Reforms to Ensure an Independent Public Service


The progression of Sri Lanka’s economy is dependent significantly on the performance of the public sector. A more efficient and productive public sector is an absolute need in driving forward Sri Lanka’s economic recovery. In this context, it is important to have an effective and efficient service delivery of the public sector.

In this regard, complimenting the on-going efforts towards public sector reform, the Steering Committee on Public Sector Reforms of the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce recently presented a set of proposals to the policy makers. These proposals were developed after carefully analyzing the constitution of Sri Lanka and documents such as the Administrative Reform Committee Reports (ARC) of 1986/88 headed by S. Wanasinghe.

The identified proposals aimed to ensure formal checks and balances within the public sector, and improve efficiency in order to transform the public sector into a people centric arm of the state. So that national development can be accelerated through efficient and effective service delivery by the Government.

The document consists of amendments to the constitution and other recommendations. Below provides a summary of these proposals.

1.     Re-establishment of the Constitutional Council

The Constitutional Council (CC) with wider powers (similar to the 19th amendment) should be reintroduced through an amendment to the constitution. The majority of the members of the Council should be independent citizens and be appointed through the approval of Parliament. In order to strengthen the work of the Constitutional Council, we recommend that an office be setup with the necessary staff to assist with its operations.

2.     Limiting the number of Cabinet Ministries

The number of Ministries should be fixed by the Constitution (even in the case of a National Government in power) with no State Ministries. We recommend the number of Cabinet ministries to be limited to 20 by clustering the existing subjects with the same number of Deputy ministers.

3.     Appointment, Evaluation and Removal of Secretaries to Ministries

A)    Appointment of Secretaries to Ministries

A selection process of appointing Secretary to the President and Prime Minister, Secretary to the Cabinet and all other Secretaries to the Ministries was developed. This mechanism is proposed with an aim of allowing appointments to be made fair and subject to open competition, and not have any political interference.

The recommended process for appointing Secretaries is presented below.

Figure 01: Process of Selecting Secretaries

Cabinet to appoint  

Ministry Secretaries
Senior Administrative Pool
PSC to select based on xx number of years and qualifications.   
Additional Secretaries
Super/Special Grade Pool
PSC to select based on predetermined criteria and interview process 
Engineering/ Accounting /Medical Services
Other Professions
Planning Services

The pool should be larger than the number of slots available at any given time. The appointments should not have a fixed term and could change with the government to reflect the mandate given by the people. However, if the Cabinet ceases to hold office, the Ministry Secretaries should stay on till new Secretaries are appointed without hindering the regular operations of Ministries and institutions under them

B)    Performance Evaluation

Performance evaluation of Ministry Secretaries should be carried out by a 5-member panel. This includes President’s Secretary, Prime Minister’s Secretary, Cabinet Secretary, the Subject Minister and an independent person appointed by the Public Services Commission (PSC) such as a retired secretary.

The Ministry Secretary’s performance should be evaluated based on certain pre-determined criteria. The Secretary will have the opportunity to make representations for himself orally at the evaluation and also in writing. The final evaluation will go to cabinet.

C)    Removal of Ministry Secretaries

When removing a Ministry Secretary, the Minister can recommend to the cabinet the reasoning for the necessity of the removal. The cabinet can then request the PSC to conduct an inquiry and revert back to the Cabinet accordingly. In the event there is a financial irregularity (actual or intent), then PSC can inform the Auditor General and Committee on Public Accounts (COPA) for further investigations within their respective mandate. The following set of criteria can be used for the removal of a Ministry secretary;

  1. Poor performance – based on performance appraisal (KPIs)
  2. Integrity challenged – taken into custody under the Bribery and Corruption Act/ criminal action charge sheet being served
  3. Health issues
  4. Engaging in political activities
  5. Disciplinary control issue

Further, if the PSC recommends to the cabinet to remove the Ministry Secretary, then the Secretary will be removed from the pool of ministry secretaries. If the PSC finds in favor of the Secretary, then the Secretary will not be removed from the pool and may be appointed to another ministry.

