6 October, 2022


Unhindered Politicization And SLAS

By Austin Fernando

Austin Fernando

Austin Fernando

Politicization of administration is a universal social process bringing a political character or flavor to administration. It may yield positive (e.g. pressure to motivate officials) and negative (e.g. discrimination of political opponents through officers) results. The faint murmur by Sri Lanka Administrative Service (SLAS) and others officers may be to minimize it. Concurrently, politicians vociferously demand it as a functional necessity.

Those who honor Max Weber Principles on bureaucracy[1], i.e. hierarchical structures, management by rules, being impersonal etc find difficult to tolerate politicization. Negative politicization appreciates non-hierarchy (except for political power), bending rules to politicians’ wishes, politics-based personal discrimination etc. Negative politicization affects respected aspirations in administration, e.g. human rights, environment, sustainable development, natural justice, accountability, transparency etc. This dichotomy irritates. This is why focus on politicization.

Since the establishment of the Ceylon Administrative Service (CAS) in 1963, later SLAS, politicians made constitutional and administrative arrangements reinforcing politicization. These diluted the aura and importance enjoyed by officers and in lieu enhanced overt and covert involvements of politicians in administrative processes.

Incidentally, one may cynically or sarcastically argue that the establishment of SLAS was also politically motivated, because anti-colonialist political thinking to erase the last vestiges of colonialism was uppermost in the agendas of the then ruling politicians.  In that cynical sense the birth of SLAS was a progressive step towards emancipation from colonialism!

Though politicization has affected other parallel services, it was the SLAS as the frontline administrators with close range relationships with politicians and people that faced the crunch mostly. Why? To answer, it is appropriate to reminisce how SLAS is introduced.

Importance of SLAS

The Wikipedia[2] introduction of SLAS projects it as the key administrative service of the Government of Sri Lanka, with civil servants working for both the ‘Central Government’ and Provincial Councils (PCs) and formed after the abolition of Ceylon Civil Service (CCS). It was considered “the senior public service” and hence any political, constitutional / legal or institutional change impacted earliest on SLAS.

This ‘seniority factor’ makes SLAS vulnerable on the cumulative failings of public service, because as the leading Service it should have countered weaknesses. However, the concurrent complaint is that the state administration- preponderantly consisting of SLAS cadres- is excessively politically guided. This status is consequential to intertwined factors (i.e. political, constitutional/ legal, institutional, attitudinal).

Reasoning political influence on SLAS

Let’s observe why political influence originated.

Historically, at Independence, Ceylonese senior executives (CCS) were expected to collect revenue and maintain law and order. The CCS was considered elitists. Of course, the contemporary political leaderships, except a handful, were also elitists.  Elitism was mutually matching until challenged by the Pancha Maha Balavega (Five Major Forces) led ‘social revolution’ in 1956. Until then, complaints against the CCS administration were a few, and the complaining political proxies too were a few. Therefore, the colonial and post independence administrations were independent to act in the interest of the British Raj and later the semi-elitist local politicians, because the people were secondary and political pressure lacked.

With post-1956 political approaches the aspirations of the poor were addressed more through proxy Members of Parliament (MPs). Most proxies were not sophisticated, though their leaders were, but preferred responsive people friendly administration. With more organizations established (e.g. Statutory Authorities, PCs and their Ministries, private industry) the number of proxies engaging SLAS cadres also increased. Good examples are the Parliamentarians, Provincial Councilors and Local Authority members, their staff competing to climb the political ladder engaging public officers, e.g. Divisional Secretaries (DSs) / Government Agents (GAs).

Of course, there were CCS GAs who closely linked with the poor, e.g. Leonard Woolf. Though all Divisional Revenue Officers (DROs) absorbed to SLAS in 1963 were not extreme elitists, in the eyes of the poor they were. Most DROs had their eyes and ears open for the poor. Nevertheless, they inherited some strong qualities from the CCS. In lighter vein it is said that when a novice DRO inquired his senior whether to visit the MP of the area upon assumption of duties, the response was ‘the politician should visit him and not the vice versa!’ Now, many a junior SLAS officer may pray for such seniors, who say and do! No wonder with socio-political “revolutionizing” the new “political masters” wanted politicized recognition.

Political patronage for appointments was unimportant in early sixties. But, this status deteriorated with politicians becoming more responsive to grassroots development, handling state finances directly. Lack of skills and competencies in the SLAS would have increased the need for proxy political interventions. A good example was the extension of the Decentralized Budget (DCB). The increased DCB type allocations extended to PCs and Local Authorities and thus consequentially demanded wider political ‘alertness’ and ‘supervision.’ Likewise, increased number of works, performance levels and systems (especially tendering and contracting) would have motivated politicization, sometimes for their personal gain or their supporters’.

