Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
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The History of and Prospects for Public Sector Reforms in Sri Lanka

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posted on 2021-11-10, 10:01 authored by De Alwis, Ranjanee Kusumsiri

Public sector(1) reform is about improving the management of the public sector. Such reform has no universal framework. What can be done in any country is a product of its history, structure and culture. Moreover, public sector reform is not simply simple 'technical' change. It depends upon, and actually comprises reform of a nation's political system. The main focus of this thesis is administrative reform in Sri Lanka (SL). The key research question is why this has encountered so many problems in the SL public administration system despite many attempts at reform since 1950. And, why and how have key historical, structural, sociological economic and political factors since Independence contributed to this current impasse? Answers to key questions investigated were sought through qualitative and quantitative research. Using a combination of official documents and interviews with senior political elites, public officials and academics, this thesis analyses the current situation of public administration in SL. In order to better understand the current situation, the history of public administrative reform in SL is investigated. The focus of the analysis lies in understanding the complexity and specificity of the present situation in order to better assess prospects for future reforms. This provides a backdrop to effective future agendas and highlights issues in the present system that must be addressed within that agenda. In this process this thesis examines when, how and why administrative reforms took place in SL since the 1950s, which political parties were in power, and who gained and lost due to reforms. The, Administrative Reform Committee Reports (ARC) of 1986/88 are central to this analysis because they made comprehensive recommendations on all aspects of administrative reform. The experience of the ARC carries valuable lessons to administrative reformers. Because this thesis is exploring historical and political questions, the Pollitt and Bouckaert model of public management, which focuses on historical institutionalism, is used as the theoretical framework. This thesis finds that all reforms in SL from 1950-2005 were isolated, ad hoc, and reactive to crisis situations, not proactive. On many occasions such changes lacked adequate examination as to their effects on the administrative system as a whole. This further resulted in more problems and even greater complexity, with the ARC recommendations not fully implemented. This thesis analyses underlying factors responsible for thwarting efforts to create an effective and efficient public administration system in SL. The originality and significance of this thesis lies in two areas: (a) it is the first systematic historical analysis of public sector reform in SL that pulls together a wide range of evidence from divers sources; (b) this thesis confirms the importance of understanding the history and political dynamics of a country before serious and wholesale attempts at public sector reform are attempted. I hope that future SL reformers will be able to learn the lessons of history in that respect. This thesis concludes that this state of affairs remains a product of complex interactions of many different historical, social, political, and cultural conditions. Therefore, this thesis argues, any future programme of reform must take full account of those specifics.  (1) Public sector includes : Government and the Organs of State (Organs of State includes Presidential Secretariat, Legislature, Public Service Commission, Police Service Commission, Commission to Investigate Allegation of Bribery and Corruption, Attorney General Department, Auditor General Department, Finance Commission and Salaries and Cadre Commission) and Public Enterprises.


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Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Rights License

Author Retains Copyright

Degree Discipline

Public Policy

Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Doctoral Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of Government


Ryan, Bill; Laking, Rob