A sound step | Daily News

A sound step

The move by President Ranil Wickremesinghe to establish a Committee to go into all appointments and/or replacements of Heads of State sector organisations is a sound one indeed that would ensure merit over anything else to be the criterion in all such selections.

It would also ensure an independent assessment of the capabilities and competence of the prospective candidates usually recommended by the Minister concerned. Presently all such appointments are made based on affiliations to the Ministers/politicians concerned and/or personal loyalty. Needless to say, this is hardly the recipe for efficiency or progress.

Earlier, former President Gotabaya Rajapaksa too appointed such a body to vet selections to top posts in the State Sector including Ministry Secretaries. However, this only proved to be a cosmetic exercise, with mostly square pegs in round holes placed in important positions. The Public Service was packed with retired military officers with no inkling of the subjects they were entrusted to oversee, and handpicked Viyath Maga followers, who proffered wrong and hasty advice that is at least partly responsible for the present crisis.

The mammoth losses suffered by 52 State Sector ventures as detailed in our editorial yesterday shows to what extent inefficiency and mismanagement had led to this state of affairs. Needless to say, the appointment of misfits, toadies and yes men to top bureaucratic positions in the State Sector spelled ruin for these bodies for which the country is paying a heavy price today. This is because loyalty took precedence over skills and ability with the rulers doing as they please.

It is well known that in most State Sector bodies under the last Government, friends and relatives of the ruling clan ruled the roost, drawing fat salaries and giving nothing in return. Many a State body was run to the ground due to such thoughtless acts.

The new Committee, it is hoped, would ensure that the right man/woman is appointed for the job and merit alone would be the criterion in all such selections. The country has been brought to its knees by the callous decisions of the rulers in making ill-advised appointments to responsible positions in Government. Not just in State bodies, but all appointments to top posts should be guided by merit and ability including postings to our foreign missions.

The newspapers are full of accounts of the doings of a so-called diplomat to a powerful Western nation during an earlier presidency which brought shame and dishonour to the country. We can do without such types and only the very best from among our career diplomats should be appointed for posting to important countries.

According to the news item on the appointment of the Committee, any appointment as Head of a State Corporation, Statutory Board or a State-Owned Enterprise (SOE) should first have the approval of the Committee. Similarly removal or replacements of serving Heads of such bodies too should receive the approval of the Committee, in case the Ministers wish to make such changes.

This would also ensure that no arbitrary decision is taken by a new Minister to remove the serving Head of a Government body that will come under him or her (new Minister), who could then be replaced by the Minister's favourite, sometimes unjustly.

The decision taken by the President to ensure tight control of expenditure in all State Sector organisations too is a positive step and would lead to a drastic reduction of waste and profligacy in Government spending. Especially the abuse of official vehicles and renting out of vehicles by Heads of Government bodies when there are vehicles already available in the pool should come under the sharp scrutiny of the Presidential Secretariat.

Also the move taken to hold the Heads of Departments accountable for any overspending too is a good one and will act as a deterrent against splashing around as most State Sector organisations do at present. In fact, under the Yahapalanaya too there was a similar move to hold to account the Heads of Government Departments responsible for excess spending and in the case of recruitment above the required cadre, to get the Head of Department to pay such salaries out of his/her own pocket. It is not known what became of this project.

It will also be a sound move to get all Heads of State Sector organisations to give an account of their performances during a given period of time and if found wanting, they should be replaced pronto. Today, it is known that with a very few exceptions Heads of State bodies are warming their seats while drawing fat salaries. A progress report of the work performed should be demanded periodically from all Chairpersons and Directors.

Private sector organisations are run efficiently and profitably because such requirements are mandatory and those who fall back on the job invariably get fired, perhaps on the spot. The problem with the State sector is that the Head of the State body concerned more often than not is a stooge of the Minister or another top politician and is invariably protected. This is why the Committee appointed to oversee appointments should be extra vigilant.

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