State employee productivity and GDP growth

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By Mario Andree

While the private
sector should be the engine of growth for the economy to propel, it is important to increase state sector productivity which is crucial for higher economic growth and understanding the dire need to improve
efficiency, productivity of state servants, the Government recently
introduced a flexible working hour mechanism for state sector employees in the Battaramulla area.

While it is a welcome move, which will keep some State offices open for at least an additional hour or so to serve the public, the fact is that in comparison to private sector employees, productivity and efficiency of State employees are well below expectation.
During the last four weeks, we focused on four major areas of economic interest and hopes to continue the dialogue further on those topics. However, this week the column will focus on improving State sector productivity for economic development.
Successive governments, since the end of the brutal 30-year conflict in May 2009, have been emphasizing the need for a private sector-led growth model, stating 'The private sector should be the engine for growth.'
According to available information, State sector employees comprise more than 1.3 million individuals and more than Rs 750 million is spent on salaries and pension expenses.

Recently, the Ministry of Public Administration urged the public to lodge complaints with the Ministry regarding inefficiency in State organizations, claiming that action would be taken following an inquiry.
Though some senior State officials and even Ministers attempt to clear the negative notion prevailing, regarding State sector productivity, the fact of the matter is that State employees are far less efficient than an average private sector employee, due to sheer lethargy.

Each one of us has visited a State organization as well as private sector organizations at least once and have seen the good and bad sides of both sectors. While the service rendered by the private sector is somewhat satisfactory, the situation is the other way around when it comes to dealing with State entities.

Successive governments in almost every budget have increased State sector wages and allowances, though such thoughts regarding private sector employees have not crossed their minds and yet the private sector worker contributes more to the national economy than the State worker.

The private sector is ready to drive the country forward. However, the main question would be, is the State sector ready to facilitate rapid growth? Are public servants ready to face the increase in demand?
While the column will focus on the less productive and inefficient State employees, we would like to commend all those hard working and thoughtful public servants and encourage them to keep up their good work.

The Sri Lankan Public
The Department of Census and Statistics last November conducted a survey on public and semi government employees. According to the report the total number of employees in the public and semi government sector was 1,117,808 excluding the staff of the three Forces of whom 54.9 per cent are males and 45.1 per cent female.
The percentage of employees over 56 was 7.6, while percentages corresponding to age groups of 18 – 29 years and 30 -55 years are 15 per cent and 77.4 per cent respectively.

Data was collected on the employment status of employees. It was found that the percentage of employees in the Permanent/ Pensionable; Permanent/ Pensionable categories and contributing to a provident fund; Permanent/ contributing to a provident fund; and Temporary/ Casual/ Substitute/ Contract basis and Other employees are 75.6%, 3.9%, 15.7% and 4.8% respectively.
The level of education is another variable for which the data was collected at this census. Distribution of employees in the education levels of below G.C.E. (O/L); Passed G.C.E.(O/L); Passed G.C.E.(A/L); Degree; Post Graduate Diploma; Post Graduate Degree and Doctoral Degree are 17.8%, 20.2%, 35.8%, 18.9%, 4.2%, 2.7% and 0.3% respectively.

Less employees or
less productive?
The Government has emphasized the need to implement efficiency improvement programmes to rationalize expenditure, while enhancing productivity of the labour force in the State sector. The cadre approved for the public sector for 2016 was 1,503,384. However, as at the end of last year, the State sector employed 1,284,808.

Though the cadre utilization was below 85 per cent, there is actually a surplus of employees in the State sector and a majority of them do less or sometimes even nothing, though they get paid a salary at the end of each month.
State organizations are filled with clock watchers with no innovative idea or even productive enough to carry out a simple task but are well-versed in boasting about the Degrees or Diplomas they hold.

