Friday, November 4, 2011

Hiding behind seniority to attack political interference compromises “Merit”

The use of Merit in so far as it means the best person for the job, is a distant dream in public service and in the political arena. In the private sector, it is increasingly seen as a prerequisite for performance, as otherwise the organization may perish. This influence comes mainly from multinationals that have a very competitive system, where promotions are only on merit, and those who do not get promoted, know that their ceiling has been reached, and they either decide to languish or quit.

One would exclude private family owned companies, where family members decide to be the chiefs and they have favorites or trusted aides in positions below theirs to ensure control. There is an element of merit here but once the glass ceiling is reached one knows there is no more climbing. The more mature private companies will recruit and promote on merit as they know that is the only means of longevity, and then the owners will merely be the shareholders of the company on a non-executive basis, leaving the professionals to run the business.

It was therefore telling when the new first female Attorney General asserted that she as being the most senior in the department, expected to be promoted to that position, though as a woman she waited for the confirmation from the President in case he determined otherwise as the appointment was his to make. I wonder then whether she meant she was not the best! I suspect merit here did not matter to her, as she was only concerned if political interference prevented her from getting what she felt was hers for time served! This at a time when the Chief Justice, also the first woman was appointed more as a ‘yes woman’ political appointment rather than merit and moreover has her husband as the Chairman of one of the largest and also state banks in Sri Lanka. This conflict of interest, which should have resulted in his resignation in a just society, is swept under the carpet in an ‘unjust one’.

In essence, due to the level of political interference in the public sector, seniority is the only option of preserving sanity in promotion. If merit were to be used, then it could be construed as political interference by those whose seniority rights have been ignored. This argument then can be carried further to minimize conflict, namely to privatize state institutions that have no place in the public sector. They would be more efficient and hence economically more beneficial to the Nation.

The case for public sector ownership of ‘for profit enterprises’ is ONLY on the basis that management is appointed without political interference, namely merit. The case made here is a long way from reality in Sri Lanka, as jobs go to loyalists and most state enterprises are loaded with party faithful, being rewarded in style.

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