Political patronage measures

The passing remark on political patronage has to be further dealt with.

Steadily, an ‘informal political proposal’ was considered an ‘unwritten must’ for SLAS placements in district administration. No DS aspirant or SLAS Association questioned this arrangement, showing the legal stance, which read as: “Each Division shall be assigned to a DS as his area of authority and such DS shall exercise, perform, and discharge, within such Division, any power, duty or function conferred or imposed on, or assigned to, him by written law”[3]

“Written laws” have no reference to political blessings! One may in defense say that this does not happen always, and is a thing of the past. Yet they may agree that on political protest, even when the officer is innocent, he/she will be transferred!

Additionally, it is no wonder for officers to seek political blessing for placements when the SLAS letter of appointment, which was received by post by “SLAS Oldies” like the writer, is handed over individually by highest political authorities, in the presence of beaming Ministers and Secretaries. When such arrangement is audaciously accepted even by superiors, how can such appointee question any negative politicization, having set foot to SLAS en route?  Is not this equivalent to an upgraded version of JR Jayewardene Regime’s Job Bank appointments?

By mid seventies a GA required the ‘formal’ or ‘informal’ blessings and patronage of a particular district’s pro-government MPs, unless a powerful Minister demanded his nominee as the GA. The undertone of such selection was to oblige the ‘proposer’ over others.  Some politicians disagreed with such powerful Ministers. For example, the writer is aware of one such disgruntled Minister making informal ridicule on the GA Nuwara Eliya, by not referring to ‘GA’ as “Government Agent,” but as “Gamini’s Agent”! It showed how Ralph Braibanti’s abbreviation of “Government Agent” as ‘GA,’ also made equivalent by him to “God Almighty” (considering GA’s powers), was corrupted!

The political blessing requirement extends also to PCs. Law made it compulsory for the President to obtain Chief Minister’s concurrence when appointing a Chief Secretary.[4] It was easy when the President and Chief Minister were from the same political group. A conflict was reported as a rarity when Central Province Chief Minister WMPB Dissanayake did not concur with President Chandrika Kumaratunga’s nominees as Chief Secretary. Finally, the President’s choice was appointed, which was tolerated by the Chief Minister. This showed how SLAS officers get entangled in conflicting political battles.

The ‘Ministry Secretary’ is a political appointee. Hence political considerations cannot be avoided. Nevertheless, past holders of office (especially from the CCS) maintained independent responses. May be, it was because they were ‘Permanent Secretaries’! The old school Secretaries stuck to rules / laws, and survived by strategically handling Ministers. Probably they would have matched actor Nigel Hawthorne of Sir Humphrey Appleby fame in “Yes Minister”! With the 1972 Constitution their permanency was erased and gradual transformation of Secretaries to accept politicization commenced.

The monopoly maintained by the CCS/SLAS was blasted with Mr. Ananda Tissa de Alwis being appointed as Secretary of the Ministry of State followed by several others.  Presently the ‘SLAS’s monopoly’ has been severely encroached by other All Island Services and even by other professions. The trends indicate that such expansion will increase- certainly deteriorating SLAS hold, not only because of politics, but due to lack of skills and competency (to be even criticized by the Supreme Courts) to handle serious assignments.

Constitutionally[5] political considerations may be even defended because the Constitution provides for the Secretary of a Ministry to be subjected to the direction and control of the Minister in charge. Hence, capacity to perform amiably with politicians becomes a qualification. The usual grievance is ‘jumping the SLAS seniority list’ and the increase of non-SLAS cadres in Secretary’s posts.

Another issue arises when a SLAS officer is rejected by a Minister causing removal. Sometimes this displaced Secretary may not be acceptable to another Minister, even if he is innocent, because he is “black-marked”. Most such officers are SLAS officers and this has weakened many Secretaries who for survival become passive ‘torchbearers’ and even ‘cooperating bed-fellows’ unwilling to protest even when the Minister blatantly violates laws/ rules/ regulations/ government circulars etc or corrupt[6].

Sometimes subservience may be ‘gratifying’ as post-retirement employment is assured by being so. This had been traditional. Secretary and non-Secretary SLAS officers, Military/ Police seniors and repentantly and remorsefully even some supreme judicial officers have been ‘beneficiaries of subservience’. Post-retirement appointments, e.g. Diplomats, Advisors and Heads of Statutory Authorities etc are attractive motivator tools. This is a politicization attitudinal issue- i.e. politicians ‘offering bribes’ and SLAS or other officers ‘accepting bribes’, in a country where offering and accepting bribes / gratifications are illegal![7]

Economically viewed, just after Independence, due to satisfactory foreign reserve status consequential to Korean War Boom and the limited development challenges, it was possible to leave the administration alone. Since development overtook welfarism the contribution from the pre-SLAS and SLAS officialdom was quite relevant in development administration- especially in the districts. Several politicized innovations to respond to economic deterioration were attempted, which had large SLAS officer involvements. Some of these will be discussed later.

