights but at Kohuwala junction, they are busy building a multi -million-rupee overpass at a time the country is broke. Why not spend thousands and fix the lights rather than spending millions to build overpasses which will too be neglected in a few years?

Who runs this country? All those national and local elected politicians, what are they doing? Who is holding them accountable for this chaos and non-management? What happened to our country? Broke, begging and chaotic?

Still those who ran the country to ground, have the audacity to come on public platform and give bull-crap talk to the masses! I have no doubt if our law enforcement work right, a very large number of them would be in jail instead of on public/cyber platforms.

It was JRJ’s silly 1978 constitution that laid the foundation of eventual corruption and l bankruptcy of our land. It took away the vital checks and balances and separation of powers in the name of a strong executive. Essentially he took away the mechanisms needed to hold public officials and politicos accountable.  Given the quality of the uneducated politicians we kept electing, our political culture nose-dived into a corrupt and bankrupt mess!

Sri Lankan people are talented and we have no shortage of skilled professionals. They are also enterprising. But I am convinced what we lack are good managers. Remember, managers are paid top dollar for thinking power. They put in place systems, procedures, plans etc. for a smooth operation of a good public service. But for the most part we have no such. Hence everything is chaotic and messed up.

A final word! 75 years of mismanagement by mostly an aristocratic, hierarchical political leadership backed by a hopelessly stupid JRJ constitution, the politicians ran our country into bankruptcy. And now as if the damage done to our nation’s economy isn’t bad enough, the current leadership is slowly dismantling what is left of our Democracy too. Fundamental human rights like free speech is  systematically taken away by a man who not only lost his whole party in the last GE, but did not even qualify to be in the parliament even under national list. His stupid late uncle made this possible. This demonstrates the sheer stupidity of JRJ and his more stupid 1978 constitution.

Power flows through the ballot box and with a very powerful Executive JRJ created, power must definitely always flow through the ballot box only.

No matter how RW and MR goons like to slice and dice things, eventually it is the everyday Lankan who pay the price with their diminished standard of living or better still with extreme poverty! The politicos will continue to be driven around in their luxury SUV’s and bullet proof cars.

Are we not slowly being dragged into a country like Idi Amin’s Uganda ! 

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Latest comments

  • 6
    0

    Asoka, I can see stereotypes nitpicking your article ( especially UK return, ) but I for sure have appreciated your previous articles. I’m still waiting to receive my renewed passport from Lanka after submitting at our high commission, three and half months ago. Who ever in Lanka says it’s semt and at this end the staff keeps repeating ” not yet received “.

  • 5
    0

    I had similar bad experiences. Just before the pandemic, I wanted to renew my SL passport while on holiday in SL. Although I had a new SL passport issued to me after getting my dual citizenship, it came to light that my old NIC was no longer valid & had to apply for a new ID card, which required an address in SL. I have no permanent address in SL & usually stay at my mother in law’s when I am on holiday but the gramasevaka refused to authorise my application as my name was not in the electoral list. The gramasevaka works only 3 days a week & even on some of those days, he was apparently ‘out’, attending meetings. To cut the long story short, I would have given up the idea of renewing my passport if not for the intervention of a police officer known to me who introduced me to an official at the secretariat & was able to bypass the gramasevaka. Finally, I had a new NIC so that I could apply for my passport & while waiting to collect it, I befriended a person who had come from Chilaw for the same purpose. When he collected his passport, he found that the original birth certificate was missing from the document set he had handed over. When he complained, he was told quite abruptly to apply for a new copy as it would be impossible look for it.
    Cont.

    • 3
      0

      Raj,
      My offspring tell me that “invalid ” NIC’s are perfectly valid if you apply from abroad. Another of those irrational “rules”.

  • 6
    0

    Cont.
    Fortunately for me, I got back all my documents, otherwise, there would have been no time to make fresh applications for any missing documents as I had already spent my 2 week holiday trying to sort my passport issue. I feel sorry for the average person, particularly, those living outside Colombo, having to spend at least a day trying to get things done in public institutions, which are absurdly clogged up with red tape, indifference & lethargy. In UK, I can do everything on-line, from tax returns to obtaining a passport, without leaving home. Documents can be certified at the local post office for a nominal fee without sending the originals, therefore, no hassle or wasting time in Govt. depts. & we don’t even have ID cards. SL is still in the dark ages & don’t seem to be progressing either. Thanks to decades of misrule & mismanagement by incompetent politicians, SL has gone backwards.

