Secretary of Public Administration:
By Shamindra Ferdinando
The new secretary of the Ministry of Public Administration, Priyantha Mayadunne, has warned political parties represented in parliament, public and private sector unions and civil society that they will soon be considered traitors if they do not accept a program of far-reaching economic reforms.
Barrister Mayadunne issued the warning last weekend at a meeting of civil servants held at the Postal Auditorium near the Lotus Tower.
Former Justice Ministry Secretary Mayadunne replaced JJ Ratnasiri as Public Administration Ministry Secretary, following the appointment of the new cabinet.
The normally soft-spoken Mayadunne said the country was in such a precarious position, especially with no tangible recovery plan at the moment. As a result, the government and other stakeholders did not need IMF intervention to embark on a massive reform program themselves without delay.
The statement came shortly after it was revealed during recent parliamentary oversight committee sessions that the then Presidential Secretary, Dr. PBJ Jayasundera had rejected IMF intervention in March-April 2020.
(The Public Enterprises Committee) On May 25, Central Bank Governor Dr. Nandalal Weerasinghe revealed how the then government had harshly rejected IMF recommendations for an immediate debt restructuring program and the advice not to implement large-scale tax cuts.
Asked if he has earned the wrath of political authority for criticizing successive governments and the current dispensation from Sri Lanka’s predicament, Mayadunne said he stood firmly by what he had said during the forum. “There is absolutely no interest
suppressing the truth or making senseless efforts to deceive the masses. The public must be put in confidence and informed on how to deal with the growing crisis. But the crisis can only be resolved if political parties, inside and outside parliament, trade unions and civil society groups recognize and accept their responsibilities,” Mayadunne said.
Acknowledging his own shortcomings, Mayadunne told a meeting of civil servants last weekend that those who have served in public office for 30 years are to varying degrees responsible.
Mayadunne asserted that successive governments bear the responsibility for creating an oversized public service which was a very heavy burden on the taxpayer. Pointing out that the civil service had a staggering 1.5 million members, Mayadunne said the country could have afforded 500,000. Sri Lanka could have managed between 500,000 and 800,000, but today there are nearly double the number of civil servants the country can afford, Mayadunne said.
Mayadunne recalled how he asked the then-president’s secretary in 2004 not to expand the civil service by accommodating a large group of graduates because it might cause a disaster one day. For following dangerous politically motivated policies, those who are now retiring from public service run the risk of not being able to receive a monthly pension. The situation was so bad that pensioners could not expect to receive a gratuity, Mayadunne said, warning that all would have to give up benefits and privileges for a period of ten years.
The senior official urged union leaders, whatever sectors they represent, not to make totally irresponsible demands under any circumstances. The government could not afford to meet basic requirements, such as salaries, let alone other demands.
Acknowledging the extreme difficulties faced by a large part of the civil servants, Mayadunne strongly advised against a salary increase as it could create an extremely volatile situation. Mayadunne warned that pay rises for civil servants at a time when others had no relief could lead to violence directed at decision-makers. An appropriate transport allowance could perhaps be considered due to the high cost of public and private transport.
Mayadunne said the country was on the brink of starvation. Although various people said that the Yala season could not meet the country’s needs, he said, adding that crisis-hit countries in the region were unable to make up the shortfall. June would be much worse than May and the country could not anticipate foreign food aid either, Mayadunne said.
Recalling the hardships experienced by northerners during the conflict, Mayadunne warned that the way the financial crisis has developed and the general situation has deteriorated, credit cards issued here will soon be useless.
The ministry secretary warned that Western Province, where about 90 percent of its paddy needs had to be brought in from outside, would be the worst hit region.
Stating that the vast majority of people find it extremely difficult to make ends meet, Mayadunne said even having a glass of milk was a luxury.
The senior public administration official said there was nothing the people here could do now to rectify waste, corruption, irregularities and mismanagement, should the country find itself in an unprecedented crisis .
Revealing that officials owed Rs 17 billion in gratuities, Mayadunne said the duty-free car permit issued to them could not be used now for obvious reasons.
Emphasizing the responsibility of the executive, legislative and judiciary to address issues at hand, Mayadunne said that regardless of public position, all should be held to a common agenda. Water, electricity and other essential services should not be provided for free as the country struggles to cope with extremely daunting challenges.
Mayadunne said unions should align themselves with the comprehensive national plan to save and revive the economy.
Alleging that national policies made at taxpayer expense ended up in the trash, Mayadunne explained how irresponsible governance over a period of time has bankrupted the country. He criticized successive governments for public sector recruitment, extravagant state projects, and perks and privileges granted to legislators.
Mayadunne said creating commissions would not change the civil service overnight. As long as politicians wield power over civil servants, the current situation will continue, Mayadunne said, insisting that key appointments should be handled by the Constitutional Council. Comparing a secretary in a ministry to a peon, Mayadunne said that since 2015 he had held 17 appointments and when he retired he would have the opportunity to serve in three more places.