28 May, 2024


Wanted: A New Leadership Culture For Public Institutions

By Amal S. Kumarage

Prof. Amal S. Kumarage

Prof. Amal S. Kumarage

Political and civil society leaders campaigned for good governance in Sri Lanka and on 8th January, the people agreed. We now have a new President. Then again the people spoke on 17th August and confirmed that the country needs to continue in its journey towards Yahapalanaya. We will soon have a new Parliament. But is this enough to achieve Yahapalanaya? Can the public rest now and await our new political leadership to deliver to us a better tomorrow?

It has been the past pattern that once an election is over, Sri Lankans consider their civic duty to be over and simply wait ( ‘Ohe Innawa Syndrome’) for governments to deliver on their promises. When they fail, we criticize them and boot them out of office to herald in a new which we treat similarly. Of course that is the safeguard democracy provides. But a maturing democracy should build safeguards that would keep a government accountable to its people at all times – not just at election time.

We have seen how the restoration of the independency of the Elections Commissioner, the Judiciary and the Police led to the conduct of the most peaceful election in recent history. But can we be complacent? Can we expect that the entire state machinery will continue to be reformed and deliver what the public expect of them?

As the Constitution of Sri Lanka provides, the President and the MPs are elected by the people, ministers are appointed by the President in consultation with the Prime Minister. Here onwards the public have little control or even interest over other appointments to public offices. Secretaries to Ministries, Chairpersons and Directors of Corporations are appointed by the relevant ministers in some instances with approval from the Cabinet of Ministers. In recent years it has become necessary for the President’s office or the Prime Minister’s office to endorse such as well.

Statutory institutions are the means by which public services are delivered to the people. The Road Development Authority, the Ceylon Electricity Board, the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation the University Grants Commission and Sri Lanka Transport Board are examples of several hundred state institutions in charge of key sectors of the economy. Each ministry has a handful of such institutions. They are empowered by their respective Acts of Parliament with the legal and institutional machinery for delivering public services and for developing their respective functional areas of society and the economy. A large proportion of the national budget is spent through these institutions. In order to ensure that competent leadership is provided to these important institutions, the Acts of Parliament under which corporations are set up, have safeguarded the rights of the people of Sri Lanka by specifying general qualifications for the appointment of Chairpersons and Directors to these institutions. However in the past, there has been blatant disregard in this respect with Ministers giving preference to (a) family or (b) political colleagues who were unsuccessful at elections or (c) business or personal friends. Such offices have sadly been mostly used as rewards for political patronage or to be used as an extension of a Ministers power base to provide jobs or contracts.

We saw in the past how these institutions in the hands of those selected on the sole criterion of ‘political trustworthiness’ only looked after the interest of their appointing masters. In many cases, the institutions suffered irreparable loss in the willful dismantling of systems and processes that had been operating for years just in order to accommodate these narrow political and personal objectives. These institutions have become corrupt and lethargic to public need and have thus lost public credibility. Above all they have also become incapacitated to deliver the intended public services efficiently.

Rebuilding Sri Lanka will only be possible if these key institutions are properly reinstituted. They need to be safeguarded from a continuation of the past practice of political abuse. The government should be accountable to the people as to how and who is appointed to lead such institutions. In fact, in a serious rebuilding effort the most capable people Sri Lanka can offer should be head hunted and requested to lead these institutions. Private institutions and investment alone cannot develop a country. The role of the public institution is pivotal in planning, regulating and directing the investment and development of any sector. The restoration of the ability for such institutions to function freely in the pursuit of its goals and objectives must be prioritized urgently.
In this process it is timely to provide a transparent process of selecting chairpersons and directors for public institutions. My suggestions are as follows:

  1. Cabinet to Set up Advisory Panels comprising retired public and private sector leaders of high caliber as well as Civil Society leaders, to head hunt potential institutional heads and where necessary even to motivate or challenge prospective leaders to take up public positions. It is likely that the most capable people would be otherwise engaged and to agree to head a government institution would have to be a personal or even professional sacrifice.
  2. To assess such nominees with respect to their (a) institutional leadership record; (b) relevant professional and/or technical competence (c) integrity and (d) understanding of the specific institution, its functions and the vision for its future.
  3. For the relevant Minister and the Secretary to then interview the relevant nominee before making appointment or recommending appointment to the Cabinet.

There may also be some good governance practices that should be adopted that would bar unsuccessful politicians and relatives of the relevant minister from being appointed. It would also be a desirable practice of good governance and accountability to publish the credentials and qualifications of all such persons selected to head public institutions, so that the public could recognize those entrusted with such responsibility.