    • 4
      0

      My take is that the government services are made such that they make it so hard to get something done. They rarely give options, ie. if you can’t get Gramasevaka to sign off your ID application, why not by certified by a local police OIC. The more silly things is one has to provide birth certificate and other documents to get the dual citizenship but after all that, one has to start from ground zero all over again to get a passport.

      Does the approval of dual citizenship mean anything ? Should the dual citizenship certificate not automatically entitle you to a passport ?

      When I got my citizenship in my current country, a fresh passport was issued as a part of it. It cvame in the mail in 2 weeks. No red tape and yet this country run a million times smoother than SL.

      Mandating a Gram Sevaka to sign off on a ID application only provides yet another means for bribery. The more bred tape means more bribery.

      Once again it rolls back to ” who manages our country ?” Who make the rules?

      How can we fast forward their brains from 20th to 21st century is the million dollar question. How about voting out the corrupt two major parties and try AKD party?

      Food for thought!

  • 1
    2

    Mr Asoka Seneviratne says,
    .
    How about voting out the corrupt two major parties and try AKD party?

    Food for thought!”
    .
    Yes, persons like Raj-UK, you have too many misgivings, without, I feel listening to AKD and some of his lieutenants.
    .
    Food for thought, indeed!
    .
    Panini Edirisinhe (NIC 483111444V)

    • 7
      0

      Sinhala_Man
      A charismatic leader with the gift of the gab can make convincing speeches. The average German was taken up by Hitler’s speeches but a few, saw through him, although to no avail as the majority adored him & the rest is history. I make my conclusions based on documented facts & other information, such as, the integrity of the people involved, proved by past track record, level of education, etc. I was in favor of the NPP, mistakenly, believing that it was the product of the Aragalaya, but its alliance with the JVP in particular, which is open about its communist ideology & still not apologetic about itsviolant & distructive past,

      • 7
        0

        Cont,
        has given me cause for concern. We had faith in MR & GR but it was a disaster, therefore, should we repeat the mistake by assumptions again & without serious thought as to how the wonderful JVP/NPP strategy in governing the country would workout? What are their sources of funding? Taxation, export strategy, growth forecast? Who will be doing what? A judgemental error right now will never recover the country. SL could be another Afghanistan, Lebanon, Myanmar, Zimbabwe in the making (if not already), at the point of no return with the wrong choice.

        • 2
          0

          Raj-UK,
          .
          I thought JVP had better options given their public rhetoric and attractive platform presentations. However, it is now clear that they just want to take power into their own hands. They have no options to bring dollars into the country.

          Junior level of their supporters would not have the material to make wonders to this deteriorating society.
          Why did Viyathmaga fail? Were they not qualified candidates ?

          Jayasumana
          Godhewa
          Ranjith Bandara
          etc `?

          Besides, JVPrs are not talented at making compromises with various thoughts bearers in our society, let alone how can they make miracles leading to “REAL CHANGE” ?

          I think the people of this country should be very clear now that JVPs are not our option. They need much more time to mature. The person called “Vasantha Samarasinghe” has no constructive argument other than some TV talk shows against corruption and 75 years of history. We expect more if they are the only pure force to take over.

          https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tif0aY7nr4U

      • 2
        1

        Dear Raj-UK,
        .
        Thanks, for both your comments. Each has been “Liked” by 2. Before proceeding further let me increase that to 3 each. Done!
        .
        I think that you know from my numerous comments, and a few articles, that I am real and serious. Honest? I hope that you will grant that when I’m as specific as I usually am, I’d get found out, if I tried to deceive.
        .
        Please don’t undervalue your own judgement, or hold AKD’s gift for speaking, against him. How charismatic? Having met him in person in Kanmark Hotel, Bandarawela on the 21st of February 2023, let me observe that he’s a guy whom one would pass by on the road without pausing because there’s nothing extraordinary about him.
        .
        I find him charismatic because he’s honest and unassuming. Hitler used to whip up hatred of groups of persons; AKD doesn’t. I have listened to him for at least a hundred hours on the Internet, perhaps much more. I know that you cannot do so; a retired and unemployed (unemployable as well, perhaps) guy like me can do so – and so here goes, in English which I hope is clear and comprehensible.
        .
        Panini Edirisinhe of Bandarawela (now in Maharagama), doing what I can to promote truth and honesty.

