I was most disturbed that the proposed 19th amendment does not seem to take seriously the commitment in the President’s election manifesto to ensure the independence of the Public Service. Two dangerous provisions remain from the past.
The first is that Ministry Secretaries shall be appointed by the President (though, according to the amendment introduced in the Supreme Court, only on the advice of the Prime Minister). The second is that all Ministry Secretaries vacate office when a new government is formed.
Both these are contrary to practice in other countries with a Westminster style Cabinet system of government. Since this matter has been decided on without sufficient consultation, or understanding of the principles involved in ensuring that Public Servants serve the public rather than the Executive, I have proposed an amendment to the Constitution. This has now been gazetted I attach a copy of the Gazette of March 27th, and would be most grateful if you could raise the issue and promote support for this initiative.
The change from what used to be Permanent Secretaries was introduced when Sri Lanka had a Statist concept of government. But while governments that are elected are entitled to expect that Public Servants act in accordance with the policies of the government, this must also be in terms of law and regulations.
It is also important to ensure continuity, and help new ministers find their feet, by receiving briefs with regard to the policies and activities of the Ministry they are taking over. Simply establishing independent Commissions to recommend appointments will not help if the most senior members of the Public Service, and the Chief Accounting Officers of Ministries, are not appointed by the Commissions. The present draft 19th Amendment keeps them beholden to the government in power for their positions.