*Amal S. Kumarage – Senior Professor, University of Moratuwa. Prof Kumarage has served as Chairman and Director of a number of State institutions under different governments for over two decades

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Latest comments

  • 7

    Good points here. Let us remember that good governance starts at the top. The culture of impunity that has let politicians become an elite CASTE and a huge burden of the tax payer with their various GRANTS and wining and dinning at the Parliament, while making inside deals and playing palace politics while the CORRUPT SHOW of democracy goes on must end.

    We the people do not need a ‘National Government’ with a Swollen Cabinet of corrupt MPs from the SLFP.

    President Sirisena is becoming a NATIONAL JOKE with his National Government and National List of corrupt clowns who were rejected by the people.. There is no need for a national government full of corrupt SLFP criminal clowns, who will now all want to be Cabinet members. Let the UNP rule with the help of the JVP and TNA and there should only be 10 Cabinet members. SIrisena has made a royal mess of the SLFP rather than cleaning out that corrupt party of Mahinda Jarapassa and his cronies. He should have refused MR and his cronies nominations..
    Fianlly, Arjuna Mahendran the corrupt insider trader at the Central Bank must be investigated – so too his predecessor Nivard Cabraal and their assets ceased and use to pay off the national debte once they are proved guilty – which they are.

    • 0

      Hence a paradigm shift should be aimed not only at the organisation level but also at a Carer level if we all expect a progress in may areas.

  • 5

    It should be, just a beginning for a Yahapalanaya, considering the author’s experience and previous exposure! Timely reminder.

  • 4

    This is why we scream “strengthen the institutions” please!! So the way it should work is as follows.

    The people give a mandate to the legislature to setup and oversea the institutions. The institutions themselves gets their mandate via the legislature. The people are ultimately the supreme authority.

    So the institutions themselves need to develop a culture of loyalty to the people – not to the Minister in charge.

    The Minister in charge in-turn need to develop a culture of loyalty to the people – not to the head of the institution.

    So both check each other in order to protect the interests of the people. Its the “checking” part that often misunderstood.

    Checking does not mean the Minster in charge violate independence of the institution. That is micro-managing and not the responsibility of the Minister. It means the Minister ensure the institution meets the rules and regulations set by the legislature.

    If rules are broken then its forwarded to the judiciary for a suitable recourse. Third world countries lag behind because the systems do not work like clock-work.

    All public institutions must be able to meet the mandate set by the legislature. The institutions themselves need to develop a culture of loyalty to people not to the Minister in charge. They must work for the benefit of the people.

    • 2

      If public relations nstitutions are to be efficient,copetant people based on their merit should be appointed and due consideration should be given to their character, background etc., irrespective of their race or religion. As long as they also have an aptitude and be prepared to serve the country loyally such people can be considered for appointment to the various state institutions.
      Apart from that there must be also a scheme developed to enable public participation in the functions of such institutions to ensure accountability and transparency. That is why there should be a Statutory provision included in the constitution to help in the evolvement of a civil service to function smoothly despite the periodic legislative changes following elections.
      Micro managing cannot obviously come within the ambit of a ministerial responsibility but public scrutiny and a free media can serve to ensure efficient running of state institutions.
      I think People’ Sovereignity would be meaningful only if the running of the government by the people through their elected representatives via the state institutions becomes a possibility.

  • 3

    Thank you, Prof Kumarage.

    Academics owe the parliamentarians and the wider society lessons like this in improving Good Governance so that all are kept on toes till there is the urgently needed change in political culture.

    Recently there is another good posting by another academic Thrishantha Nanayakkara in groundviews.org.

  • 10

    Good point professor. How person can become a professor without minimum 20 articles in ISI and SCOPUS journals and without appointing as a visiting professor by three countries? Check how this man is running his own academic dept at Moratuwa. NTC is in mess under this person’s leadership. Then good governance must first remove this person’s fake professorship and other positions.

    • 8

      @Fedrick… now now son don’t get your knickers all twisted up! Understand the message without shooting the messenger!

      • 6

        Yes not only this fake title holder, all the Sri Lankan professors’ qualification must be re-checked by this government. Because during Mahinda’s time even for his letters and phone calls Professors are appointed in Sri Lankan Universities. In order to become a real professor, your PhD must be from world top 100 Universities, at least 10 text books must published with International publishers, 20 articles in SCOPUS and ISI indexed journals and three countries must appoint you as a professor. All other Profs are fakes. I guess 95% Sri Lankan Profs are fakes.

