I was going through the 2013 budget speech, via my dad’s Facebook really, and came across this terrifying statistic – “The Government now engages 1,300,000 public servants. This is twice the size in 2005.” Now, for country of barely 21 million people, I would venture that this is a lot. Yet Mahinda followed up with “We have therefore, decided to recruit qualified staff in selected categories”. Not the ‘therefore’ I was looking for.
I’m not saying anyone should lose their jobs, nor am I saying the government shouldn’t do stuff. Well, I guess I am saying that. Some people should lose their jobs and there is some stuff the government shouldn’t do. As examples, they are driving Sri Lankan Airlines into the ground by yoking it to their pet project Mihin. That’s just the flagship of government waste if you will. In many areas the government is overstaffed and the staff are underpaid, so the result is that citizens are faced with offices full of people where no one has authority and nothing gets done.
I’m all for paying government servants more, but to do that we need to have less of them. And 1.3 million seems a bit excessive, it’s like 6% of the population. Add 500,000 people on pensions and 400,000 in the Armed Forces (which I’m assuming was excluded) and you have almost 10% of the population in government employ and not really paying taxes either, at least not on income (though that base is generally low anyways). And this all costs a lot:
“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” (Budget 2013)
There is stuff the government should do and the government should create jobs. But the question is balance. Politicians giving out jobs as short-term patronage puts a huge long-term burden on the country and makes it harder to attract and retain the skilled people we actually do need. Government service shouldn’t be a welfare scheme, but it’s sadly become a bit like that. In that case you get neither service nor welfare, and it’s a train that’s increasingly impossible to slow down.