15 October, 2018

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SLAS – 50 Not Out!

By Austin Fernando

Austin Fernando

Austin Fernando

We were ruled by the British through their administrative mechanism- the Ceylon Civil Service (CCS); of course engaging “imported” British civil servants. Since the Sri Lanka Administrative Service (SLAS) is the successor to the original British CCS and its domesticated CCS since Independence, one can trace its origins to 1802, the year the CCS was established by the British, though SLAS was established in 1963.

After Independence with some reforms the CCS carried on governing. However, with Independence public needs changed, less drastically due to prevailed economic stability- especially due to the Korean Boom. However, with the socio-political-cultural changes of 1956 and deflation of Korean Boom bubble, the demands on the government were diverted to welfarism with development.

With the 1956 political upheaval the parliamentarians and political activists changed in stature, experiences, sophistication and origins. Radhika Coomaraswamy quoting Professor AJ Wilson says that despite the fact that political leaders belonged to the well-educated elites, a fair number were “unsophisticated villagers who never used a cheque book in their lives or even knew what a bank account was…”  Hence the post-Independence CCS administrators had to look forward for changes in administrative attitudes. It took a while to happen. I believe it was due to the elitist political leadership finding valued coinage in the CCS and the CCS-stalwarts’ hold on politicians, thus creating reduced enthusiasm to change administrative systems.

But this resistance and lack of political will to change was short-lived. The lower political hierarchies wanted change. They demanded a people friendly administration. The “Ejantha Hamuduruvo” (“Venerated Government Agent”) attitude had to change. The Gammuladeni (Village Headman) had to change. It wasn’t a wonder (as I learnt in Batticaloa as a Ceylon Administrative Service (CAS) probationer in 1967) when even a Minister had to seek an appointment to meet the Government Agent (GA) in early-fifties!

The raw-recruit CAS officers were sent to the districts as Divisional Revenue Officers (DROs), District Land Officers, Land Development Officers, Assistant Commissioners / Assistant Directors of various departments. Though the DROs’ Service was absorbed to SLAS, they were still called “DROs.” The DRO was a miniature CCS model, working mostly under CCS GA, later replaced by senior SLAS hands. However, the Ejantha Hamuduruvo feeling in the GAs and DROs was not totally extinct by 1967- especially in the public eyes. Subsequently this designation was revised to Assistant GA and Divisional Secretary. Their duties were mostly related to land, agriculture, food supply, provision of welfare / social services, disaster management etc.  Some like me had the rare opportunity to learn work in “Un-policed DRO’s Divisions.”

Constitutional Amendments and SLAS

With pro-socialist ideology the 1972 Government though its Republican Constitution brought the civil service under Cabinet’s control, through Article 106: “(1) The Cabinet of Ministers shall be responsible for the appointment, transfer, dismissal and disciplinary control of state officers and shall be answerable therefore to the National State Assembly.” It repealed Article 60(1) of the 1946 Constitution: “The appointment, transfer, dismissal and disciplinary control of public officers is hereby vested in the Public Service Commission” (PSC).

The SLAS also underwent the effects of this provision and was subjected to politicization. On this effect on public service Professor KM de Silva has commented that “the Republican constitution moved away from an independent public service, but introduced a “spoils system.”  We who received appointment from the PSC by registered post now see the how “spoils system” operates when SLAS officers receive their appointment letters!  With initial politicization, the seniority or merit concern for higher level appointments then was overtaken by favoritism and political patronage.

From a politician’s viewpoint a powerful executive armed with a bureaucracy manned by sympathetic political cadres would have been ideal to implement a well-defined political party programme. In this background from 1972, SLAS officers had to be partners of implementation of the Land Reform Act of 1972, which attacked the privilege of land-holding. This was augmented by the Land Acquisition Act, which permitted the state to utilize private property for public purposes, and the Agricultural Productivity Act, which set productivity standards with the threat of confiscation. The GAs, Assistant Commissioners of Agrarian Services were mostly involved in these operations.