Complications for SLAS with devolution[8]

Use of the term “central government” by Wikipedia under a Unitary Constitution is inappropriate. If Sri Lanka is a Federal State, there could be a separate ‘State’ or parallel ‘Provincial Public Service’ (PPS). The Sri Lankan “PPS” is not synonymous with Indians. ‘All Island Services’ in Sri Lanka finally come under ‘central’ fiat and terms of engagement in PCs were decided by the government.[9]

Law empowers the Governor vast determining powers on the PPS extending to preparation of schemes of recruitment and other establishment actions (e.g. promotions, transfers, dismissal). Nevertheless, in formulating such schemes it is compulsory to follow the schemes of recruitment prescribed for corresponding offices in the public service.[10] This caveat forces the PCs / Governors to act according to Service Minutes of All Island Services, including the SLAS.

SLAS officers appointed as Secretaries of Provincial Ministries cease to be SLAS officers while holding such post[11] and hence transfer orders by Secretary Public Administration (mooted by political needs) was challenged in Courts by a SLAS officer leading to the withdrawal of the transfer,[12] which is a landmark judgment favoring SLAS and other service officers, who are appointed as Provincial Ministry Secretaries.    

However, the current dialogue on PC administration is not mainly on Governor’s ‘establishment functions’, especially in the North and East, but of ‘operational functions.’ The Governors engage SLAS officers to execute their decisions. The issue is acute now with a resolution passed by the Northern PC to replace the Governor with a civilian. In the East even pro-government Provincial Councilors criticize the Governor. No wonder executive authorities led by SLAS cadres face administrative difficulties.

In this background, the writer predicts that in the Northern PC bungling implementation or untoward manipulation of Board of Ministers’ decisions will invariably happen, due to the political conflict between the ‘centre’ and ‘periphery.’ If SLAS officers, PCs, Chief Ministers, Governors, and Governments do not respect the Rule of Law and act within legal boundaries, they will weaken good governance and invite and reinforce politicization.

Tamil speaking SLAS officers

For long there had been a dearth of Tamil speaking SLAS officials. As District Secretaries over-aged SLAS officials (one reaching 68 years while being a GA!) were posted. Comparatively junior officers in senior positions in the North and Eastern PCs and District Administration are proof of this problem. This definitely lowers the quality of administration causing fissures, which in turn attracts politicization pressures.

Correction of this situation was attempted by appointing SLAS officers on a ‘compulsory fixed term basis’ to serve the North and East. Even recently a batch of SLAS officers for these regions was recruited. With passage of time the first batch was automatically dissolved and the recent recruits have been already shifted to southern areas on a Cabinet decision. Perhaps stricter supervision of DSs by qualified experienced District Secretaries may assist improvement.

Constitutional changes and politicization

In general, public administration was affected by institutional adjustments over time, backed by constitutional changes. Though discussed here in the context of SLAS, it is common to the whole public service.

(a)  Constitutions of 1946 and 1972

One conspicuous event influencing SLAS and public service in general was the passage of the Sri Lanka Constitution in 1972. Before it the CAS / SLAS enjoyed constitutional cover[13], where an independent Public Service Commission (PSC) was responsible for the appointment, transfer, dismissal and disciplinary control of public officers. Sri Lanka’s Constitution of 1972[14] ‘usurped’ these powers and made the Cabinet of Ministers all powerful. This Constitution further strengthened the Cabinet of Ministers regards to public officers.[15] This strengthened politicization.  

(b)  Constitution of 1978

Article 106 in the 1972 Constitution was repeated in the Constitution of Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka- 1978. Heads of Departments were appointed by the Cabinet of Ministers who was permitted to delegate its powers of appointment, transfer, dismissal and disciplinary control of public officers to the PSC. This was wrenching the independence of the public service- especially the lead service SLAS.

This affected mostly the senior SLAS appointees as Heads of Departments. This created demands by other services for Secretary’s postings too. Now heavy canvassing has lowered the intended destination also to District Secretary appointments. Subtle machinations are reportedly planned to create a “mezzanine” appointment below District Secretary, but above Additional District Secretary. The definite ulterior motive is to step in to the District Secretary’s shoes at the earliest occurring vacancy.

Several times the designated list of SLAS posts has been overlooked (e.g. Director General of Customs, Post Master General). Apparently this threat is continuing and certain to erode SLAS’s strength. Whether the SLAS seniors in top echelons would assist in ceasing these undercurrents is a concern. In a way if the seniors also depend on political patronage this is unachievable. Moreover, if the SLAS officers are non-achievers and others surpass them ‘brilliantly’ in the eyes of politicians, the seniors also will be in dire straits to shield the SLAS. Hence, conversion non-achievers to achievers becomes pertinent.

