Mass unemployed graduate recruitment programme suspended

The Election Commission of Sri Lanka has intervened to suspend a programme to provide state sector jobs for all unemployed graduates and diploma holders pending the announcement of the results of the general election called for 25 April.

Government has already recruited about 45,000 unemployed graduates and sent appointment letters requesting them to report to the training programme from 1 March.

The mass recruitment programme was promised during November’s presidential election campaign by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa but has now been halted because the appointment letters are being delivered during a time when a parliamentary election has been called.

Several complaints had been received, saying recruiting graduates during election time is illegal and would involve promoting political agendas of several political parties.

After considering those complaints, Sri Lanka Election Commission Chairman Mahinda Deshapriya ordered the local government ministry secretary to suspend the training programme for newly recruited graduates until a week after the election results are published. The local government ministry secretary says the suspension is only a temporary one and they hope to start the training programme on 4 May or 11 May.

But qualified candidates are not happy with the Election Commission’s decision. “I got my appointment letter and went to the DS [Divisional Secretariat] office as requested, then only I knew that the EC [Election Commission] has ordered to suspend it. We were waiting from last year December and now it is dragging again,” an unemployed graduate told University World News.

Last November, during the presidential election campaign, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa promised to provide jobs for all unemployed university graduates.

In January, the new government of Sri Lanka decided to provide employment opportunities in the state sector for about 50,000 unemployed graduates. Applications for the programme were due during February.

According to a media release by the President’s Media Division, 70,000 applications were received. The University Grants Commission and several other organisations scrutinised these applications. Out of 70,000, only 45,585 applications were identified as qualified to be appointed, while the others did not meet the required degree or diploma criteria.

From 27 February, government started sending appointment letters to the selected candidates requesting them to attend the training programme. Parliament was dissolved on 2 March.

Union raises questions about the jobs programme

Meanwhile the Combined Association of Unemployed Graduates (CAUG) has raised questions about the appointments.

Convener of the CAUG Venerable Thenne Gnanananda Thero, speaking to University World News, said there are a few doubts about the programme as appointment letters were being delivered just before parliament was dissolved. “Still government has not released the full list; we don’t know who has got jobs and who hasn’t; there are over 10,000 rejected applications and we need to know why those applications were rejected.”

CAUG urged the Election Commission to allow government to proceed with the training programme as scheduled. Gnanananda Thero further said that the union hopes to discuss these issues with the election commissioner. CAUG is planning to launch a protest on 10 March in Colombo, demanding that the government release the qualified candidates list.

Following the surprise change of government in mid-November last year, the new government is gradually making changes to the entire education system. According to the official figures, in Sri Lanka there are about 45,000-50,000 unemployed graduates.

One of the objectives of the programme is to create a situation in which all young people have the opportunity to contribute to the sustainable development process in Sri Lanka. A monthly allowance of LKR20,000 (US$110) will be paid during the one-year training period.

The selected graduates will be allocated for the training to the nearest Divisional Secretariat. Upon completion of training, they will be placed in the pensionable permanent service of the government. Appointments are to be made on a district basis and it is compulsory to serve five years in the district where the first appointment is made.

According to the government sources, recruited graduates have to undergo two months of special leadership training before being appointed.

The government is hoping to recruit most of the graduates as school teachers to fill vacant positions in the areas of mathematics, science and English language in rural and estate schools.

Selected candidates will be employed in the Department of Irrigation, Department of Agrarian Services, Department of Wildlife, Department of Indigenous Medicine, Ministry of Health (Rural Hospitals/Dispensaries), Survey Department, Department of Agriculture, Department of Minor Export Crops, Department of Valuation and Department of Immigration and Emigration.

The graduates will be sent to rural service areas and to difficult places in urban areas.

During the training period the group should prepare a project report about the place of work after a study period of two months at their respective places of work. The government says that all trainees will be given permanent appointments from 1 March next year.

Decision to postpone

Election Commission Chairman Deshapriya, explaining his order to suspend the training programme, said: “These graduates are not being recruited for essential service requirements or to fill existing vacancies. Moreover, we have been receiving complaints regarding these appointments and it has been noted that on previous occasions too, such appointments had been suspended during elections.”

However, Higher Education Minister Dr Bandula Gunawardena said the government was planning to meet with Deshapriya to discuss this issue further.

“There is no political agenda behind these appointments and all the graduates are a part of the new generation who should be contributing to the country’s economy,” Gunawardena said.

Former opposition leader Sajith Premadasa has promised to give proper appointment letters to all unemployed graduates within two weeks of securing a general election victory. He says he will recruit unemployed graduates who are above the age of 45.

He refuted the claims made by the government that he had persuaded the Election Commission to suspend the appointments given to unemployed graduates in the state sector.