        • 4

          Yes very good move. In irrespective of degree and disciplines all professors’ qualifications must be re-checked. No bogus conference papers and consultancy papers please. I found 97% Sri Lankan Professors are fake title holders eating poor tax payers money as salary. Ruhuna and Sabaragamuwa good examples. Country like Malaysia selling PhD most University Lecturers are now buying them.

    • 6

      This much I can tell you, having knon Amal Kumarage for about forty years. He is decent, honest, and honourable.

      Regarding criteria for appointing as professors: much that has been said is contradictory. A Ph D would normally be required, as well as research and publiction, but above all else, a commitment to truth, and to furthering human welfare through pushing out the boudaries of knowledge.

      There are publications that exist just for people to lengthen their lists. The Open International University owned by the late Acupuncturist Anton Jayasuriya sold degrees. Prof. Amal Kumarage is not one such. Just off hand I can’t substantiate much more.

      • 3

        I am a degree holder from A. Jayasuriya’s University. How can you say he sold degrees? we earned it right way. Not the wrong way like your saint place:[Edited out]

        • 2

          This is the problem with blogging on the Internet. We make sweeping statements which we cannot substantiate. However, isn’t it a fact that Mervyn Silva bought his doctorate there?

  • 3

    Professor Amal Kumarage,

    I welcome your concerns.

    The civil society is weak.

    Good Governance will remain only in the paper unless the civil society exercises eternal vigilance.

    Elections are only one aspect of democracy.

    Real democracy is what happens in between elections.

    Civil society must act as an oversight committee; otherwise politicians play havoc with power.

    We, the people should pursue good governance practices among those who wield power

  • 1

    Good point Prof. Kumarage. You probably observed what happened after January 08th presidential election and based on that we can predict what’s going to happen now. UNP’ers were starving for many years and hurriedly got into positions after January 08th. All Boards and Councils occupied by former government ministers henchmen were dissolved and UNp’ers were appointed. After this election it will be further strengthened. This is what happen to government institutions. Universities are no exceptions. University Councils are occupied by UNP members and Vice Chancellors who are UNP henchmen. Some Universities still have SB and MR Vice Chancellors and they will be removed soon and another set of incapable Vice Chancellors will come into power! I don’t think that “Yahapalanaya” will help government institutions to come out of this grave situation as long as this political system/culture exists. E.g. a ruling party member wants to become the Chairman/Vice Chancellor irrespective of his/her weak credentials and the cause will be greatly supported by political henchmen who are the board/council members. “Yahapalanaye Ashcharya”

  • 5

    Before talk about good leadership and governance some body must answer for these questions: Who convert poor rural Bhuddhist university students to Christian faiths by giving many things? Who down grade other degree holders and other disciplines publicly? Who think that all other disciplines are useless and my discipline is the best? Who do as much as private consultancy by using PG students? Who does not know anything about non-eng aspects of transport but pretends as knows everything? Who got professorship by publishing in useless IESL journals? Universities need right people (not jokers) who respect other degree holders and other disciplines. Somebody must teach for this writer that all the disciplines are equal within academia and his discipline and degree is not higher than others.

  • 8

    Prof. Amal S. Kumarage

    Wanted: A New Leadership Culture For Public Institutions.

    Having read your Article you sound as some one who is well placed to convey a message to the leaders who seem to me to be play acting. I want to use you as a Conduit to send the message to the following

    1) The President
    2) The Prime Minsiter
    3) Mr.Mangaala Samaweera ( I am not sure if he has reatined the FM Portfolio)

    You have posed a lot questions for the future but as a Tamil there are THRREE things which are important which needs to be answered. The President doesnt open his Mouth a lot ( Like Manmohan Singh) exept I hope when he vists his DENTIST. There he has no choice.

    But RW says a lot and I have difficulty sussing him out. For a start he has just utterd the word that UN has no Legal basis to inquire in the Genocide. Either he is ignoranat, illiterate on the UN mandate and if either of those he has to immediately resign as PM and hand over the mantle to someone else. Or he is trying to keep his promise to MR to protect him.

    There are three things which are important if are to move on.

    2) ADRESS THE TAMIL GRIEVANCE by Devolving Power to North & East and Merger. We dont care what happens to other regions as you lot are in charge of your destiny.
    3) RECONCILIATION. This can only happen when the following issues are addressed.

    a) Admission of Guilt by the Majorrity that it is their actions wich brought about the Reaction by the Tamils by that I mean struggle for Freedom
    b) Remorse without which there can be no trust.
    c) Honesty in admitting that you got wrong unlike the Field Marshall who still denies that there was Genocide despite overwhelming evidence.