Politicians work on time-framed achievements as they are not ‘permanent’ like public officers, even though pensionable. Earned recognition by the electorate would depend mostly on the efficiency and effectiveness of public officers– especially SLAS at the grassroots.  However, there are alleged manipulative moves to replace SLAS officers with private sector or politically affiliated ‘party-men’ or other technical personnel, much to the detriment of SLAS.

(c )  13th Amendment to the Constitution

Another constitutional provision relevant to the SLAS is the 13th Amendment to the Constitution of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka- 1987[16]

This has to be looked at from the legal angle which provided for power sharing between the centre and the periphery and service delivery angle at grassroots. Theoretically devolution should solidify the execution of the ‘Principle of Subsidiarity.’ Subsidiarity in management is “an organizing principle of decentralization, stating that a matter ought to be handled by the smallest, lowest, or least centralized authority capable of addressing that matter effectively.”[17]  This principle is not best adhered in Sri Lanka. No government since 1987 was for committed implementation of the 13th Amendment and SLAS and other officials had been debilitated to satisfactorily devolve. Nonetheless, since SLAS officers are charged with varied functions of the centre and periphery, conceptually the 13th Amendment provisions are relevant to the SLAS.

However, in 1988 there was not much of a demand for voluntary relocation to PCs by SLAS officers, excepting in the North and East merged PC. This led to many comparatively junior SLAS officers holding sway in southern PCs, which had been corrected greatly with passage of time and by the 10-year automatic promotion rule whereby instant seniority was acquired. Whether capacity also accompanied promotions may be the issue.

(d)   Transfer of Powers (Divisional Secretaries) Act

President R Premadasa was responsible for legally splitting the district administration responsibilities between the then GAs and DSs.[18] If his intention was to sustain the Principle of Subsidiarity it would have been a positive move.

This law in its interpretation provided for pruning the GAs’ powers by substituting the reference to GA by “the DS of the DS’s Division”. This provision soured relationships between the GAs and DSs.

Neelan Thiruchelvam[19] considered this law providing “further inroads in to the scheme of devolution” and considered DSs as a “new tier in public administration,” “representing an extension of presidential power, perform administrative functions within the geographical limits of a province, where no provincial authority could exercise and direct control or supervision over them.” This revelation gave an impression that SLAS officers could be a law unto themselves.

However, this on the other hand was an important challenge faced by SLAS officers due to facing dual accountability relationships, which requires balanced approaches. It could practically become a conflict between ‘decentralization’ and ‘devolution’. This was in a background scenario where political competition to prosper in the political ladder created conflicts even among same political party members.

After this Act the GAs were perturbed, especially in southern areas, because they found that with ten years in SLAS, officers were to hold positions of Heads of Departments, and the GA was becoming redundant with denuded power / status, being uncared for even by DSs. GAs complained to the Ministry of Home Affairs of this status. In the interest of management principles they highlighted the need for greater supervision by GAs.

Concurrently an ad hoc Association of DSs pressurized the then President requesting for more independence from the GAs. They accompanied by a senior government MP from Kalutara District, represented matters to the President.[20] As much as the public canvassed the support of politicians for their personal benefits, DSs also did! They insinuated political gains for the President at the then forthcoming elections, if their demands were met. A demised CCS officer or DRO would have turned in their graves, had they heard this prospect emanating from a group who did not possess political rights!  They will roll the other way round too if some currently reported incidents (even rare) of politicking / misdemeanor by SLAS officers are heard.

If one studies the devolved and reserved subjects under the 13th Amendment it is obvious that most important lifeline activities fall under the administration of the SLAS cadres. In fact, the Transfer of Powers (Divisional Secretaries) Act Section 3 (2) said:

“A Divisional Secretary shall, with the concurrence of his appointing authority, exercise, perform and discharge within his Division, any power, duty or function conferred or imposed on, or assigned to him by a Statute of a Provincial Council or any power, duty or function delegated to him by the Governor of a Province.”

The DSs accountable to the Ministry of Home Affairs were converted accountable also to the Governor, who was the President’s executive representative in PCs. Simultaneous split accountability and responsibility to two ‘Heads’ was managerially difficult. Even under this condition, DSs and local heads (mostly SLAS) have administered many politically, economically and socially sensitive subjects, e.g. Land, Social Services, Cooperatives, Local Government. These SLAS officers (even comparative juniors) exhibited their capacity for flexibility, commitment for service delivery and learning talents to deal with multifarious politicians. .