        • 2
          0

          Sinhala_Man

          Thank you for considering my point of view. I have no doubt about your wisdom as a teacher (my father was one) nor your sincerity, & maybe, you are better informed than me after meeting AKD but my concern is AKD as the leader of a party with (now defunct) communist ideology & his silence when it comes to admitting their violent past. If he disagree with the party policies, he should step down as leader & continuing only confirms his consent. My reference to Hitler was an example of persuading public opinion & not a comparison. AKD is certainly a good orator & skilled politician who talks sense but in the absence of a proven track record, I look at possible clues around him to make my own deductions, & so far, I am yet to be convinced by the JVP/NPP alliance.
          As for truth & honesty, it is rare in SL which is why we should look for hard facts & see beyond the rhetoric.

    • 2
      0

      As a Sri Lankan living abroad, my New Year’s message for SM or the ilk is to have some wisdom.
      It is the most striking characteristic of naive people is that they always respect anyone who sings a song in favor of AKDISM. All this is valid if jvprs are clean.

      JVP fairy tales will not take us even an inch forward. They stand against the IMF and privatization but don’t propose better alternatives?
      Does sinhala_man perhaps suffer from that syndrome of some rural women in the country? (watch will you the video below)

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bVN3oht8VXo

      Sri Lankans like me have many unanswered questions about JVP and NPP, which JVP/NPP does not enlighten us yet. Nor would SM and other JVP apologists dare to answer them.

      Why are JVP pensioners (having served 5 years in parliament) enjoying pension funds, while they are pointing the finger at other pesioners of that nature ? If they do so, why on earth they attack others ?

      Who do they think will be the future donor nations to develop the country after the NPP is the ruling party of this nation?

    • 2
      0

      Hello Mr PE,
      .
      Public speeches like these (the links are provided below) are the need of the hour to awaken the spirit of our people.
      Professor SW is one of the few talented professors who can specifically address the Sinhala audience.
      His talent is God given. He has a tremendous ability to literally capture every aspect of the audience.
      .
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ysZUCQCA5YQ

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6NCIoWrxu8g
      .

  • 4
    1

    Asoka
    Agree with you. The unnecessary bureaucracy in Govt. depts. is probably to justify the overstaffing, lethargy & indifference of its workforce. Efficiency & customer convenience is not the objective.

    The absurdity of the NIC is obvious, as OC has highlighted, it is not a requirement when applying from outside SL. In fact, it was not a problem when I applied for my SL passport after obtaining dual citizenship, nor, when I extended it 5 yrs later. The problem arose only when I had to reapply after 10 years, which I did while holidaying in SL just before it expired. It is understood that the passport is cancelled when no longer a citizen but why can’t the same NIC restored once regaining citizenship without going through the whole process? Furthermore, why should a gramasevaka confirm the address? Do people have to apply for a new NIC every time they move house? My application states that I am a dual citizen, therefore, is it mandatory to have a ‘permanent’ address in SL to obtain a passport. In fact, I don’t need a NIC as my passport & SL driving license provide proof of identity.
    Cont

  • 3
    0

    Cont
    OK, the SL govt. vets all passport applications scrupulously, in which case, how come a politician’s wife was issued with 2 passports a few years ago ? Isn’t that illegal? Whether it is incompetence, stupidity, corruption or whatever it is, unless eliminated from the system, which I don’t think will happen in my time, SL will remain a backward country & it is the average citizen who suffers.

    • 0
      2

      The right amount of pastry will do the job in any country: two passports is small change.

      • 1
        0

        Raj
        If you read “The day of the Jackal “, you will get an idea of how easy it is (or was) to get a fake UK passport.

      • 1
        0

        Unbelievable, no wonder Lankan passport as no value and treated like garbage. As long there are people who stereotype and normalize such broken down, dysfunctional system, not just passport but country / citizens too will be treated the same.

  • 4
    0

    ………..It was JRJs silly 1978 Constitution that laid the foundation of eventual corruption and bankruptcy……….writes the essayist.
    This is the universal truth but even after 45 years the country refuses to learn ………….

