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Ineffective state sector needs urgent cultural reset

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By Rienzie Wijetilleke
(rienzietwij@gmail.com)

Sri Lanka like many other countries has multiple economic challenges due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but it is important to understand that these challenges were not caused by the pandemic; they were exacerbated by it. Sri Lanka has struggled to attract foreign direct investment despite being considered a frontier economy, and relies heavily on remittances from migrant workers. We have a large bloated state sector that does not add anywhere near enough value to Sri Lankans in their day to day lives. Many will agree that the sector as a whole is ineffective, inefficient and unproductive. We have borrowed heavily for infrastructure and development projects, some of which are not yielding adequate revenue or benefits for the people. We have high tax rates on businesses and consumption, and that restricts investments, expansions and the consumption cycle. The bureaucracy has introduced numerous barriers to starting new businesses, and there is no culture of cutting edge research and development and virtually no scope for innovation. The poorest areas of Sri Lanka have remained the same for decades; upward social mobility occurs for a select few in the middle class but is non-existent for the poorest whose lives have not improved for several decades. Whether you need to start a business or build a house, there is no shortage of obstacles to tackle from the Grama Niladhari level to the local government authorities right up to the minister; people are sent from pillar to post for the most routine work.

As much as the pandemic has destroyed economic prospects in 2020, we must accept that our issues will not disappear even after we contain the spread of the virus. Sri Lanka has lacked a national framework for development, with ad hoc policies leading to a borrow-and-spend culture, awaiting the next construction boom to give an illusion of development. The elected political leadership has succeeded in amending the Constitution; they have a huge majority in Parliament and a clear mandate to do whatever is necessary for the common good. Against this backdrop, I believe that we must start setting reasonable short, medium and long-term goals and build a private sector culture around the way our ministries and its ministers operate.

In line with corporate norms, the Prime Minister or the President should appoint a Special Cabinet Minister without a specific portfolio to monitor the progress of each ministry and whether they are performing in line with the targets set out by the Prime Minister. This is the type of supervision that must become part of the culture of public service. There should be quarterly updates and reports provided to the Executive and to the Parliament. If a Ministry shows a consistent inability to meet these preset targets, then hard decisions need to be taken.

Anybody involved in the corporate sector, at any level, can attest to the multiple ‘key performance indicators’ (KPIs) that they must achieve each year. The checks and balances (audits), the progress meetings, brain-storming sessions, interdependence on different teams with varying skill sets, all built upon a structure that is moving in a single direction toward pre-set objectives. Sri Lanka has no shortage of organisations that not only established themselves during dire economic circumstances, but thrived and grew to be major local, regional and international players. There is a culture of excellence that exists in Sri Lanka’s private sector, and now we need to transfer this culture to the state sector. As fantastical as it sounds, it might be the only way to dig the country out of this current mess.

All eyes should be focused on the new Cabinet and how they organise themselves to work for the country. We have a Minister for Labour, Education, Health, Transportation, Trade, Agriculture, Plantations, Tourism, Ports etc. How many of these ministries have successfully managed themselves over the past several years and even decades?

Is the labour force better equipped to meet the challenges of the technological revolution? Have gaps in vocational training been plugged? Have conditions for workers improved? Has our education system been updated or the curriculum modernised? What is the plan for tourism? According to some estimates, tourist arrivals are not expected to recover to pre-Covid levels for two years. Have agricultural policies made Sri Lanka more self-reliant, more sustainable? Why does Sri Lanka have a public transport system and a private bus mafia with neither of them operating in a manner that can be described as a public ‘service’?

Many of the Cabinet Ministers are career politicians, with plenty of experience. However, the public has little faith in them; all hope rests on the President and the Prime Minister. Strong management is the key to success, not micro-management, not top down authoritarianism; A well-crafted policy delegated to professionals within a structured institution is the only way forward. Members of the Cabinet have track records, some running into several decades. Review their performances and note what they have achieved and where they have failed. Ascertain reasons for failure to perform and see how to rectify these issues.

