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Is The Public Service Commission A White Elephant?

by  Ranjith Gunawardena

During the era Sri Lanka was a British colony, the Public Service Commission was established under the Ceylon (Constitution) Order in Council dated 15th May 1946 in order to carry out the task of appointing officers for Public Service. Accordingly, the executive powers in respect of the appointments, promotions, transfers, disciplinary control and dismissal were vested in the Public Service Commission.

With the establishment of the 1st Republican Constitution in 1972, the Public Service Commission, which functioned independently over a period of 26 years, was abolished and the authority in respect of the Public Service was vested with the Cabinet of Ministers.

Then, with the promulgation of the 2nd Republican Constitution in 1978, the Public Service Commission was re-established and the appointment of its members under Article 56(1) was done by the President. The Public Service Commission operated according to a delegation from the Cabinet of Ministers.

In 1978, the PSC had delegated its powers of appointments, promotions, transfers, disciplinary control and dismissal of public officers, on the direction of the Cabinet of Ministers, to the Secretaries to the Ministries and Head of Departments. The PSC functioned as an Appellate Authority at this time.

 

17th Amendment to the Constitution

In 2001, by the 17th Amendment to the Constitution, Chapter IX of the 1978 Constitution, which contained the provisions relating to the Public Service, was repealed and replaced with an entirely new Chapter.  In accordance with that, the Public Service Commission consisted of nine members appointed by the President on the recommendation of the Constitutional Council, while one of the members appointed by the President as its Chairman, on the recommendation of the Constitutional Council. The status of the Public Service Commission was empathically changed by this amendment and in accordance with that powers of appointment, promotion, transfer and disciplinary control of public officers which had been previously vested in the Cabinet of Ministers, were vested in the Commission. Further, the Public Service Commission was become here to a responsible and answerable institution to the Parliament, in accordance with the Standing Orders of the Parliament.

 

18th Amendment to the Constitution

In 2010, by the 18th Amendment to the Constitution matters pertaining to the establishment and functions of the Public Service Commission were amended. This is a Commission which is answerable to the Parliament in accordance with the Standing Orders of the Parliament. According to Article 54(1) as amended by the 18th Amendment, the Public Service Commission consists of 9 members appointed by the President. The President appoints one of such member as its Chairman. They hold office for a term of 3 years and are eligible to be reappointed for another term. According to Article 55(1) amended by the 18th Amendment, the Cabinet of Ministers shall provide for and determine all matters of policy relating to public officers. Subjected to the provisions of the constitution, the Commission is vested with the powers of appointment, promotion, transfer, disciplinary control and dismissal of the public officers including the Police officers.

 

19th Amendment to the Constitution

Under the 19th amendment to the constitution, appointment of public officers, promotions, transfers and powers in relation to their conduct, were vested with the public service commission, while through the amendment and with the establishment of the Police commission and the National Audit Service Commission, powers related to police officers and audit officers were removed from the control of the public service commission.

 

Powers of the Public Service Commission 

In terms of the 19th amendments to the Constitution of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka the Commission exercises the power of appointment, promotion, transfer, disciplinary control and dismissal in relation to all Senior Level officers and Supra Grade/Special Grade officers in Tertiary Level as defined in Public Administration excluding Heads of Departments.  Administrative functions related to the above matters have been assigned to the Secretaries to the respective Ministries/Heads of Departments not coming under any Ministry and the officers belonging to Additional Secretary Level or above and who have been nominated by the respective Secretaries and approved by the Commission

 

When Public Services Commission decisions can be challenged

Immunity from legal proceedings was granted to the PSC by article 61A. Other than the constitutions 59(1) sub constitution and the 2002 No 4 administrative appeals Subject to the provisions of Article 59 and of Article 126],  no  court  or  tribunal  shall  have  power  or  jurisdiction  to  inquire into, or pronounce upon or in any manner call in question any order or decision made by the Commission, a Committee, or any public officer, in pursuance of any power or duty conferred or imposed on such Commission, or delegated to a Committee or public officer, under this Chapter or under any other law.

 

Construction of a permanent building for the Public Services Commission

The Public Services Commission which was housed at the Treasury Building was shifted to several locations since October 1997. As such a huge expense had to be borne for transportation of the equipment of the commission while over 1000 million had been spent on rent for buildings to house the commission. Hence a decision was taken to construct a permanent building for the Public Services Commission at a cost of Rs 670 million and it is expected to be completed by November 2017.

 

Challenges faced by the Public Services Commission

In spite of the fact that the provisions (in terms of the Establishments Code) concerning the absorption of officers who are presently holding the respective posts within the Schemes of Recruitment and Service  Minutes  approved  by  the  PSC  have  been  explicitly  stated,  certain Departments  and  Ministries  are  in  the  habit  of  making  continued  inquiries  as  to  how  such Absorptions are to be worked out.

Action was taken to have discussions over issues concerning the implementation of such Absorptions with the staff officers in charge of the subject at the respective institutions after having them summoned at the Office of the PSC and to educate Additional Secretaries in general on matters regarding the implementation of the absorptions at the review meeting held annually with them.

Certain Departments and Ministries, without a proper study of the explicitly set out provisions in the Procedural Rules of the Public Service Commission and Public Administration and other such circulars, are in the habit of sending letters seeking instructions of the PSC with no observations and recommendations on such issues at times thereby causing delays in answering the requests made by public officers.

Action was taken to summon and educate the senior staff officers in charge of the subject in the respective institutions, on such issues.

There were unwarranted problems as a result of making requests for covering approval of the PSC, following the deviation from the correct method without obtaining the PSC’s prior approval to keep away from the provisions of the Schemes of Recruitment and Service Minutes approved by the PSC under certain specific circumstances, when ended up in failure to deal with such provisions.

Except 1st Class Officers of the principal service all other officers and Sri Lanka teacher service officers’ disciplinary action has been vested with the Education Ministry Secretary. Accordingly, the powers of the public service commission in this instance are to call for observation reports, appear before the appeals tribunal and appear before the public complaints committee.

The aspiration of all state service personnel is to have all their issues resolved by presenting a complaint to the Public Services Commission. However, due to the limited powers vested with the PSC, it has become another white elephant that is squandering public money.

 

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