Slow encroachment of peoples’ participation was observed from 1972 afterwards when services of SLAS officers were taken to manage Local Government Institutions as Special Commissioners, when the elected political representatives faulted. It was repeated in cooperatives after consumer cooperatives were converted to Multi-Purpose Cooperatives in early seventies. Such involvements increased with passage of time and by now envelope all areas of administration, due to enhanced politicization by all successive governments.

SLAS officers had to live with the same Cabinet controlled status even after the Constitution passed in 1978 which vested “all the powers of appointment, transfer, dismissal and disciplinary control of public officers” in the Cabinet. [(Article 55(1)].

This government’s many integrated development projects like the Million Houses and Gam Udava Programmes were mostly implemented through the District Administration, preponderantly administered by SLAS officers. After 1977 with mega projects (e.g. Mahaveli) undertaken with huge foreign assistance, some functions that were the traditional/ legal forte of District Administration implemented through other line departments like Survey, Land Development, Land Commissioner’s etc. were taken-over by the Mahaveli Development Authority. These officials enjoyed higher pay, perks and were comparatively free to perform. Project Managers became Kings! Some SLAS officers joined them and added value to the projects.

However, there was exceptional performance that was exhibited by SLAS officers, carrying the government’s official fiat under severe duress during the long conflict. Special mention must be made of the SLAS officers from the North and East (e.g. Chief Secretary HM Herath, GAs M Anthonimutthu, V Panchalingam, M Macbool to name a few) who  sacrificed their lives in the line of duty. As a retired SLAS officer who has worked with them I  salute them on the 50- Year Celebration of SLAS.

The 13th Amendment opened new vistas for SLAS, and reference will be made later.

17th and 18th Amendments are two hackneyed constitutional provisions affecting administration. I do not wish to deal on their appropriateness. I may only mention that even with the weaknesses in the 17th Amendment it would have given a better deal to public service, inclusive of the SLAS, which the 18th Amendment nullifies.

Current demands on SLAS

There are many, but I will focus on a selected few.

The 13th Amendment to the Constitution was another which affected SLAS officers. It gave an opportunity for the SLAS officers to work under a devolved system. Though we have heard of a few conflicting situations (as in the North now) it must be appreciated some development has been achieved, as publicly stated by the Chairman of the Finance Commission. Making devolution meaningful is a top priority for the SLAS.

However, there had been opinions expressed even by the Secretary to the President that the Provincial Councils (PCs) are White Elephants, endorsed by senior politicians. These must be due to reported complaints of corruption and wastage. We need not condone them. I am also mindful of similar allegations against the center, which is not publicly accepted by superior state authorities, only orchestrated by the Opposition politicians for political advantages, well knowing they had skeletons in their cupboards too! However, in these circumstances it becomes an essential duty of SLAS officers in all PCs and Chief Accounting Officers at the center to ensure such criticism does not occur.

Another challenge is in the foreign direct and aided investment in Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka expects billions of dollars invested in the future. The contribution in facilitating such development is in SLAS officers who serve the Ministries, PCs, departments like Local Government, Land Administration, Customs etc. They have to cooperate with the technocrats, financiers, environmentalists, private sector etc. to motivate, ease and promote development investment. This requires great leadership, strategy, tact and training, and knowledge on globalization.

The SLAS officers who looked after the humanitarian needs of the displaced, traumatized, affected for about 25 years in the North and East have now received the opportunity to develop these areas with state, international, non-governmental, private sector, Diaspora funding. Hence, development-oriented attitudinal focusing in the SLAS officers serving in North and East is demanded.

The managerial sciences have developed leaps and bounds during the last few decades. Obtaining a Masters in Business Administration or Public Administration by SLAS officers is insufficient. Whether such gained knowledge could be utilized for resource mobilization for greater good of the people, innovation, motivation, facilitating also the private sector, sustainable development and poverty alleviation is crucial.

Another area is the need to be E-Managers in E-Government. According to the President the E-knowledge which was about 5% in 2005 has increased to 35-40% by 2013. This calls SLAS to further focus on E-Government to promote more efficient, less time-consuming and cost-effective government, facilitate more convenient government services, allow greater public access to information, and make government more transparent and accountable to citizens. Initiatives taken in this regard by the Presidential Secretary are appreciated.