The President and the Prime Minister must set targets for each Minister, prioritize the most pressing issues in each ministry bearing in mind at all times that the raison d’être of these expensive offices is to meet the social and economic needs of the people, the ultimate pay masters. Senior Ministers should provide detailed plans to the Prime Minister, stating what they hope to achieve and how, within a specified time frame. There should be cost-benefit analyses conducted and the Prime Minister should decide what the priorities are, in line with national objectives and take strict action against ‘non-performers’. Perhaps, the Prime Minister can rank his top five ministers every 3-6 months, based on specific KPIs and publish the list so the people can see who is working for them, and more importantly, who is not.

Unless we change the culture of public service, we will exist in a perpetual state of fire-fighting, running from one emergency to the next. Sri Lanka’s public sector still operates with a colonial mindset, officials at every level of government behave like governors and not as public servants. We see how the people are treated at public offices and institutions, every Sri Lankan has witnessed firsthand the bureaucratic inertia of most of the ministries. Absenteeism, lack of supervision and accountability, disorganised or nonexistent information systems and unproductive officers are just some of the hallmarks of Sri Lanka’s public service.

What is truly disappointing is that there are so many intelligent, well-meaning patriots whose best efforts are often diluted by their inefficient peers. Political appointees diminish a public servant’s aspirations as they usually hit a ceiling and cannot meaningfully progress, which leads to demotivation. Entering Sri Lanka’s public service requires passing a competitive written examination (Ceylon Administrative Service Examination), which is known to be extremely challenging and thus, we can assume that those who enter the state service are some of the brightest and most academically gifted individuals in the country. However, once you gain entry to the state service, complacency seems to set in, and it, more often than not, leads to a sense of entitlement that is also exuded from the very top. If the Secretary or the Minister does not challenge their staff and set an example, this will be reflected in the performance of the ministry as a whole. This culture exists and needs to be eradicated urgently.

It is a strongly held belief that in the state sector, three people are required to do one person’s job with no visible results whereas in the private sector, one person does the job of three people with visible and measurable results. A Cabinet Minister receives many entitlements and benefits–– vehicles, housing, security, staff, offices and seemingly unlimited expense accounts, all at the people’s expense. To these Cabinet Ministers, we have to add Deputy Ministers, Junior Ministers, State Minister, Governors, Mayors, Provincial Counselors; the list goes on. Is it too much to ask that the privileges that accompany these lofty positions are justified with the delivery of some tangible results within a reasonable time frame?

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Features

Hair Growth and Thickness

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LOOK GOOD – with Disna

 

* Oil:

Oiling is an old home remedy for hair growth and thickness. Oiling is also used for the strength, shine, and length of hair, from ancient times. The use of coconut oil, especially, is very effective when it comes to the amplification of hair health. Additionally, there are many essential oils for faster hair growth which you can use, too.

* How to Use: Generally, hair oiling works best when applied overnight. You could use this therapy every night, or after each night, then wash your hair, in the morning, before heading for studies, or work.

 

* Aloe Vera:

Aloe vera has long been used as a home remedy for hair growth, thickness, and treating hair loss problems It contains vitamins A, C, and E. All three of these vitamins are known to contribute to cell turnover, supporting healthy cell growth and shiny hair. Plus, vitamin B-12 and folic acid are also included in aloe vera gel. Both of these elements can keep your hair from falling out. Aloe vera plants can be easily grown indoors. A leaf can be plucked, occasionally, and cut open to reveal its gel. This gel needs to be applied on the scalp, basically, to provide nourishment to the roots.

*  How to Use:

Rub this gel on your head properly, leaving no area dry; wash after half an hour or so. Keeping this massage as a part of your weekly routine will eventually make your hair thick and long.

 

*  Green Tea:

Green tea is often consumed as a home remedy for weight loss. Surprisingly, it has many other benefits, including hair-related benefits.

* How to Use:

Consuming green tea once every day can add to the strength and length of your hair. If your body is extremely comfortable with green tea, then you may even consume it twice every day.

 

* Onion Juice:

A bi-weekly application of onion juice can relieve you of your tension, regarding hair health. The smell can really torture you, but divert your attention in doing something else for a while, like making a puzzle or washing the dishes. From an early age, onion juice has been used as a home remedy to control hair fall. Research has shown that onion juice has been successful in treating patchy alopecia areata (non-scarring hair loss condition) by promoting hair growth .

* How to Use:

Take half onion and blend it. Apply the mixture on every nook and corner of your scalp and let it sit for some 60 minutes, or so. Shampoo it off when it’s time for the hair-wash.

