24 June, 2024

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“Rob Or Perish” – A Grim Reality In Public Service?

By Vipula Wanigasekera

Dr. Vipula Wanigasekera

With a heavy heart, I share two photographs of George Michael, a former Secretary of the Ministry of Tourism: one taken on his retirement day and the other published years later by the ministry’s chief accountant at that time. This heart-wrenching image, which circulated on social media earlier, calls for financial or other assistance to support him. This piece, which should have been written earlier, is not meant to generalize but rather to highlight why some public officials have become what they are today, which can be interpreted in both ways.

George Michael (name fondly mistaken to English singer and celebrity) served as Secretary to the Ministry of Tourism before his premature retirement in 2011, after being discarded into the pool while his superiors then were aiming to transform Sri Lanka into an ‘economic paradise’ like Singapore.

Singapore’s success in combating corruption through competitive salaries and stringent anti-corruption measures offers a contrast to the situation in Sri Lanka, where public service is plagued by political interference and corruption. Incompetent individuals, willing to serve political interests, are often favored and the fear of living in poverty during retirement, with pensions insufficient for basic medical expenses, further exacerbates this issue.

George Michael on his retirement day leaving service disgruntled with 3 more years left

George Michael, a skilled SLAS officer who joined the public service in 1982, dedicated many years to his role, serving as additional secretary to the Ministry of Tourism from 2002 to 2008. Recognized for his exceptional qualities, he was appointed Secretary to the Ministry in 2008 by then the Minister who took a few bold decisions including this one while George Michael had no political backing except his own competence. Minister too did not last long for obvious reasons.

During his tenure, George Michael achieved significant milestones with his team, including introducing a new tourism act, developing tourism sites like Pasekudah, Kuchchiveli and Kalpitiya, launching global marketing campaign, promoting Indian MICE tourism, expediting investment processes, diversifying tourism offerings, increasing capacities in tourism education, encouraging eco-tourism, strengthening tourist police and safety measures, bringing special events viz Golden Oldies, Global AIDS Conference. The list is long.

Picture of George Michael circulated calling for funds for medical treatment

However, a period followed where loyalty outweighed efficiency and effectiveness. Departments were led by individuals lacking even basic communication skills, making it untenable for someone of Michael’s caliber. He retired early, forfeiting some benefits he would have otherwise gained and now lives at 3/146 Sikuradapola Junction, Palanwatta, Pannipitiya – 011 2850923 for information of those whose are unaware of his whereabouts. This piece  places on record for upcoming public officials to notice that George Michael’s guiding principle was humanity. His career was marked by honesty and integrity, with open doors for anyone seeking advice or assistance. His responsiveness and commitment were appreciated by over 400 staff members in that Ministry and its implementing Agencies.

Reflecting on the title “Rob or Perish – A Grim Reality in Public Service?,” the plight of George Michael serves as a cautionary tale. No public official wants to end their career in such a manner, facing financial insecurity and relying on public appeals for support. This fear of an uncertain future can drive even the most honest officials to consider unethical actions as a means of securing their personal and financial standings. Such pressures highlight the deep-rooted issues within the system that not only foster corruption but also discourage genuine commitment and integrity.

This situation is a reminder of the systemic issues within the public service that urgently need addressing. The current state of affairs calls for a comprehensive overhaul, including reforms to ensure fair salaries, proper retirement benefits, and stringent anti-corruption measures and promotions on skills and merits with seniority as one criterion.

The helpless  people of Sri Lanka, disillusioned by the persistent corruption and inefficiency, eagerly anticipate meaningful changes at least in the forthcoming elections. They hope for a government that will prioritize transparency, accountability, and the welfare of its public servants, ensuring that dedicated officials like George Michael are rewarded rather than discarded for not being someone’s butler in service.

*Writer is former Diplomat, Tourism Official and currently a lecturer for ECU

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Latest comments

  • 6
    0

    Dr VW,
    thanks for your article.
    I have not been involved with many public servants in our home country, however, whenever we travel back to Sri Lanka, we see them again and again. Since they don’t care much about world standards, I was not satisfied every time from the moment I went to an immigration check at BIA.