Though there is no public outcry, SLAS has subtle challenges- some caused by SLAS officers themselves. Recent reports on corruption, misbehavior (a few though) are quoted by critics. SLAS should be open to and faster in accumulating knowledge, maintaining integrity / discipline, innovating and modernizing. It is the way to counter competing services grabbing SLAS opportunities. It is time to do a serious SWOT Analysis and act, rather than to grumble of competitors.

I may only remind Peter Drucker who once wrote that those who identify the future challenges today and thus prepare themselves and organizations to face them will be the leaders and dominate tomorrow. I wish SLAS leaders would consider this seriously when celebrating 50 Years of SLAS and plan to face challenges. Best wishes!

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Latest comments

  • 5
    0

    Today only political stooges benefit.

    • 4
      1

      The ROT START AT THE TOP. Corruption and criminality has been trickling down from the Central Govt, run by the corrupt and criminal Mahinda Rajapaksa family, to the Provinces and all corners of Sri Lanka..

      You cannot throw out the baby with the bath water – it is the CORRUPT and CRIMINAL central govt and its corrupt politicians that need to be cleaned up and held ACCOUNTABLE first! If the ROT at the central level is stopped the provinces can be cleaned out much easier since they came long after!

      Of course, one cannot expect Lalith Weeratunge the Chaos Specialist who is Jarapassa’s sec. to understand or be honest about this because he is eyeballs deep in corruption and sleeze of Jarapassa military dictatorship, and even threatening to unleash chaos (attacks on minorities) if held accountable! The gall of this moronic CHAOS SPECIALIST is astonishing!

  • 5
    0

    Mr. Fernando there are no technical fixes for the lack of ethics, honesty and principles among the politicians of Sri Lanka! It is they who have destroyed the administrative service by politicizing it – just look at Lalith Weeratunge the chaos specialist!

    Today Sinhalaya modayas and their elected representative (politicians) need to be taught the meaning of democracy because these uneducated fools think that democracy is corruption, feudalism, nepotism, cronyism, violence and MONEY POLITICS..

    We have a long way to go to sort out the ROT in the administrative structure cultivated by the politicians – similar situation exists in the Universities of Sri Lanka today which are Hubs of Ignorance for politicians cronies, while the best and brightest brains flee the country!

  • 7
    1

    Correct me if I am wrong, but wasn’t Lalith W also a product of SLAS?

    His ethics or lack thereof speaks volumes.

    It would have been better for SLAS to be 50 and DEAD than 50 and not out.

  • 3
    1

    Mr Fernando, how do u justify the appointment of General De Silva as GA in Trincomalee, and two retired generals as governors In East and North. I have not found any word of them in ur article.

    • 0
      2

      Dear Mr. Puvanes,

      Gen De Silva’s appointment would have been certainly made under the constitutional provision Article 55(1). For your information the first such appointment of a military officer was made by JRJ Government by appointing General Justace Rodrigo to Gampaha District. The ethic or necessity in both instances may be questioned by opposing commentators,or even by SLAS officers, but not the legality.

      Two military officers being appointed as Governors to the two Provinces is under 13th Amendment Article 154B(2). It is the prerogative of the President which has been enjoyed by the UNP government too by appointing General Nalin Seneviratne to these two provinces. The ethic or necessity in this instance also may be questioned by opposing commentators, but not the legality.

      The more important issue is not who is appointed but how the appointees perform!

      True I have not written even a word about this issue as there is hardly any relevance to this article. I respond to this only to be out of your criticism of burying my head in sand like an ostrich.