Another advantage for SLAS officers was the early opportunities that arose for less experienced and junior officers to undertake positions of Secretary and Heads of Department in the Provinces. It is believed that the SLAS officers gained from these opportunities making them fit to undertake vulnerable positions comparatively earlier in their careers.

(e)   17th and 18th Amendments to the Constitution

If one needs to discuss politicization and public administration this sub-heading by itself deserves to be an article.

Basically the 17th Amendment was an overall integrated arrangement for good governance. The innovations in it were to address what was lost by politicization. However, it was repealed and the 18th Amendment came in to being. It weakened public administration and governance mechanisms as a whole, but not expected to be repealed soon.

Administrative arrangements affecting the SLAS

It may be necessary to understand the administrative arrangements that affected the SLAS. Let us discuss some of them.

(a)        District Political Authority (DPA) system – With the Nixon Oil Shock that pervaded developing country economies Madam Sirimavo Bandaranaike initiated two development administration arrangements. They were the DPA system and the DCB (later ‘District Budget’). Sri Lankan political leaders were capable in making such arrangements work, as seen from the Green Revolution related production drive during Prime Minister Dudley Senanayake’s era, which was extensively carried over by the old guard of remaining CCS and mostly younger SLAS officers- especially in the districts.  

The DPA was to quicken the pace of agricultural production, as there were foreign reserve shortages to continuously import food. All SLAS officers had to provide production inputs for the agriculture drive. Of course, the planning and direction were affected due to this being the first localized formal political intervention with District Administration. However, the politicians were different from now and had an ear to SLAS officers.

(b)  District Ministers (DMs)The 1978 Constitution provided for appointment of non-Cabinet Ministers from among MPs[21] and the DMs fitted well to this category. President JR Jayewardene appointed DMs to all districts. They were to formulate, monitor and evaluate district development plans; identify bottlenecks and initiate corrective action; supervise inter-departmental activities. Though the functions of a GA were similar to these, the status of the GAs and Assistant GAs (AGAs) did not compromise much with both DPAs and DMs, other than cosmetically. Hence, establishment–wise DM system was not a hassle, especially due to the understanding between the DMs and GAs.

(c)   After 1977 with economic liberalization investments increased, new policies and institutions undoing the previous anti-market orientation developed, and the economy became more outward looking. Involvement of changed macro-economic strategy initiated in consultation with multilateral financing organization required higher level of SLAS officers to be ready to work according to national requirements. Satisfactory examples of how SLAS officers performed, to suit positively politicized programs were observed in the manner in which restructuring of the government budget, public enterprise reforms, monetary policy and financial sector reforms, poverty alleviation and human resource development were undertaken, and, specifically multi-faceted Mahaweli Project, Village Reawakening (Gam Udawa) Programme, 300- Garment Factory programme were implemented efficiently / effectively.  SLAS officers’ performance in these projects would give a totally positive interpretation of them.

  (d) District Coordinating Committee and District Agriculture Coordinating Committee were two important coordinating mechanisms in which the GAs had authority, as Chairman and many SLAS officers had to contribute to their success.  The MPs and DMs were participants. They contributed, cleared bottlenecks and usurpation of bureaucratic powers was not heard. There was explicit mutual respect between the Ministers and officers.

Later these institutions were overwhelmingly politicized with the senior MP or a Cabinet Minister taking charge, which was extended to the Chief Minister and the Co-chair system being introduced. This showed the deterioration of power and recognition of SLAS Heads of Departments and the vacuum filling by politicians. The empowerment of politicians in this manner was emanating from Cabinet decisions and the SLAS officers did not have any space for protest.

(e) With District Development Councils at the district level, Divisional Development Councils were established, comprising of the MP (Chair), divisional level government officials and representatives Local Authorities, Cooperative Societies, and Cultivation Committees. They were to plan, implement and monitor implementation of divisional development activities. This gave valuable training to SLAS officers to work with lower level local politicians, especially because most participants in these were handpicked by pro-government MPs. Such experience would have helped SLAS officers to manage dissolved Local Authorities, Multi Purpose Cooperative Societies, when called upon.

(f)         Similar were the establishment of the Agricultural Productivity Committees comprising farmer representatives; Cultivation Committees established to promote agricultural development and safeguard tenant farmer rights; and, People’s Committees to sensitize and apply a check on government bureaucracy and to create responsiveness to the people. Of course, Peoples Committees were hated by public officers, but offered political behavioral experience to build capacities.

(g)       Late seventies saw the emergence of the Integrated Rural Development Programmes (IRDPs) which were executed through district administration. The elements of IRDPs were; (a) rural development through social change; (b) human development, people’s participation and institution building; (c) poverty alleviation; (d) resources and economic development; (e) mitigating disparities between groups, genders and potential entrepreneurs. Though politicians were keen on these projects, the executives- whether SLAS or otherwise- had enough freedom to act objectively, probably due to President JR Jayewardene being the Minister in charge and Dr. Wickrema Weerasooria, a non-SLAS, politically motivated Secretary brought in positive bureaucratization of politics in to the management system.