    Last time, due to improper queuing (as usual), some foreigners stood behind me were very agitated hours after their long flight and upon arrival at BIA, I had to warn the immigration officers at the counter that they should be serious at adhere to world norms. As usual, they responded with a dismissive smile, giving the impression that I had spoken to a deaf person. Our public servants in general, are not taken seriously.
    They don’t take their customers seriously and waste a lot of time. It was the same wherever I associated at train ticket offices or bustands: in Europe, officers on duty take it seriously to serve their customers to the best of their ability. Some officers are like robots. The same is what I often experienced in Singapore.

    • 3
      0

      Agree with you. But I was trying to point out the vicious cycle why some if not many, public officials are not performing to expectations due to other macro issues such as political influence, inability to survive financially and not having a heart for the job. Being a member of the service, I thought i could write competently citing this case study. Thank you for your comment

  • 4
    1

    Vipula,
    Thank you as well.
    Unfortunately, many people don’t seem to be interested in your current article because you focus on an issue that hurts one colleague of yours, even though you explain it as a general issue. Even the CT reviewers and their behavior reflect Sri Lankan society which has reached horrific levels today.
    .
    There is such a thing as “the elephant is in the room, no one is talking” in Sri Lankan society. Unfortunately, not many people see this. Even those who call media brothels do not care about this. I don’t trust the mainstream media in Sri Lanka. Even in the US many will say they have “vox” news, but Sri Lanka’s mlechcha media and their mafia net work is worse and more dangerous than any other network in the entire region.

    Even though high crime has become a daily routine, people do not allow themselves to stand against it. Either the psyche has been completely corrupted beyond normal humans to grasp, or our humans are genetically pre-ordained to be perpetual victims.
    People’s uprising is not against injustice but for some hidden agendas in the society.
    If the JVP and vanguards are the alternative to solve this situation, it is completely wrong. The Janata Vimukthi Peramunas are just as resentful and hateful as the “Rajapaksa” vicious forces.

    • 0
      5

      Dear Vipula,
      .
      Many of us have tried to live good and useful lives. What has happened to Mr George Michael is indeed sad.
      .
      I know the area where he lives.
      .
      One of my classmates has this hotel just there:
      .
      https://www.summerfields.lk/
      .
      He’s prosperous now; was a first rate swimmer whilst in school. Neglected all his studies.
      .
      That is life!
      .
      As for me, I’m not going to respond to “leelagemalli’s” request made here:
      .
      https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/once-bitten-twice-shy-but-it-takes-two-to-tango/
      .
      that old codger and I should make comments on your article. Why does he suddenly start criticising the JVP? For a moment, I thought that poor Mr George Michael had lost a leg, owing to JVP activity during the 1988 to 1990 period when they did do some cruel things – in retaliation. But he had been hale and hearty up to 2011.
      .
      Since “leelagemalli” has begun spewing non sequiturs everywhere on this site, it may be that he ought to be locked up in the asylum at Angoda.
      .
      Panini Edirisinhe (NIC 483111444V) of 51B, Golf Links Road, Bandarawela, Sri Lanka

      • 2
        0

        Yes , agree. My point got deviated to JVP . Anyway , the reality beyond what is right and wrong is that we humans sometimes suffer for not doing the wrong thing. It is too blunt to say but real

        • 0
          1

          Thanks for the explanation, Vipula.
          .
          Panini

  • 0
    3

    Yes you got a point

    • 5
      0

      Vipula,
      .
      What do you mean by ” Yes you got a point” ?

      If you know him, he never makes sense. He is just killing time as usual. Another sycophant who has nothing better to do than use his pen against us anonymous commenters.
      .
      I was just wondering why no commenters have added any comments to this article. That’s why I asked OC and SM to read your article. I had nothing like ulterior motives.
      :
      Sinhala_Man is a person we consider a joker in this forum as of today.
      .
      . He doesn’t know what he’s talking about. He will turn poisonous to anyone who stands against JVP.
      But we should not be scared to expose the truths.
      .
      During the 89-92 revolt, the JVPs killed a dozen or more of my close ones. If this man doesn’t stop chasing me, I will reveal many more things about the atrocities committed by the JVP.
      Lalkantha, Nalin Haage, Tilney de Sliwa and all those who were not in the intensive care unit must know very well how those “arbitrary killings” worked in 89-92 to the best of my knowledge.