      • 1
        0

        Mr Fernando,
        I am sure you also favour the performance of Sonia Gandhi a school drop out who lied to parliament in a written affidavit that she was a graduate of English from Cambridge. Indira knew that Sonia had seduced her son so when Indira was assassinated and 3000 Indian Sheiks were lynched she just released the murders. I don’t know whether you knew former IHC 1975 Guru Bachan Singh (down the river friends of SLAS) a very senior IFS and close to Indira during sirima’s time HE took it up the judicary just ignored.
        Graft India= Graft Rajapassa

        For the first time idegenious Indians will come to power NAMo and Rajapassa the Muslim may get the works like Saddam.

    • 3
      0

      Puvanes

      Militarisation of the entire country including its diplomatic service nearing completion.

      Even the Armed forces have become grocers, barbers, tour guides, hoteliers,…………..

      Therefore your comment is irrelevant

      • 0
        0

        exactly set up like the ChiCom liberation army as evidenced even today.

  • 4
    0

    There is no SLAS today. It’s a political service. We would have been a thousand times better if we had the old CCS with standards maintained and no political interference. The CCS maintained continuity and standards and to the most part, staffed by high calibre individuals. The SLAS was the start of the lowering of standards. When CCS officers talked, ministers would listen and would dare not question a CCS officer. Today, the SLAS officer is a stooge of the minister (and that’s sad since 90% of the ministers are thugs and criminals). This is Sri Lanka today – a land that has lost all its values.

    • 0
      0

      You blamed the suddha and drew away the suddha schools now keep on blaming the Suddha. ha ha

  • 3
    1

    C.Suntheralingam resigned his post as GA,saying that he “does not wish to waste his time signing ‘gun licences'” and became Professor of Mathematics at the University of Ceylon.
    But he lost respect among tamils by opposing “temple entry” of “low caste” tamils,and went into oblivion.
    There was a Civil Servant who,as Secretary of Health,argued that any medical specialist should ‘cover up’ duties of another when the latter was on urgent leave – but was speechless when questioned whether he would like a physician to do a ‘caesarian section’ on a pregnant mother,while covering up duties of an obstetrician/gynaecologist !!
    Another,also Secretary of Health,conveniantly laid down the cadre of medical specialists as “950 curative and 50 preventive”!!!
    Such brains too existed as ‘civil servants’.

    • 1
      0

      “But he lost respect among tamils by opposing “temple entry” of “low caste” tamils,and went into oblivion.”

      Cleanliness is next to Godliness (christian saying)
      The Hare Krishna -A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada at Bushy Greater London (George Harrison estate) is run by American Jews and their women who conduct the puja.
      On festival day many Gujarati women (refugees from Kenya of the 70’s) arrive there in busloads with statues etc and conduct their own pooja on the sprawling lawns- they are protesting that hinduism belongs to them.

      While anyone is allowed to go inside and pray while pooja is carried out in sanskrit by these pretty women- the place is spotlessly clean, anyone can join them for free to study the vedas ect (accommodation is also free for this)
      Her Majesty is an active supporter of this temple

  • 2
    1

    ”The SLAS officers who looked after the humanitarian needs of the displaced, traumatized, affected for about 25 years in the North and East have now received the opportunity to develop these areas with state, international, non-governmental, private sector, Diaspora funding. Hence, development-oriented attitudinal focusing in the SLAS officers serving in North and East is demanded”

    NPC Chief Minister acknowledged it months ago and said they need some form of professional development. But then the President is still continuing to leave the control with the Governor and the elected NPC is powerless.

    Will we let the NPC develop out of the bottom of the pile in all developmental indicators?

  • 4
    1

    Pleeez!!

    Let us not try to sugar coat the abject lack of honesty and ethics amongst SLAS officers. Please show me 5 SLAS officers who publicly exposed the corruption they have so capably participated in? Lets try for just 2?

    India is a 1000 times bigger in their admin services and a lot of corruption happens in the local levels. HOWEVER, the ruling classes in New Delhi NEVER dare to take the Judiciary, Indian Civil Service or Armed Forces for granted. Time and again, major scandals have been exposed because of the officers of those services. Ministers have had to resign. When did that happen in Sri Lanka? MDH Jayawawardene was the last to resign on principle.