(h)      Conflict in the North and East trained the SLAS and other executive officers to face an abnormal political status- i.e. working with terrorists. The disaster management situations they faced were extremely dangerous and challenging. To balance between terror and formal administration, disaster and mitigation, serving two masters and sometimes three when the Military intervened were not the safest and easiest.

The involved SLAS officers had to sometimes accommodate wrong demands from terrorists, in fear of life. The difficulty could be measured from the number of SLAS officers who paid with supreme sacrifice, incomparable by any other civilian services personnel. These officers proved by practice that ‘disaster’ in Chinese characters has two meaning: one ‘danger’ and the other ‘opportunity’(=corruption)!


Politicization as a global phenomenon has encroached the public service in Sri Lanka. It is due to historical, constitutional, legal, economic, institutional and attitudinal factors that had been reinforced by politicians with a resilient public service and tolerant civil society.

One may argue favoring stances supporting politicization projecting it as an extension of democracy. If democracy applies to serve the ‘whole’ within the Rule of Law, formal structures, impersonally, without discrimination one may support this argument. But, what the country experiences is different.

It is to the credit of the SLAS and generally for the public service that one can quote wonderful achievements by SLAS and public officers in management, irrespective of intruded politicization. Perhaps in almost all these projects / programmes politicization intrusions were extremely positive. The need may be to spread these achievement mooting intrusions to the totality of administration by clear demarcation by understanding of positive and negative politicization processes and nullifying the latter.

Under these circumstances de-politicization should be an integrated exercise with pure understanding of the complexity of the exercise. This is another political exercise, and the contradiction is that negative politicization factors as mentioned are created by politicians and they are also expected to make changes. The brave but rare agreement to depoliticize by the 17th Amendment to the Constitution of Sri Lanka (even with weaknesses), approved with the agreement of 223 MPs was repealed with two third majority in the Parliament a few years later, without any acceptable societal / political demand. It exhibited how fragile any attempt to depoliticize would be and how even politicians fall a pray to whimsical politics.  

Concurrently, it must be accepted that competencies, skills, preparedness to handle politicization should be developed in SLAS and other officials, which will be the responsibility of relevant line ministries, other human resources development agencies and Associations. Mere complaint of politicization will not solve the problem, though what has happened is the latter.

As a beginning it may be appropriate if solutions can be found to circumvent the politicization difficulties caused by existing laws, systems, institutions and political and bureaucratic attitudes.

Fatalistic silence and negative attitudes have to be blown off by the losers of politicization. They are not the public officers; but, the unorganized, disorganized and most difficult to organize sections of the public who will be discriminated or exploited through politicization. Therefore, finding means and mechanisms to fight negative politicization will become another unbearably humongous exercise. Nonetheless, it should be attempted.

[1] http://www.bustingbureaucracy.com/excerpts/weber.htm

[3] Transfer of Powers (Divisional Secretaries) Act Section 3 (1)

[4] Article 31 of Provincial Councils Act 42 of 1987

[5] Article 52 (2) of the Constitution of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka.

[6] Though this is true the writer will not be spared by Secretaries!

[7] A Sri Lankan tradition created by the Overseas Service is to immediately re-employ retired Foreign Secretaries as diplomats in congenial stations. SLAS and others have found other avenues of congenial existence!

[8] A separate article deals with devolution and hence discussion here will be restricted.

[9] Presidential Secretary’s letter- 30/27 dated June 22 1988

[10] Section 32(3) of the Provincial Councils Act 42 of 1987

[11] Presidential Secretary’s letter- 30/27 dated June 22 1988 paragraph 3 (vii)

[12] SC Application 657/98- EHMP Elkaduwa vs: Hon. Stanley Tillakaratne and others

[13] Article 60 (1) of the Ceylon Constitution Order in Council 1946

[14] See  Article 106(1) Sri Lanka Constitution 1972

[15] Article 106(3) provided the Cabinet of Ministers to determine all matters relating to state officers (i.e. constitution of state services, formulation of schemes of recruitment and codes of conduct, the procedure of delegation in all areas)

[16] Since there is another article on devolution comments will be restricted here.

[18] See Transfer of Powers (Divisional Secretaries Act) No: 58 of 1992

[19]   Neelan Thiruchelvam – Federalism and Diversity in Sri Lanka

[20] The author as Secretary of Home Affairs and then Secretary Public Administration Mr. Pussdeniya were present when this representation happened.

