System changes in public sector: a dire necessity | Sunday Observer

System changes in public sector: a dire necessity

19 February, 2023

In the wake of the most gruesome post-independence economic and political crisis, Sri Lankan society started discussing a system change. Although those who started and finished the protests that ousted the President and the Government have given no clear indication of what they precisely expected or how they would take the country forward after ousting the then political hierarchy,

However, by analysing the slogans used during the protests, one can guess that they were looking for an uncorrupted political culture in the country. Ironically, no one yelled about eliminating bureaucratic corruption, which is equally harmful to public wellbeing and development.

Perhaps the reason is that the majority of so-called protesters are either Government employee trade unionists or student unionists affiliated with several political parties known for protests and disruptions.


The wrath of the protesters was clearly directed at politicians, both those in power and those who are vying for power. Unfortunately, they have not questioned the corrupted public service and the economic damage done over many decades during the entire process. The entire citizenry knows how the Government sector provides its services to meet public needs.

The common view of the country as a whole is that the systems, both political and administrative, must change as early as practically possible. No sane person denies or defies this fact. However, the most important question is whether the public service is genuinely prepared to undergo such change.

Change management is a practice that assists personnel in confidently adjusting to a sudden or planned change. It is a systematic approach to dealing with the transition or transformation of goals, practical applications, and processes of an entity.

Employees from all levels who are enthusiastic and proactive about change can help lessen uncertainty and mistrust.

In the current context, in the public sector, change management is particularly important as it affects not only the staff and stakeholders of the organisation but also the citizens who rely on its services. However, although the change management process is logical, its implementation in the public sector can be a daunting task for the authorities.

Political mandate

On the other hand, efforts to change systems in the public sector may be influenced or held back by the extent of the political mandate, which may be weak or short-term depending on the frequency of elections. Also, the relatively short tenures of senior-level public sector appointees compared to their counterparts in the private sector can be another considerable challenge.

Moreover, bringing about major changes in the complex State mechanism is not an easy task by any means. Unlike in the private sector, where employees are compelled to follow organisational policies in changing, public sector employees have multiple avenues to justify resistance, including trade union actions, through various rules and regulations.

Resistance to change will be the first obstacle the Government faces in attempting to make a change in systems. The public servants who make a huge hue and cry about the prevailing obsolete and corrupt systems through endless protests will be most likely to oppose and reject any such move. Even if they understand the reasons or justifications behind change, they will not be prepared to come out of the comfort zone they are in currently.


For many decades, existing bureaucratic barriers have been another setback in the public sector. Regrettably, despite many attempts, the red tape remains as it is creating undue challenges for public life. Bureaucracy in Sri Lanka is repeatedly apparent with issues of corruption, nepotism, inefficiency, lack of accountability, transparency and so on. Bureaucracy is clearly identified as an unfavourable rather than a progressive facilitator of the country’s development and progress.

Furthermore, current bureaucracies lack the capabilities to face modern development challenges and bridge the gap with a modern society that is improving with technology. Hence, the prevailing bureaucracy in Sri Lanka’s public sector needs to be reformed immediately.

Since Sri Lanka’s independence, the negative impact of political influence in the public sector has been a hot topic. In fact, the majority of citizens believe that the current crisis is the result of the actions of politicians from all parties, whether in power or Opposition. It is public knowledge that politically influenced public servants were responsible for maladministration, abuse of power, improper conduct, inexcusable and unjustifiable delays, poor service delivery, and a lack of commitment to their duties.

Although the public expects public servants to perform under the norms, rules, regulations, and stipulated acts, they invariably change their service delivery to suit the whims and fancies of politicians, both national and provincial. The irony is that the Government servants who are fighting tooth and nail for a system change never attempt to alter their own attitudes towards service.

Despite accepted methods, the recruitment process for the country’s public service has always been a controversial topic throughout the past many years.


Various factors such as political manipulations, nepotism, willfully created misinformation, and political pledges have tampered with the already rotten recruitment procedure. The result is the recruitment of unskilled and unsuitable public servants for jobs that need skills and expertise.

Except in a very few specialised areas, most of the public workers are in contradictory fields that are not only unsuccessful but also harmful to the motivational aspects of the worker. In contrast, almost all the time, private sector recruitment is done strictly on job skills, qualifications, and attitude. This is an area the protesters ignored to add to their slogans because most of them are aiding and abetting the existing system.

All of the aforementioned factors have a negative impact on the system change that people expect. It is a fact that public sectors all over the world face challenges, and thus far, public sector reforms have not been a 100 percent success anywhere in the world. Nevertheless, the public sector, as a key component of any economy, needs to address its challenges adequately to prevent negative economic growth and development from being threatened.

However, the pertinent question is whether the public servants who demand changes in political ideologies, economic strategies, and the elimination of corruption and malpractice are ready to genuinely change their own attitudes. At this moment, any neutral and politically unbiased citizen cannot see such sentiment from existing public workers.

In truth, after the mass protests last year, the nefarious practices of the public sector would have been stopped by now. Nevertheless, several Government institutions this writer visited to obtain services have not changed in even the slightest manner. The same people who came out demanding a change in politics have gone back to their corrupt ways again.

Ulterior motives

The new political activities sparked by the initial protests in mid-last year resulted in a shift in the public’s general attitude. However, regrettably, the political parties with ulterior motives who crept into the genuine outcry greatly damaged such a positive mentality. They seem to have shamelessly abused honest public sentiments for their personal agendas.

Such opportunists create havoc by knowingly demanding the impossible from any Government with the intention of grabbing power. Yet, these dubious elements have not presented any of their strategies to the country except empty promises. They campaign for provincial powers but attempt to deliver the wrong message barefacedly by saying they will change Government policies, which they know they cannot.

Change management in the public sector necessitates a systematic approach. It needs the cooperation of the entire public sector workforce. It also requires genuine commitment, understanding, and positive thinking. They must believe that the service is essential and place the public at the centre. If the Government service becomes effective and efficient, the majority of the system change will automatically take place, and politicians will jump on the bandwagon.