Significance of public sector productivity in 2023 and beyond | Sunday Observer

Significance of public sector productivity in 2023 and beyond

12 February, 2023

The public sector plays a significant role in the economy of Sri Lanka, and its productivity is essential to recovering from the prevailing economic downturn. The public service unquestionably plays an extremely vital part in supporting economic development and promoting an essentially thriving private sector by providing the infrastructure, regulation, and support that businesses need to succeed.

The public sector includes Government agencies and State-owned enterprises, which provide essential services to citizens and drive economic growth. Its significance, however, as of now, has multiplied by several folds to solve the current multiple crises, predominantly the financial crunch.

Reducing bureaucracy

One of the most important ways that public sector productivity can help revive an economy in a downturn is by improving the efficiency and effectiveness of services. In normal circumstances, by streamlining processes and reducing bureaucracy, the public sector can provide better services to citizens, which can help boost consumer confidence and spur economic growth.

Regrettably, however, in Sri Lanka, the undisputedly unsatisfactory actual performance and productivity of most of the public servants has been in discussion as a national issue for the past several decades. For obvious reasons, inconsistent performance and negative attitudes toward duties were widely discussed topics in the country. Except for those in the public service itself, almost the entire citizenry has a negative impression about the performance of the public sector.

The overall efficiency has not improved even slightly for the past many years. In fact, some critics say that the Government sector is one of the most inefficient public services in the region, and perhaps in the entire world. In Sri Lanka, the Government sector workforce is so large that for every 16 people, there is one public servant. In comparison, one public servant for every 177 people in India and one officer for every 117 people in Pakistan. Considering this number, the public sector should deliver a much more efficient service, although at this point it is only a delusion.

The entire public service is evidently inconsistent, the staff is untrained, and the general attitude is anti-social. It is true that time and again, consecutive governments have made attempts to meet the challenges paused in the public sector. Despite such attempts, the moral and ethical benchmarks for public sector workers are deteriorating further. The irony is that even though they are aware of this fact, most of them conveniently ignore it.

Incredible low

Over 1.5 million people are estimated to be employed in Sri Lanka’s public sector. According to media sources, a recent poll concluded that public worker effectiveness has plunged to an incredible low of 30 percent. This astounding figure implies that well over a million of them are time wasters who waste public funds. Consecutive administrations and labour unions must accept responsibility for this massive waste of Government funds intended for the public good.

The public sector’s inefficiency and ineffectiveness are so well known that, at a recent ceremony, none other than the country’s Prime Minister publicly stated that the drawbacks of the State sector are corruption, waste, idling, and duplication. However, the Government has taken a policy decision to completely stop any further recruitment in the Government, unless in an extreme situation.

The entire world is aware of the dire economic situation that Sri Lanka is currently in. Regrettably, neither so-called politicians nor public servants have realised the magnitude of the depth of the pit the country has fallen into. While politicians of all parties are solely concerned with elections and their vote bases, public servants want their pound of flesh and to enjoy all of the benefits provided to them by the country’s taxpayers.

Genuine interest

Neither faction shows any genuine interest in consciously contributing or making even a tiny sacrifice to come out of the ongoing gruesome crisis.

One of the key benefits of public sector productivity is that it can help reduce government spending and lower the burden on taxpayers. By streamlining processes, reducing bureaucracy, and implementing technology, the public sector can operate more efficiently and save money, which can be used to fund other important programs and services.

Furthermore, public sector workers must be made aware that their productivity can help improve the delivery of Government services to citizens. By making services more accessible and user-friendly, the public sector can improve service delivery and increase satisfaction with Government services. This can lead to increased trust in Government and a more engaged citizenry that can consciously and collectively help solve the current crisis.

Good governance

The public sector’s productivity can aid in the promotion of good governance and the reduction of corruption. In turn, it may promote confidence in Government and diminish the motivation for corrupt behaviour by establishing transparency and accountability measures. This can lead to a more efficient and effective Government that can better meet the needs of ordinary citizens.

Public sector productivity can also effectively aid in the promotion of social and economic inclusion. An efficient public sector may help alleviate poverty and inequality by providing equitable access to services and opportunities, resulting in a more inclusive society. This can serve to strengthen and unite communities while also promoting long-term economic success.

The state sector is inundated with bureaucratic red tape that drags down many important matters pertaining to the public welfare. Consecutive attempts by policymakers and academics to streamline the processes have failed for a variety of reasons.

Negative attitude

The biggest setback is the visible negative attitude of the public servants. Most of them fear change and solely work by the book without doing anything innovative to solve any public issue.

By automating routine tasks, eliminating lengthy and unnecessary rules, and introducing even basic computer skills, productivity can be enhanced. Also, the absence of proper collaboration and communication between Government institutions is a pressing issue that wastes a large amount of money and time. Also, information sharing is almost nonexistent among these institutions. The authorities must immediately find an effective method to address this issue.

The skill levels of the public sector workforce are questionable. It is no secret that the recruitment processes of most public sector institutions are politically influenced. This is the reason that the public sector workforce has risen to such unbearable heights. For decades, recruitment in public institutions was based on the whims and fancies of politicians.

Hence, at least from now on, the government must attempt to create a skilled workforce by providing training and professional development opportunities rather than simply filling Government offices through politicians.

Lack of accountability has been a serious issue in the public service for many years. Civil servants in a democracy are accountable to the public for ensuring responsive, transparent, and honest policy implementation and service.

Unfortunately, when the issue of accountability is raised, the Sri Lankan government sector almost always passes the buck.


Hence, the Government must establish a performance measurement mechanism to monitor individual and collective accountability, although any attempt to implement such a method will face vehement resistance.

The public sector is governed by the Establishment Code, various acts, rules and regulations, and circulars and gazette notifications issued from time to time. The Government servants invariably complain that they are bound by numerous protocols, procedures, and processes. They fear that they will be penalised if they fail to follow these regulations. To address this issue, the Government must allow for flexibility in its duties. The public sector can improve productivity by encouraging flexibility and adaptability, promoting a culture of continuous improvement, and being open to new approaches and ideas.

Improving public sector productivity requires a multi-faceted approach that includes streamlining processes, leveraging technology, promoting collaboration, developing a skilled workforce, promoting accountability, aligning resources with priorities, and encouraging flexibility. More importantly, the Government must make public servants aware of their responsibilities and how important their contribution is for the survival of the country.