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Speaking for the administration in Sri Lanka
07 Dec, 2012 07:30:25
By Rohan Samarajiva
Dec 07, 2012 (LBO) - The middle page of the December 5th, 2012 Lankadeepa, the newspaper with the highest readership in Sri Lanka, carried a long interview with the Senior Minister for International Monetary Cooperation and the Deputy Minister of Finance and Planning Dr Sarath Amunugama, where, among many important statements, he said the following (my translation into English):

1.3 million people have been given government jobs. There are 5-6 lakhs of pensioners. One out of five persons is working for the government. This situation is not found anywhere in the world. This cannot be sustained. The only solution is to develop the private sector. Government cannot continue like this even if people stand on their heads and say so. All countries that have tried this path have gone bankrupt. Paying people a pittance to work in government will result in a collapse of the system. We can never progress in this manner.

Now, contrast this with what the President, in his capacity as Minister of Finance and Planning, stated just last month in what is perhaps the most authoritative statement of economic policy, the 2013 Budget Speech (at

"The freeze on recruitment to the public service was removed and recruitment commenced. Since 2006 nearly 91,000 unemployed graduates have been recruited to the public service and a new Services Minute to institutionalize the Development Officers Service was created to secure their career prospects. . . . . . . . . . . . .

The Government now engages 1,300,000 public servants. This is twice the size in 2005.The engagement of such a large number of people is done by spending Rs. 366 billion for wages alone. This was Rs. 139 billion in 2005. In addition Rs.112 billion is spent for the payment of pension to retired public servants of around 500,000."

The numbers match. But the tone is different. The Minister is bragging about what Deputy Minister considers a problem.

It would be good if the administration spoke in one voice. Is the administration planning to “continue like this”? Or is the Deputy Minister’s statement the beginning of change?

Rohan Samarajiva heads LirneAsia, a regional think tank. He was also a former telecoms regulator in Sri Lanka. To read previous columns go to LBOs main navigation panel and click on the 'Choices' category.

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6. Frederick Dec 19
Hi Professor, the guy's a miracle to survive for this long in the public eye, he must be about 75 now, Dr Amunugama, no accountability, just politics
5. Rohan Samarajiva Dec 10
Amunugama says two things: we are hiring too many government workers and we are paying them too little.

It is one thing for his boss to talk the populist talk; but he keeps hiring more at the same low rates. How does this solve any problem?

The problem is not just loose talk by President. It's action, for which we all pay. In the case of Amunugama, it seems to be talk only. So if anyone is being duped, it's the people who take Amunugama seriously and keep inviting him to their events.

4. Chan Dec 10
This is politics. The president is the public face. He has to balance the electorate.

Amunugama is a realist. He has to balance the finances. So he has to convince the private sector.

Both tones are correct. Sri Lanka needs a strong private sector as well as a strong govt sector. Not all graduates are useless. Not all private entrepreneurs are dynamic.

3. Professor J N O Fernando Dec 07
Was it not Dr Amunugama , who as Minister of Finance in the UPFA government of President CBK who very proudly organized the first recruitment of 40,000 graduates to the public sector in order to fulfill an election pledge which enabled them to win the general election of 2004.

Was it not the same Dr A who proudly cut a cake in the Finance Ministry in order toi celebrate the completion of the recruitment.

Is Dr A not aware that these jobs were given without there been any work to do or jobs to fill in a continuing ers in which computerisatioin etc should have led to a decrease in the public sector to do the type of no jobs foor which these graduates were been recruited.

Was Dr A not aware that these unemployed graduates were those who had graduated over many years but were NOT able to get a job due to their inefficiency, lack of English, lack of creativeness, lack of originality , lack of initiative etc.

In other words, was not Dr A well aware that useless, ineffective and unnecessary graduates were been employed for ultimately pensionable jobs in order to enable his government to fulfill an election promise and play to the gallery.

Is he not playing to the gallery again by saying the truth in pubic without asking his President not to ply to the gallery and downsize an unnecessarily huge public sector.

Useless people were recruited to do nothing in unavailalbe jobs to enable his government to fool the people and carry out undemocratic acts as we see in plenty today!!!!

2. kawdaboy Dec 07
Deyyo, mahajanayage salli(My God its the peoples money)!
1. Two voices Dec 07
I think it is very good that there are different voices speaking. If there was only one voice we know whose voice it will be.

At least this way someone, from time to time, may say the truth and people can sit up and take notice.

For that to happen other people will also have to take up the cry of the second voice like this article has done.With two voices we are just prevented from moving into a total dictatorship.

What has happened so far is that the voice of budget and the voice of the JVP - both of which speaks in one voice - has mesmerised everyone.

If there were no different voices people will be fed only one line of propaganda. Having said that Sarath Amunugama is a bit of a voice in the wilderness.