  • 2
    0

    It must be the heat here in Maharagama! Can’t think! I, the owner of the most notoriously known Identity Card number on Colombo Telegraph am getting confused!!
    .
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_identity_card_(Sri_Lanka)
    .
    I had the vague notion that my NIC would uniquely identify me among Sri Lankan citizens. Any policeman could calculate my date of birth, and much else. Leap years come in,, but then we all know that 1948, when I was born, was a leap year. Help! How does this work, old codger?
    .
    Somebody on CT once asked me whether 6 November 1948 is my birthday. and it is! One thing that I do remember is that the cards were first issued during “the Communist Government” from 1970 onward, and then it was said that this was a sign of totalitarianism. But according to Wikipedia (which we didn’t then have), all this began to take shape in 1968, when Dudley was Prime Minister.
    .
    And the system for Passport numbers? A letter followed by seven digits, isn’t it?
    .
    I’m beginning to feel that I, and all other humans are imbeciles.
    .
    Panini Edirisinhe

    • 1
      0

      SM
      “but then we all know that 1948, when I was born, was a leap year”
      The fact is, we don’t, and, since you weren’t born on February 29th, you don’t need to know either.
      There is an imbecile lurking inside each of us.

      • 1
        1

        Dear oc,
        .
        Your response is rational enough, but let me tell you why I mentioned “leap year“. The problem is not insurmountable by any means.
        .
        In my Identity Card, 311 seems to be explained by the Wikipedia entry as “The next three digits contain the number of days till his birthday from January 1st” I interpret that as the days from the 1st of January to the 6th of November. Does one count the dates at both ends? I guess so. Then the fact that 1948 was a leap year has to be taken into account.
        .
        For me to make that calculation now would be tedious, and trivial. Only bureaucrats would waste everybody’s time doing it. I haven’t done it, and I don’t expect you to do it.
        .
        There’s something more significant that I have to say to Raj-UK. All his comments show serious concern.
        .
        Yours are intelligent and witty. Me? I’m sometimes a bit of an imbecile!
        .
        Panini Edirisinhe (NIC 483111444V)

  • 2
    2

    “And one said, “we thought we saw the worse, but now we have seen the worst!” They were referring to their total tourist experience in Sri Lanka.”
    Strange that they keep coming.

    • 0
      0

      SJ,
      Repressed masochism?

  • 15
    6

    “Sri Lankans are intelligent, talented and enterprising ” -things often said by Sri Lankans about themselves !

    I wonder who they compare themselves to before they claim all this !

    What makes them say these things about themselves ?

    Perhaps deep down they realize they are not any of this !

  • 11
    6

    oops sorry ! except for Vedda, leela,gamini,OC and co…, others are pretty mediocre

    • 5
      9

      DS,
      “except for Vedda, leela,gamini,OC and co…, others are pretty mediocre”
      Thank you so much. And, since you aren’t in the list, thank you for your honesty.

      • 9
        4

        OC you are in the company most suited for you -read Leela’s comments… so intelligent !!

    • 3
      4

      Professor Deepthi Silva is more or less similar to the women transporting “YAKAS” in the video below.

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bVN3oht8VXo

      His or her arguments are so naive. When such people will learn is beyond our question.

  • 10
    4

    All religions are like this. Have you seen Brother Jerome entertaining and the women’s faces at the shows !

    Faith is based on stupidity.

    We must act on knowledge and intelligence.

    In religion any fool can be a priest and can preach.

    Try teaching science. Or for that matter any subject at university level.. That demands intelligence and knowledge.

    Religion is not intelligence. It is pure faith.

  • 1
    0

    Dear Raj-UK,
    .
    1/2
    .
    Your comment on the 16th, is a happy development. I think that you’re right. Given what is now on display,
    .
    https://www.npp.lk/en/about#zse2
    .
    the NPP can hardly expect a person like you to be satisfied without further explanation, and if the role that I have to play is to explain to decent, conscientious, and intelligent persons like you what I see as the reality of an honest movement like the NPP, so be it.
    .
    Actually, I had been struggling with the limited data connection here in Maharagama, for a day, and submitted more speeches, in two comments which went astray owing to the shortage of data. Those comments highlighted the constructive points being made by AKD (and others?).
    .
    It’s good that happened, because how much material can you work through? I was forced to look at the website again, and found a heap of speeches recommended by them here:
    .
    https://www.npp.lk/video-gallery.php
    .

    The first of ten pages gets displayed, and this, the third item, the Milan speech by AKD, is one of those that I had then suggested that you study.
    .
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n7F9O7JmfBc&t=36s
    .
    But don’t!
    .
    Panini Edirisinhe in Maharagama (NIC 483111444V)

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