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Public Administration News  
Sri Lanka: Retirement of Public Servants
Source: dailynews.lk
Source Date: Monday, October 11, 2010
Focus: ICT for MDGs, Knowledge Management in Government
Country: Sri Lanka
Created: Oct 11, 2010

The Government has decided on compulsory retirement of all public servants who reach the age of 60. According to a news item quoting Public Administration Minister John Seneviratne, this will apply to even the Security Forces. Accordingly some 12,000 public servants who reach the age of 60 this year will not be given extensions. It was also revealed that more than 2,000 public servants, most of them holding senior positions, obtain extensions every year.

The stated objective of strictly enforcing the age rule for retirement is to create openings for the younger generation in the State sector and pave the way for promotions for junior staff. The Minister of course is justified on this count given the large army of unemployed waiting in the wings. Youth unrest too could result if employment opportunities are not created for the young. We saw this happen in 1971 and all steps should be taken to prevent a repetition. From this point of view the Minister is justified in enforcing the age rule.

There is also another side to the coin. The 60 year retirement ceiling came into being at a different time in a different age. That was a time when one was considered over the hill when one reached the age of 60 when one's faculties were considered to be on the wane. Thus, such a person was considered both physically and mentally unfit to continue in his task. This was the reason for the drawing the line at 60.

However in this modern age with the new advances in the medical field, the advent of health foods enhancing vigour and drive, mechanisms and devices that helps retain youth and energy, extending the life expectancy of an individual one would consider the 60 year age limit for retirement to be unfair. Also under the circumstances one expects to be at his/her prime at the age of 60 years where one's work output is expected to reach the maximum levels. Most Government servants may also still have children of school going age at this time of their life and to 'evict' them at such a crucial time although it is the legal norm, too could result in a crisis.

Therefore, the Government should give its thought seriously to some of the consequences of retiring people at 60 years of age. It hardly needs to be stressed that we need the best people in the public service today more than at any other time if the Government is to effectively take forward its development programs. Who better to undertake this task than those with experience and knowledge acquired over a long period of time? New recruits among the youth however much qualified they may be would not fit into their new role at once. They would be all at sea with their new tasks and will take some time to establish themselves. And time is one commodity that the Government cannot afford to waste if it is to get its act together.

There can be nothing to substitute experience. The best course of action would be to retain the professionals and experts even if they have reached the compulsory retirement age if the Government is to implement its development programs with any degree of success. Of course it should get rid of the deadwood. It is common knowledge that most Government departments are overstaffed with some corporations bursting at the seams mostly with political appointees who are mere time servers. On no account should extensions be granted to such types. It should be limited to certain categories whose services will be of importance in the present context.

While the decision by the Government not to grant extensions to those public servants beyond 60 years could be justified it should also ensure those who will replace them will be equally or more qualified to perform the task of their predecessors. We say this because the practice still is to fill Government vacancies with political appointees. If this be the case then it will be a defeat of the purpose of the applying the retirement age. What should be uppermost in the minds of the authorities is productivity. Merely replacing competent people, although they have reached 60 years of age, with unproductive novices would seem irrational and not in the best interest of the public sector which is already reeking with corruption and inefficiency.

The Government should strike the proper balance when applying the age rule for retirement of public servants. It would be wise not to throw away the baby with the bath water.
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