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Features

Fun-loving, but… sensitive

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This week, my chat is with Nilu Vithanage. She is quite active, as a teledrama actress – having done four, already; her first was ‘Pavela Will Come In The Cloud, Mom’ (playing the role of a nurse). Then Came ‘Heavenly Palaces’ (student), ‘Black Town’ (a village character Kenkaiya), and ‘Wings Of Fire,’ currently being shown, with Nilu as a policewoman. You could checkout ‘Wings Of Fire,’ weekdays, on Swarnavahini, at 7.30 pm. Nilu is also active as a stage drama artiste, dancer…and has also been featured in musical videos.

And, this is how our chit-chat went…

1. How would you describe yourself?

Let’s say, I’m a bit on the playful side, and I like to have a lot of fun. But, I do find the time to relax, and, at home, it’s dancing to music! Yeah, I love dancing. Oh, I need to add that I’m a bit sensitive.

2. If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?

I get angry quickly. Fortunately, that anger doesn’t last long – just five to 10 minutes. But I wish I could get rid of anger, totally from my system!

3. If you could change one thing about your family, what would it be?

Nope, can’t think of anything, in particular. Everything is fine with us, and I’m proud of my only brother, and I feel safe when he is around. Or, come to think of it, if I did have another brother, I would feel doubly safe…when going out, in particular!

4. School?

I did my studies at two schools – C.W.W. Kannangara Central College, and Panadura Sumangala Girls’ School for my higher studies. Representing my school, I won first place in a speech competition and dance competition, as well.

5. Happiest moment?

When my husband comes home, or talks to me on the phone. He is stationed in Hatton and those calls and home visits are my happiest moments

6. What is your idea of perfect happiness?

I really find a lot of happiness feeding the fish, in ponds. I love to see them rush to pick up the tidbits I throw into the pond. That’s my kind of happiness – being close to nature.

7. Are you religious?

I would say ‘yes’ to that question. I like to go to the temple, listen to sermons, participate in meditation programmes, and I do not miss out on observing sil, whenever possible. I also find solace in visiting churches.

8. Are you superstitious?

A big ‘no.’ Not bothered about all those superstitious things that generally affect a lot of people.

9. Your ideal guy?

My husband, of course, and that’s the reason I’m married to him! He has been a great support to me, in my acting career, as well in all other activities. He understands me and he loves me. And, I love him, too.

10. Which living person do you most admire?

I would say my Dad. I truly appreciate the mentorship he gave me, from a young age, and the things we received from him

11. Which is your most treasured possession?

My family.

12. If you were marooned on a desert island, who would you like as your companion?

A camel would be ideal as that would make it easier for me to find a way out from a desert island!

13. Your most embarrassing moment?

One day, recently, with the greatest of difficulty, I managed to join a one meter distance queue, to withdraw money from an ATM. And, then I realised I didn’t bring the card along!

14. Done anything daring?

I would say…yes, when I ventured out to get involved in teledramas. It was a kind of a daring decision and I’m glad it’s now working out for me – beautifully.

15. Your ideal vacation?

I would say Thailand, after reading your articles, and talking to you about Amazing Thailand – the shopping, things to see and do, etc. When the scene improves, it will be…Thailand here I come!

16. What kind of music are you into?

The fast, rhythmic stuff because I have a kind of rhythm in my body, and I love to dance…to music.

17. Favourite radio station:

I don’t fancy any particular station. It all depends on the music they play. If it’s my kind of music, then I’m locked-on to that particular station.

18. Favourtie TV station:

Whenever I have some free time, I search the TV channels for a good programme. So it’s the programme that attracts me.

19. What would you like to be born as in your next life?

Maybe a bird so that I would be free to fly anywhere I want to.

20. Any major plans for the future?

I’m currently giving lessons to schoolchildren, in dancing, and I plan to have my own dancing institute in the future.

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Features

Snail-napping sets the stage for CGI road trip

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The SpongeBob Movie:Sponge on the Run

By Tharishi hewaviThanagamage

Based on the famous and one of the longest-running American animated series that made its debut on Nickelodeon in 1999, created by marine science educator and animator Stephen Hillenburg, ‘The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run’ is the latest addition to the SpongeBob movie franchise, coming in as the third installment after ‘The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie’ (2004) and ‘The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water’ (2015).

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