    In Sri Lanka the SLAS is there to do the politicians bidding instead of guiding the politicians. The reason the peon wants a bribe a ‘find’ the file is because ‘loku Mahattaya’ needs the bribe more, to pay for his family’s lifestyle. Loku Mahattaya justifies it saying Manthrithuma is doing it also!!!!

    And so, the merry-go-round goes round and round….

    • 4
      1

      Upul

      Simple question to you, say you are in their shoes would you not behave exactly the same way that others are accustomed to?

      You may be the honest man in this island will you still be alive and in employment?

      You may chose to remain honest and incorruptible however you may have to turn a blind eye when corruption take place all around you.

      Unwillingly you may have to adjust yourself for changing circumstances, if you can’t stop them join them.

    • 0
      0

      “MDH Jayawawardene was the last to resign on principle.”

      Did an honest tax man check how he got all that wealth?? Oh no his wife was rich but unaccounted for. how do you think all these civil servants send their kids to Oxford like your very own sinhala only politician booruwanse send 3 kids to Eaton at £35k per head??

  • 1
    1

    There is no doubt that there are many stooges in the SLAS who rise by boot licking.

    But not all. If you have heard of the Pool — where uncooperative SLAS officers are put without a desk, having only to sign the attendance register and go home — you will know that there are many honourable officers too.

    We who have jobs cannot just tell those in the Pool to resign and stay at home. They too have families to feed and are forced to face this indignity without making a political statement through resignation.

    • 0
      0

      Then you are the low level pool boy!

      How many men who were heads of Deptt also signed the register (popped in) and left for the day almost every day to attend to their favorite pastimes??

  • 2
    0

    SLAS-50 NOT OUT?
    From Zenith to Nadir.

  • 2
    0

    We had Govt Servants in the past who looked after the welfare of the Public. Today there are Govt Serpents in the pockets of the Corrupt Politicians, conniving to rob the masses.

  • 0
    0

    Mr.FernNdo, thank you for enclosing valuable information in the article.Bot do not appreciate SLAS. You know very well the difference then and now.
    In Ceylon, CCS represented the govt.But in Sri Lanka, SLAS represent the ruling party not the govt. And it has now been polluted and eroded.
    Recently the Defence Secretary had gone to UPFA propaganda meeting of Mr. Udaya Gammanpila.He should have a courtesy to say SORRY. Did he do?Instead Mr. Gammanpila talked trivials and said sorry.What is this grandeur in him?
    I reiterate Ceylon was the best; Sri Lanka is worst.
    We need a fresh Constitution to frame;it should be done by professionals not politicians.
    Make your contribution too.

    • 1
      0

      Udaya Gammanpila’s argument that Secretaries are only political appointments is due to lack of knowledge. Article 52 empowering appointment of Secretaries does not have the word “political” in the whole Article.
      I saw Gammanpila arguing that Ananda Tissa de Alwis had been appointed by President JR Jayawardana. Even now Dhammika Perera, Dr. Ruberu, PB Jayasundera etc are appointed as Secretaries. Even a bus driver or an accounts clerk can be appointed as Secretary Transport or Aviation or Finance. No problem. But once appointed they cannot do politics for anyone. That is the underlined principle.
      All Secretaries are Chief Accounting Officers. Does Gammanpila mean us to believe that the President has power to leave billions provided in the budget in the hands of politically appointed and hence thus motivated unscrupulous chaps?
      On the other hand President appoints Commanders of Services, IGP and just because they are appointed by him, can they involve in politics?
      Does he know that the Defence Secretary is paid as a public servant and not a political stooge of a JHU candidate, and the generally accepted norm is Peace Officers and public servants above “staff officers” or executive grades are prohibited to involve in politics?
      I was to vote for Gammanpila. Now I will not because he lacks good governance. I feel sorry for Faiz Musthapa who has given a large sum as reported in a newspaper as Gammmanpila was considered by him as having good governance in him. This is the first time Musthapa has been screwed off by any civilian- but he is a lawyer too! I

      • 0
        0

        Many like YOU would reject him this time.
        Gonmappila is seen clean – but he is sanctimonious by all means, he has proved enough, considering mostly facts combining to his own theories. Many, I have no doubt, raise what a lawyer he should be. Lanken lawyers of his nature are a disgrace to their alma mater.