Further, State employees as we know them, do not concentrate on solving a single issue but keep changing their focus, keeping some of the burning problems unsolved for a prolonged period of time.
Below are only a few facts on the Sri Lankan public sector which has a direct bearing on the national economy.
• More holidays than the private sector
• Delays and non-attendance is a way of life
• Far less customer-centric and quality conscious.
• Less accountable for failure, shortcoming and negligence.
• Well-known for protests

To take the conversation on a more personal level, all of us have experienced how State employees treat customers. It may be at the post office to post a registered letter, pay a traffic fine or be at a District Secretariat where one goes to get numerous things done, such as renewing a revenue license, getting a copy of a Birth Certificate etc. These State officials treat the customer as if they have come to rip them apart. They always put private needs before the customer, keeping them standing in queues for as long as they can.
For example, recently at a District Secretariat we witnessed a long queue with no one to attend. The three individuals allocated to issue revenue licenses had gone out for lunch at the same time. These individuals though slow in their duties, enjoy the entire hour allocated for the lunch break!

Another good example, is recently at a post office, we witnessed an individual standing near a counter for nearly 20 minutes to be attended to, simply because the agent was on a personal call during her working hours.
The sad part in both cases was that the number of other State employees who were just idling did not even try to assist these individuals because they did not care.

A prevailing issue...
It is a well- known fact that most State employees are corrupt. Today, to get anything done in a State organization, one has to bribe officials. Though direct bribing is now not practised due to strict regulations, indirect bribery continues to rein through almost every State institution.

In July, State Minister of Finance, Eran Wickramaratne slammed the private sector, claiming that State employees were corrupt because Sri Lankan businesses were corrupt!
State Minister of Policy Planning and Economic Development, Dr. Harsha de Silva on the same day told the private sector to 'shut up' if they were not willing to 'step up' and stop giving bribes at all levels, claiming that getting a low salary was not an excuse to take bribes. He urged the public to refrain from giving bribes for any government service.
Making them productive...

Increasing public sector productivity and efficiency would be key to economic development. The private sector is ready to propel the country and assist in achieving higher economic growth, however, the State sector needs to be accommodating and provide services with proper standards in mind.

Changing the mindset of State employees can be a herculean task. The trend is such and has continued to remain the same for more than a few decades. However, the change needs to happen and if things start now, benefits can be enjoyed somewhere down the line.
What the public expects from a State employee is simple:

• Availability: (An agent should be available at the desk or counter to provide a service at any given time during office hours)
• Punctuality: ( The office or counter should be opened on time)
• Responsive: (Agents need to be ready to provide services)
• Prompt: (Services need to be delivered on time)
• Accuracy: (The service should be faultless)
• Convenience: (Ensuring the comfort of customers by reducing red tape)
• Courtesy: (Agents should be polite and respectful)
• Reliability: (Agents need to be consistent)

There is so much the Government can learn from the private sector. Some of the senior officials in the state, come from the private sector but seem to forget what they practised during their tenure in a corporate. Well, fair enough, State jobs are less demanding than private sector jobs, and one is not accountable for delays and shortcomings as mentioned earlier.

So what should the Government do? It's simple! Use a productivity measurement system where each and every State employee is monitored and is accountable for performances and start taking action, provide incentives for good performers, which we do not agree with, because the State employee is well- paid compared to a private sector employee or take action against the ones who do not perform to a certain standard.

Introduce multiple feedback options for people to lodge complaints or provide positive feedback regarding the employees. Make sure that every State sector employee gets the news of action being taken so that they would be mindful.

In conclusion, the Government needs to improve productivity of State employees, if the country is to gain higher economic growth. There is no use in pushing the private sector to drive the economy, if the fundamental services provided by the State was not streamlined to meet increasing demand by the private sector as well as the public.

Public sector employees are currently not accountable to the public and need to be reminded that their salaries are being paid by these people from whom taxes and levies as well as other charges are imposed.
We would like to urge the Government to study a private sector model, to improve employee productivity and begin practising such a model.

Today's topic is vast and the column only covers a fragment of the issue. 'The Gadfly' hopes to continue the dialogue further in later columns.



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