Other Suggestions

  1. In article 51 (2) the wording “direction and control” should change to “leadership and policy direction” to avoid politically-driven interferences on administrative matters by Ministers and to enable a fair decision-making process.

4.     President’s Power to Appoint His Staff

A provision should be made to appoint a Secretary to the President following a prescribed procedure as proposed for a Ministry Secretary. The President may have the discretion to appoint a Private Secretary, a Media Secretary, 3 Coordinating secretaries, 5 consultants and 5 non-executive grade private staff members totaling to 15 staff members. This should be the maximum limit the President can hire as private staff.

5.     Improvement of the functioning of the Public Services Commission

Public Services Commission should have the powers described in Article 55 (1), (2) and (3) and should not delegate such powers to any other authority. Particularly, the powers pertaining to the executive officers should not be delegated.  

The following recommendations are suggested for the PSC:

  1. It is suggested that Human Resources (HR) reforms should be included in (55) (1) as a policy matter and the PSC should establish an Administrative Reforms Unit (ARU) to provide recommendations on public sector HR matters and system improvements (including other related matters). This can include Voluntary Retirement Scheme (VRS) for right-sizing the cadre strength. These recommendations should be submitted to the PSC who will be mandated to implement the ARU recommendations that are accepted.
  2. The appointments of Heads of Departments, Director Generals and Additional Secretaries should be vested in PSC. The PSC should not delegate the authority of appointment, promotion, transfer and disciplinary control of the Heads of Departments, Director Generals and Additional Secretaries to any other entity.
  3. Digitization of government activities too can drastically reduce the public service cadre particularly in the primary and secondary cadre categories.

6.     National Procurement Commission (NPC)

The National Procurement Commission (NPC) should be re-established as an independent commission with wider powers under an amendment to the Constitution. The NPC should have a facilitating, advisory and monitoring role but not of a regulatory where it can issue penalties. These functions must be applicable for pre/during/post procurement process. It should also not have executive powers where they have the ability to stop procurement activities as this can lead to delays in the procurement process.

NPC can conduct audits of government procurements and this report should mandatorily be given to Auditor General and COPE/COPA. There should be separate sessions of COPA/COPE to examine those reports. COPA and COPE should have a meeting once/twice year with NPC and relevant ministries. In the event malpractices are detected, the NPC must mandatorily send a report to the Bribery Commission.

7.     Staff and facilities for the Ministers

Staff of the Minister should be limited to a maximum number of 5 staff members with an addition of a personal driver. The 5-member staff should ideally include an economic advisor, relevant subject knowledge advisor, political advisor, private secretary and coordinating secretary.

8.     National Audit Act and Audit Commission

Reestablish the National Audit Service Commission (NASC) as originally proposed by the 19th amendment. When an activity related to any fraud, negligence, misappropriation or corruption is observed then NASC can recommend a surcharge to a parliamentary committee to recover the loss. The NASC can only recommend a surcharge and it will be implemented by a parliamentary committee.

9.     Declaration of Assets and Liabilities by Members of Parliament and Public Officials

Asset declaration for Members of Parliament (MPs) and public officials can be done via an online system thereby keeping the information confidential. Such an online system can be designed to detect anomalies in declarations (i.e reconcile assets with income declared over two successive periods).  If anomalies between declarations are detected, a third party with the relevant expertise should be called in to review the declarations. For the public sector officials, the third party can be the PSC. 

MPs should declare their assets before they take oaths and make subsequent declarations each year by 31st December. If the assets are not declared initially before oaths, then the public nominee should not be able to take oaths. If the subsequent declaration of assets is not adhered to, then a suspension from parliament sittings can be considered. A 30-day grace period can be granted to comply with the declarations.

10.           Facilities to Chairmen of District and Divisional Councils

MPs who are appointed as Chairmen of District and Divisional Development Councils are given additional vehicles and allowances which have become a substantial expense to the Treasury. These costs and allowances should be curtailed.   The full submission can be accessed via Ensuring an Independent Public Service