    You cant justify the killing buy the army by aportioning blame on the LTTE. MR was elected by the people and until he was dethroned and flying around the World as a Leader representing Sinhala Lanka. But Prabakaran didnt have that luxury as he was considered a Terrorist.
    I recently read a report that the LTTE were guilty of using innocent civilians as Human Shields. This is an utter lie and a world away from the truth for the following reasons. I am sure you are aware of what happened and let me give it to you in Black & and White.

    1) When the army moved in to take the North there was a mass exoudus of people which Kadigaramr denied and I an sure he is still regretting that is his Grave.
    2) The majority of them moved on to Vanni and many were the immediate family of the Combatants.
    3) When the army moved on to capture Vanni the were on the March again and it wasnt by force but fearing the Army atrocitities. The armys claim that they rescued them is all a Lie.

    As for some of your observations let me go through a few.

    1) But is this enough to achieve Yahapalanaya? Can the public rest now and await our new political leadership to deliver to us a better tomorrow?.

    *** Better tomorrow will only come come about when the Past is cleaned up. To start with clean up the Horror House Temple Trees which is full of Skeletons.
    2) It has been the past pattern that once an election is over, Sri Lankans consider their civic duty to be over and simply wait ( ‘Ohe Innawa Syndrome’) for governments to deliver on their promises. When they fail, we criticize them and boot them out of office to herald in a new which we treat similarly. Of course that is the safeguard democracy provides. But a maturing democracy should build safeguards that would keep a government accountable to its people at all times – not just at election time.

    *** But this time it is differnt as the Big Brothers are watching.

    3) We have seen how the restoration of the independency of the Elections Commissioner, the Judiciary and the Police led to the conduct of the most peaceful election in recent history. But can we be complacent? Can we expect that the entire state machinery will continue to be reformed and deliver what the public expect of them.

    ** This is a million dollar question as we have not seen anything to be confident about as the Criminlas are still roaming the street with body guards. There was a allegation of a Coup but nothing has happend to the plotters and their Civil rights are still in place.

    4) Rebuilding Sri Lanka will only be possible if these key institutions are properly reinstituted.

    *** The most rebuilding project should be the rebuilding of the Shattered lives of people and all we have seen is Lip Service.

  • 0

    How are we ever going to improve the people and country when fault finding,lies and deception over rules everything.Enough of bullshit,if corrupted charge them otherwise shut up or be sued. The Tamil ltte succeeded Internationally by doing this, but now everyone caught their lies and they were wiped out. Now the new regime has been given the mandate,please perform to your very best loyally not ask for second term,without performing. Need younger politicians for future career.Bring the country to surplus,with infastructures,roads etc.than automatically you will have a second term support from the people. The previous regime has done very well,and set a very high standard,now show us you can do better. Enough of fault finding and gibbering we want the Country and people to advance. The sooner the better.Quick.

  • 1

    Prof Amal Kumarage now touches upon the selection of Board Members to statutory bodies. Bravo! It is a timely subject. But why was not this subject touched upon in drafting the 19th amendment where the constitutional council (cc) would do the selections. The 19th amendment created so many independent commissions and one can’t even have a head count of the number of commissions. If selection of members to statutory bodies is an added weight to the CC why not just another extra independent commission appointed by the CC to select the board members?

    But if we go on like this politicians would soon loose their prominence. The Government would be one of all the Talents (The Acromyn GOAT would stand for Government of All the Talents) without a public touch and there would subsequently be a cry, like in the pre 1970 for the politician to take control of everything.

    I disagree with Prof. Kum’s solution of selection bodies because the selection bodies is another bunch of Sri Lankans would make choices of their own. Today, it is shocking to see how senior officials take the entire cabinet of ministers for a ride. ( I am not at liberty to disclose specific instances)

    The correct process is to make available for the public to remedy the wrong of any minister. Appoint a crony for a post! Then deem it to be a corrupt practice. If something goes wrong in a state institution, the minister should take the flak. Resignation is the hardly a punishment. If auditors find something wrong in an institution let the minister face a problem before a judge. Why must only a secretary face the grilling before the Public Accounts Committee where politicians of all shades get together and enjoy in blasting officials thus displaying their inferiority complex?

    Before we talk of correcting the state machinery the auditors themselves must be above board. If an institution does not mollycoddle the audit examiner, you had it. They can invent queries. It is another web of corruption.

    Therefore the entire machinery is definitely not geared for a united development whether materially or spiritually and this government committed to good governance can have a hard time ahead.

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