[21] Article 45(1)(a) of the 1978 Sri Lankan Constitution


Dear Readers,

I need to explain the background to this article, because you find repetition of facts and arguments that had been written by me in my recent articles. Please consider this as an article written on the invitation of SLAS Association and later published by them in a publication they titled as “A Golden Era”, when they celebrated the existence and achievements of the SLAS for half a century.  It was held at the BMICH last Monday with His Excellency the President of Sri Lanka attending as the Chef Guest.
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Latest comments

  • 3

    Now a days all important positions are being filled by Political Appointees and relations. SLAS and the principled Govt servant are a lost cause. 18A put paid to any hope of redemption. Also the 1978 constitution brought the appointment of Secretaries under the President. They in turn will appoint minions to other positions.

    When the majority of public servants lack professionalism, ethical values and principles, the writ of the power hungry politician is sealed. The only weapon in the hand of the people is to go on strike and demonstrate against political appointments and transfers etc.

    • 1

      Indian Administrative Service IAS has a cadre of 6077 officers.

      Sri Lanka 1/50 in population & 1/50 land area has 2405 cadre

      IAS officers in position as on 1.1.2011 was 4488

      IAS vacancies are 1589 – Advisedly not filled.

      Source: Written reply to Lok Sabha.

      Quality of IAS is maintained firstly through number limitation.

      The CCS had a cadre of 150 or less with an annual intake of 2 – 6. The last intake in 1962 was 8.

      • 2

        The SLAS 50 Year Commemoration event was told by Mr. Ariyaratna Hewage (Chairman of the Finance Commission while presenting a survey done in all provinces) the need and ways and means to revitalize SLAS.
        I was told by the SASA President that they hope to have a Council to propose revitalizing methods and systems.
        I agree (hoping that what I say will not annoy the incumbents of SLAS) the quality has deteriorated, slavishness increased, politicized victimization enhanced though Masters degree holders have increased!
        I believe persons of your caliber should get involved in studying and proposing solutions if upgrading of SLAS is to be achieved. But who knows who would be in the Council that is in the mind of the SASA President? If the Council is to be legally established once again the possibility of political stooges being seated may happen and will call the shots and SLAS will be at a standstill in every respect. Let us as old SLAS hands hope for the future prospect of seeing a better public service in totality, not only SLAS.
        Please do not tell me that many such hopes had been dashed in the past and this too will end with the same fate!

        • 1


          Your two articles motivated me to publish mine on 22nd. Your reply here is in response to my comment. I saw the service fraying even in 1979. In that year Sapukotana and I were President and Secretary to one of the SLAS Unions. The Commission on Salaries, headed by Rtd. Chief Justice Hon. Tennekoon, with Messrs.C.Balasingham and D.R. Kahawita as Members, invited us for an interview.

          We mentioned that we had come not to talk salaries but to outline parameters for a Service that can measure up to its mission and purpose. We evinced their interest in our presentation when they requested a memo. and also called us for a second interview.

          A few months later I wrote this article and sent copies to some placed in authority, to a few SLAS colleagues and to a few CCS seniors. At least one discussion followed with an Additional Secretary in the Presidential Secretariat, together with UN returned ex Civil Servant Raju Coomaraswamy. He said that when Pieter Keuneman met him in New York he had told him “We made the biggest mistake in abolishing the Civil Service”.

          For publication I sent my article to Sunday Observer. When I inquired the Editor said “You have argued for an ELITE SERVICE. We are opposed to it”. I said to myself THOUGHT CONTROL and lamented our times. Now Colombo Telegraph has published it.

          Austin,whatever your fervour, the time for revitalisation is well past. Pl. consider seriously, will India think of it if her IAS cadre is 6,077×50 = 303,850 ie proportionate to SLAS cadre to suit her size and population, or to officers in position of 4,488×50 = 224,400?

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      That is why we always called these folk Adminis`traitors` even 50 years ago.

      Their target to send their siblings to Oxbridge on scholarship.

      Very few know how many hours they spent in the office. ha ha. the games they played he he.

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        Their siblings would be far too old to enter Oxbridge

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    “Politicization of administration is a universal social process bringing a political character or flavor to administration.”

    Austin, by “flavor” – are you referring to Corruption ?

    “It may yield positive (e.g. pressure to motivate officials). Political pressure to motivate officials ?”

    You joking ? or are you a joker acting out a traji-comedy ?

  • 0

    An excellent analysis

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    Dear Mr Fernando,

    Is this dissertation written towards a Phd award some where, or is this justification for the greed and lack of ethics of two or more generations of SLAS officers.

    We are all quick to blame the politicians for everything but very rarely look in the mirror. And, SLAS officers like the Police and the Judiciary are us! If the people charged with SERVING THE PUBLIC do their jobs, the politicians would not have dreamt of doing the crap they now simply take of granted. Egg or the chicken came first. Was the first bribe asked or offered? Was it the peon or the director. I will blindly say the it was the director. How about you?