  • 0
    0

    Congratulations to SLAS. Mr. Fernando, Officers of SLAS could be in the forefront of achieving a corruption free development if they possess necessary attitude and intelligence. Attitude would come if they shed the career ambition of becoming a Ministry Secretary or Ambassador after retirement. As a very senior administrator, you were in the best position than the other commentators here to fight corruption, but sadly you were a silent spectator like others, allowing the politicians to do whatever they wish. Now, at least, please advise the young officers to do away with such personal goals and work genuinely for the people of the country. If one is confident of managing with the pension, he doesn’t have to satisfy the political boss at the cost of public. Secondly, the current SLAS bunch doesn’t possess necessary intelligence for the job and for that matter any intelligence at all in general. That is due to the appointment scheme. They are selected through competition exams where the candidates rewrite degree papers. Naturally, arts parrots score high. Everybody knows how difficult it is to get an A-pass in physics or zoology. Hence, the majority of the bunch are unintelligent third shy A-Level, external arts graduates from whom one cannot expect much, as they take hell of a long time to understand a complex situation leave alone coming out with an innovative solution. So, try to change the recruitment scheme to intake intelligent people into the service. Finally, I do not agree with your advise to SLAS officers about the countering of other services to protect the SLAS opportunities. If a mutt arts graduate thinks he can manage the entire doctors and engineers in Sri Lanka just with his experience in issuing sand lorry licenses and ration coupons, why can’t a navy or doctor think of managing a Ministry?

  • 2
    0

    Austin,

    You are the most perfect example of the all out ! pity you see you celebrating the destruction of SLAS as an entity of political stooges demonstrating high levels of buffoonery and loyalty to political paymasters.

  • 3
    2

    SLAS not out, but all the fielders and bowlers have been declared out by the present day referees. This is our sad plight today!

    Dr. Rajasingham Narendran

    • 1
      2

      Good humour, Dr. Narendran

  • 0
    0

    SLASers are a pack of Hypocrites who survives on attributes they do not possess.

    They are inferior in almost all the positive attributes to Engineers, Medical doctors, Scientists, university lecturers, educationists etc. etc. but always live far above them.

    Two main problem our country faces according to me today is absence of Rule of Law and absence of policies for a proper human resource placement.

    Human resource policy according to me should be “correct person at correct place at correct time.”

    SLAS is a obstacle to implement such a Human Resource Policy. And hence is an obstacle for the progress of the country. They belong to an outdated era.

    Thanks!

  • 0
    0

    There was a short story published in a newspaper some time back which very well demonstrated the undue place given to the SLAS. The title of the short story was “Maha disapathi and punchi dosthara”. The story was about two classmates who happened to meet as government servants, one as a medical doctor in a government hospital and the other as the government agent of the same district, a couple of decades after they left the school.

    In the school, the first one was selected to follow the Science stream after grade eight on the merit and the other had to follow the arts stream since he had no required marks to follow the science stream. The first friend got through his O/L and A/L at his first attempts and entered the medical faculty and became a doctor. The second friend who was not clever as the first one after several attempts at O/L and A/L was able to enter to an arts faculty and got his degree several years after the doctor got his appointment. Their relationship didn’t grow much after they were separated after grade eight into two different streams of study.

    One day the doctor was on his way to the hospital driving his moderate car when he happened to come across a chauffeur driven luxury vehicle in front of which had a big plate mentioned as “Maha disapathi”. The doctor took his vehicle to a side of the road so that Maha diaspathi’s vehicle could easily pass and while passing the vehicle he saw the Maha disapathi who was seated in the rear seat of his official vehicle. Even after several years it was not difficult for him to recognize out of the Haha disapathi’s mighty image his olden day friend who departed him at grade eight when they were selected to two different streams of study.

    I can not remember the name of the author of this short story, however, I think it represents one of the bitter realities of the this country.

    Thanks!

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