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CaptureTo help the deliberations of the committee appointed by the National Human Resources Development Council to recommend new ways of working in the Public Sector, I requested the assistance of several distinguished public servants of past vintages. These ranged from the time in which recruitment was to the old Civil Service to those who had retired very recently.

Not all responded, but those who did were of the highest calibre and continue to be respected by new generations of both administrators and politicians. Interestingly enough, while commenting on the issues we had raised in the draft concept paper, they also introduced some sharp new perspectives.

The most stringent criticism was with regard to the packing of the public service for political reasons. One former Secretary noted that ‘The unsustainable and highly politicized practice of treating the public sector institutions…as a means to solve unemployment problems through ‘sponsored employment’ should cease forthwith.’ Another put it even more bluntly – ‘Don’t treat the public sector as a refuge for unemployed graduates’.

One of them noted the side effects of such practices. In addition to the wasteful costs involved, he referred to ‘inefficiencies and unnecessary administrative burdens. Idle people constitute a disturbance to people who are working and generate additional problems’. This indeed was something I had practical experience of, and had pointed out in my reports written after Divisional Secretariat Reconciliation meetings. I found several Secretariats full of youngsters with nowhere to sit and nothing to do, with the poor Divisional Secretary, already over-burdened, having to find space and occupation for them. And of course the purely political nature of the exercise was made abundantly clear by the fact that these new recruits had received hardly any training, and no effort was made to ensure productive activity in coordination with previously employed personnel. Read the rest of this entry »

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Daily FTThe incident he faced as State Minister of Higher Education regarding the removal of the UGC Head and Faizer Mustapha’s resignation as State Minister of Aviation will not negatively impact the 100-day program but is a wakeup call for the whole alliance to realise that it needs to be more serious, says Prof. Rajiva Wijesinha.

In a wide-ranging interview with the Daily FT, he also noted that the alliance gave a specific deadline to the people and there were very important pledges that it had done nothing about. “People are expecting us to fulfil these within the mentioned deadlines. We are here to respond to people and we must do so quickly,” he added.

However, Wijesinha emphasised that the pledge of abolishing the executive presidency shouldn’t be fulfilled since it was something that required a lot of consideration and it was important to ensure that what was put in its place would be acceptable to the people at large.

Following are excerpts:

Daily FT interview 20 Feb 2015Q: What is the conflict between you and Higher Education Minister Kabir Hashim?

A: Kabir took some action while I was away which I thought was totally inappropriate. I think Kabir should have consulted me. However, he has been very gracious about expressing the error involved. But the bottom line is that I know that this will go on.

If ‘A’ doesn’t give the right answer, they go to ‘B’. If one person is clearly in charge and then there is another person is also there, anyone who doesn’t get a good answer from ‘A’ will go to ‘B’. If technically ‘A’ is under ‘B,’ it is impossible for ‘A’ to actually carry out his work. I have told Kabir that this cannot go on like this. He too agreed and said that he would tell the Prime Minister to appoint me as a Cabinet minister. That would make a lot of sense and I hope that it will happen.

Q: Are you saying your action was not against the removal of the UGC Chairman but was purely based on error in protocol?

A: We are going to engage in what we call good governance. You must not do things that are contrary to every single principle of good governance. People ask me why I am defending the UGC Chairman. It is not a question of my defending her. It is a question of two fundamental principles of governance being breached.

The first is, very simply, Kabir should not have taken any decision affecting my work without telling me. The second fact is that, if they wanted to respond to allegations against the UGC Chairman, there should have been an investigation with due process. Rather interestingly Kabir told me there was lot of pressure from FUTA and that is why he went ahead with it. I told Kabir that he should not give into pressure. One of our biggest complaints against the UGC Chairman was that she had given into pressure. If we are going to do things simply because there is immense pressure from other parties, how are we any better than what we claim she was?

Q: But FUTA has been against the appointment of UGC Chairman and it was one of their conditions when supporting Maithripala Sirisena.

A: I know nothing about such a condition. Don’t forget that I translated the manifesto and there was nothing of that sort there. In any case, if you are going to remove anyone, you need to do it through due process.

Let me give you an example; they now claim that I know what the allegations are. But no one has given me any of the allegations except one professor who wrote a long email to me in which he basically mentioned all kinds of negative things about the UGC Head, such as she is the worst person in the system and a strong supporter of President Rajapaksa. I wrote back asking to send me those allegations systematically because I cannot carry out an investigations based on an email with someone’s own private grievances. He didn’t come back to me. How can anyone expect me to carry out any investigations without a proper complaint?
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Rajiva Wijesinha

June 2019
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