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      Dear Upul,

      it is true that we the general public should be attentive to our day today issues. People must be trained to do so. But taking it as a recent example – from the lately reported incident at Wanathamulla and what the victim clearly added to his tape reveals the saddest reality that general public have to live in fears specially in today’s context.

      How do you explain this?

      What has brought even if Opposition parties heavily criticised the transgress matter in terms of Gammanpila lately ?

      What actions the authorities have taken against him ? How can this be exemplary to general public ? Having closely studied a counter issues in western parliaments- for example the serious manner german authorities react against their lawmaker- who is alleged to have stored up some illegal films on to his personal PC -is very moral and lawful while lanken counterpart basically fail their attitude towards law and order.

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        Lanken govt was not split even if the PM (country^s 2nd citizen) was accused to have issued letters supporting highly corrupted drug imports.
        But Germany’s current grand coalition is about to be split just because one lawmaker was alleged to have stored up illegal pornographic pictures on his PC.

  • 1

    ”finding means and mechanisms to fight negative politicization will become another unbearably humongous exercise. Nonetheless, it should be attempted”:

    Huge numbers of people are on streets in some countries demanding to overthrow unacceptable governance.

    When are wecoming out of our cocoons in Sri Lanka?

  • 0

    Dear Readers,
    I need to explain the background to this article, because you find repetition of facts and arguments that had been written by me in my recent articles. Please consider this as an article written on the invitation of SLAS Association and later published by them in a publication they titled as “A Golden Era”, when they celebrated the existence and achievements of the SLAS for half a century. It was held at the BMICH last Monday with His Excellency the President of Sri Lanka attending as the Chef Guest. It explains also the length of this article.

  • 1

    Dear Mr Fernando
    I do not understand this “Politicization as a ***global phenomenon*** has encroached the public service in Sri Lanka.”

    Rajapakse family & friends taking over the public service would be more appropriate – HOME GROWN.

  • 0

    Wittingly or unwittingly, Austin Fernando’s articles relating to the 50th anniversary of the SLAS have an elegiac quality: fond remembrance and celebration of a dear and departed entity. Austin himself recognizes that bringing this entity back to life is an “unbearably humongous exercise”.
    As Austin says, politicization of the administrative services has been a global trend, but what has happened in Sri Lanka over the recent few years goes way beyond and is qualitatively different from these global trends. It is no exaggeration to say that what we have now is administration for a quasi monarchy, with medieval style courtiers and regional satraps.

  • 1

    This is boring and good for educated idiots. It seems like CT has lost its firebrand-writers.

    • 0

      Loosing you was really good. Fire Brand, my ass.
      Write your crap to some Ghetto Telegraph close to where you live.

    • 1

      jagath asoka;

      Firebrand, to ignite the country? If you have nothing to do, just sleep tacking your hands between your legs man. It seems that you have some psychological issue to make troubles to others and enjoy. Try to be a little bit decent and respectable or keep away from the public, you the irresponsible rabble-rouser.


  • 0

    Dear Mr Fernando,

    Maybe you sense of irony is perhaps sharper than mine because you say this article for written for an SLAS publication released on the occasion of its 50th anniversary celebrations, to which MR was chief guest.

    I am not going to blame the Rajapakses for the decline in the SLAS standards. The rot set in in the mid 70’s and progressively got worse and the current lot are beyond redemption, from both sides of the equation. The masters and the servants… Actually the servants exist only in their houses to help Madam!

    Is there light at the end of the tunnel? There better be!

    Problem is; it might be sub-standard light, bought for top dollar from a corrupt supplier with about a dozen political appointees looking for the missing switch!!!

  • 0

    If I am not mistaken CCS monopoly was broken around early sixties when renown Economist DR.Jayantha Kelegama was appointed as Senior Assistant Secretary of Ministry of Trade,Shipping & Commerce.

  • 0

    Politicization is just what is happening in this country.

  • 0


  • 0

    The only govt job which has no retirement age is being a ministry secretary. So these guys will be henchmen to ministers to secure employment.

    We must be having close upon 100 ministry secretaries and a handful are worthy of calling themselves ministry secretaries. Most of them have no admin skills and communication skills or analytical skills. Good enough to rubber stamp their bosses requirements.

    Get real!!! The days are gone where you had quality.

  • 0

    politisisation of administration was growing rapidly in post-independence sri lanka, long before SLAS . CCS boys were very much at home and adept at it altho some present day ignorants paint them as shining heroes. however the open complicity in present day corruption by disgraceful flunkeys like weeratunga and senerath has degraded SLAS as never before.

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