Technology-based public service: a dire national need | Sunday Observer

Technology-based public service: a dire national need

4 June, 2023

In today’s interwoven world, technology plays a pivotal role in transforming societies and improving public service delivery. Developing countries, with their unique challenges and limited resources, can greatly benefit from leveraging technology to enhance public service delivery. Technology-based public services have the potential to bridge developmental gaps, empower citizens, increase efficiency, and promote inclusive growth.

Despite many previous attempts by successive governments, Sri Lankan public sector service delivery remains dismal with corruption, inefficiency, and malpractice. Day in and day out, the media reports disclose many such negative occurrences, particularly the gross inefficiency and corrupt acts of the immensely overcrowded public sector in Sri Lanka. The demand for greater efficiency in the Sri Lankan public sector has been a prioritised national discussion for many decades, although no Government has been able to provide a tangible solution.

When other countries in the region keep progressing on digitising their public services, regrettably, Sri Lanka is falling enormously behind. For example, in this era of digital advancement, a public service officer, paid by public funds, visits households to read electricity and water meters manually, wasting money and resources. The irony is that although there are simple and vastly cost-effective technological solutions to remedy this colossal waste, successive governments have not given adequate attention to these issues that waste public funds.

Effective governance is a fundamental factor in the development and progress of any nation. Technology-based public service can enhance governance mechanisms in Sri Lanka by fostering transparency, accountability, and citizen participation. Digital platforms and e-governance initiatives enable citizens to access Government services and information, reducing bureaucracy and corruption.

Online portals for online payments, applications, permits, and licences streamline administrative processes, saving time and resources for both the government and the public. Moreover, technology enables the collection and analysis of data, aiding evidence-based policymaking and resource allocation. According to experts, Sri Lanka carries a bleak reputation for data collection and compilation. Information on the websites of most Government institutions has not been updated for long periods of time.

In Sri Lanka, even at present, several public sector institutions utilise technology successfully, although it can be improved considerably. However, visibly, the support from the political hierarchy and the top-level public officials is slower than required for the modernisation of public sector technological know-how. In contrast, the private sector, with perhaps lesser manpower and other resources, has improved leaps and bounds on modernisation and is currently providing an above-average service experience to the public.

Positive impact

It has been a considerable time since Sri Lankans realised the positive impact of introducing technology to the public service machinery. It is an undeniable fact that when technology is introduced to any work environment, whether it is a public or private sector institution, the tasks are transformed and redistributed. It can reduce the need for some occupations where the human resources can be reallocated for other important tasks. Automation can contribute to declining employment demand because the colossal amount spent on public service salaries and perks can be substantially curtailed. This means the Government can stop creating new jobs and reassign the excess workers generated by introducing technology.

Working with new technology can drastically reduce existing job complexities. Given proper training and adequate time to adapt, automation may take over routine aspects of work that may be rewarding to public sector workers. Perhaps, at a later stage, more advanced technologies, such as automated decision-making systems, will take over complex thinking where workers simply need to verify outcomes.

Managerial control is another important aspect that can provide a more efficient and effective service to the public. Incorporating new technologies can reduce work intensity and stress for workers. However, if technology is adopted without sufficient understanding of how work is actually performed, service quality can suffer. Therefore, experts must consider caution when introducing new technologies.

Technologies can take over some of the tasks performed by government workers, predominantly in areas involving basic paperwork processing and simple financial transactions. In developed countries, occupations like clerks and secretaries have been declining for several years and are projected to continue to decline. The Government can reduce public servant intakes if the technology is introduced effectively.

Access to financial services is a crucial factor in poverty alleviation and economic empowerment. Technology-based public service can play a pivotal role in expanding financial inclusion in developing countries. Mobile financial transactions, digital payment systems, and fintech innovations provide secure and convenient public service-related financial services.

This not only facilitates transactions but also enables access to credit, savings, insurance, and other financial products. Digital identification systems, such as biometrics or e-wallets, can help overcome identity verification challenges, enabling individuals to participate in formal financial systems. By promoting financial inclusion and educating the masses on mobile phone-friendly technology-based public services, we strengthen economic resilience, reduce inequality, and foster entrepreneurship.


The first and foremost obligation of the Government is to put the citizens at its centre. The new tech solutions, such as the cloud, enable the Government to simplify processes and procedures and save a substantial amount of public funds that can be utilised for more important tasks. An effective drive can change not only the economy but also the lives of the entire citizenry.

Sri Lankans have responded positively to enhanced technology in television, mobile communication, air travel, logistics, and some areas of health services with the heavy intervention of the private sector. However, public services such as rail and road transport, postal services, waste management, local Government, and so forth have not yet been digitalised to provide a similar satisfactory service.

The key reason for this setback can be identified as the unenthusiastic and lame approach of the lawmakers. Sri Lanka’s existing customary lethargy and fear of change prevailing in the entire public sector could also be identified as a key drawback.

There is no doubt that the introduction of technology is utterly important to be ready for the future. The move to the cloud has shifted how the Government operates. The public sector must no longer use expensive, hard-to-maintain, on-premises hardware that’s inevitably dated by the time it’s deployed. Even with the prevailing economic crisis, the Government must attempt to provide funds to get this important task off the ground.

The modernisation process in a society indicates the adaptation of modern customs and habits. The public is in the process of getting the most sophisticated technology much faster than government machinery. The public is ready to accept technological advancements in the public sector. Whatever was done has been accepted with open arms. They are tired of the inefficiency of the public sector and expect the authorities to take steps to increase output.

As Sri Lanka has experienced during the past decade or two, technology has brought about considerable adjustments to society, both rural and urban.

As per the information provided by the Department of Census and Statistics, almost 74.9 percent of state, semi-Government, and provincial Government employees are between the ages of 29 and 55. Also, 10.2 percent of the public servants are over 65 years of age. Hence, introducing modern technology may be a daunting task unless the think tanks create a strong strategy and a plan to motivate the ageing state staff to take up the modern digital environment.

Technology-based public service holds immense potential for transforming the country by improving governance, education, healthcare, and financial inclusion.

Digital solutions

By embracing technology, Sri Lanka can enhance transparency, efficiency, and citizen engagement, leading to more inclusive and accountable governance.

By leveraging digital solutions, Sri Lanka can promote financial inclusion, empower individuals, and foster economic growth. To fully harness these benefits, it is essential for the authorities, civil society, and the private sector to collaborate and invest in building robust technology infrastructure and promoting digital literacy in the Sri Lankan public sector.