    • 4
      0

      Sorry this has got posted in the wrong place

      • 4
        0

        Vipula, You rarely meet such people. God bless this gentleman. However, they suffer the most in those virulent-infected systems. I know retired teachers at that level who are struggling to pay their health bills.
        The poverty level in Sri Lanka has been rising rapidly in recent times compared to any other decade.
        Cost of living including medical fees is extremely high.
        Sometimes I think that some of the fees we have to pay in Sri Lanken pvt hospital with weak performances today are uncontrollable. Services in private hospitals are unbearably expensive. No standard at all.
        This situation did not emerge overnight, but during the last few years when Rajapakse tyrany crept into every corner of the country. It was blindly decorated with “Fake Sinhala-Buddhist rites” deceiving itself. Looking back, many people in our country are/were deceived by politicians and Sinhala Buddhist germs.

        Every time we travel back home we could not believe our eyes but it is true, how some civil servants behave in civil service. Even so, we had no power to raise questions, because the entire race was like “rats” injected into human laboratories. of our people

  • 3
    0

    Thank you, Vipula, for highlighting the plight of an honest SLAS officer who did not steal or plunder, and as a result, must depend only on his pension. I hope his former colleagues, at least the honest ones, will rally around and help him.

    Most high level officials steal and loot without shame, and invest their money in Australian real estate, after having educated their children abroad. The amount of looted money that flows from SL to Australia is enormous.

    • 0
      1

      Yes we did from time to time. There may be so many similar cases like this. But I penned it cause I know him and worked with him. Never seen such as exceptional, humble and efficient personality. Ran a big Ministry single handed. Only to be told , you are not needed

  • 2
    0

    Vipula.
    I can tell you one thing. There is corruption and inefficiency in the Public Service from top to bottom.From the Ministry Secretary to the office peon. The cause for this is simple
    The political masters themselves are corrupt. They turn a blind eye to the officials when they too plunder.
    George Michael, I salute him.Well played. People like this are very admirable personalities. Tourism Ministry would have a Mecca for the run of the mill type.
    Those who administer the Presidential Fund must take note and fund his Medical needs.

  • 2
    0

    George Michael was the Pearl among the Swines……………..

    • 2
      0

      This is a Srilankan tragedy. In the so called Srilankan public service such gentlemen do not exist. They are all plunderers, thieves,. scammers. Clock watchers. No sense of commitment to duty.

  • 6
    2

    Do Lankans today – including the “moral bearers,” the clergy – respect/value ……. honesty and integrity?

    Or, are they bedazzled by wealth and trappings ………. and showing off of welath …….. gained by any means?

    Attending Berkshire Hathaway annual general meeting in Omaha, early this month …….. makes you realize what makes the world go round: no matter what they tell you. …….. It’s a religious awakening of a sorts, after a pilgrimage.

    Warren Buffet is a modest man; lives in a modest house, drives a hail-damaged second-hand car he got at a bargain price. If he isn’t worth 136 billion – he has already given away 51 billion and all the rest too will given away to charity – no one would respect him: wouldn’t even take a second glance.

    Shows what the world respects: goodness or money.

    I, of course, took my family/kids to show them goodness. What else?

    If you believe that, you are truly a quintessential Lankan …….. deserving all what you’ve got …….. Mahinda, Ranil, Gota, Sirisena, CBK ……. and the faith in their goodness.

    Salute, Mr George Michael.

    You leave even a tiny a mark …… when most others fail.

  • 1
    1

    Vipula,
    .
    Public service isn’t the only victim of the malaise the country has been enduring throughout its post independence period. The problems are multifactorial and stems from the few families that have seized power during this time, with no room for true democracy to prevail, real economic growth to occur, and/or a space for honest, sincere and dedicated, individuals who has the country and its people’s best interest at heart, to live and work in a dignified manner. It’s no surprise that country is banckrupt. What is surprising is that it took 75 years for it to be banckrupt. As the main focus of those who are in power is to see how they could remain in power keeping the political power among these handful of families.
    .
    TBC

    • 1
      1

      Continued…
      .
      Everything is geared to this end. There’s nothing that they would nit do for it. That’s why people call for a “System Change”, even though many fail to define what exactly they mean by it. Also beware of hitleresque comments such as the following: “…our humans are genetically pre-ordained to be perpetual victims”. A comment that root itself in eugenic ideology. Given that the commenter is based in Germany I’d be rather concerned. As this isn’t the only such comment he has been making, and the tone and focus of his comments are worrying.

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