Why are they retiring at 55?

Points to be considered for the extension of the retirement age of the members of the Security Forces.

The reviewing of the retirement age of the Security Force personnel has to be looked in a very objective manner, analyzing the overall benefits to the Security Sector, the country at large and Security Force personnel. It shouldn’t be allowed to get clouded on the personal biases and conflicting interests of a few within the military and also among the different Departments. Any reform of this nature could attract resistance and it would be wise to seek common grounds without crushing the concept. Hence the following assessment.

The retirement age of government servants, including that of the members of the Security Forces (SF), have come under review the world over during the last two decades. Improvements in the field of medicine and the resultant rise in life expectancy coupled with the availability of a healthier workforce is a prime factor. It is critically important to note that the average life expectancy in Sri Lanka at the time of independence (probably when the retirement regulations for SF were established), was just 55 compared to 75 at present. In the background of this Two Decades increase in the life expectancy, it is rational to rethink the construct of the retirement policy of the SF (Security Forces).

Also, the origin of the regulation of 55 age limit goes back to a period when Sri Lanka had ceremonial Security Forces; where retaining and transferring of competencies was not a challenge and a necessity.

Even notwithstanding above, there is a disparity in Sri Lanka, where the applicable age for SF (Security Forces) personnel is 55 compared to other government services including the Police, which is 60. The rationale for that is not clear, but the most probable is the requirement of maintaining a young and healthier force to face the rigours of the profession of arms. However, as reasoned in 1 above people are relatively healthier now.

In the present context, therefore, it is PRIMARILY a matter of retaining the services of a well-trained, educated and experienced officer Corps and noncommissioned officers (NCO’s). They give leadership in shaping the Operational and Strategic Security Environment. The security environment that we confront at present, both locally and internationally is professionally very challenging. Time in uniform and experience matters. Senior Officers have to share their perspective on matters of National interest with the Civilian Leadership.

In this regard, it is not only professional policy interaction with government agencies and leadership that matters; it’s a matter of reforming the Security Sector to face challenges and the opportunities of working with international partners in matters of national security interests. Such competencies mature with time in service.

When officers (55)/ NCO’s (42+/-) retire at the present limits, they leave the service at the peak of their professional maturity and the organization and the country losses the time, energy and the treasure that has been invested on them. Military experience and learning is a precious and a rare wealth that is hard to acquire and difficult to replace.

Also on the side of the members of the SF (Security Forces) , retiring at this age puts the individual at great odds to find an alternative career. It’s such a period in ones career, where it’s too early to retire from the established profession and too late to find an alternative employment. This dilemma put the pensioners at considerable stress in trying to face family and personal obligations and challenges of life. This is in comparison to other government servants and the Police, who have the opportunity to serve much longer.

At the same time, since the Security Forces requires certain unique demands in service, the provision of extension of service can be subjected to conditions of health, professional necessity and any other as decided by the Service Chiefs and the Ministry.

For example all the regional military services which are built on the British service structure.

A (India, Pakistan, Bangladesh..etc), and all the Western countries, China and Russia and the Eastern European countries have a minimum retirement age of 58 for officers of two star rank which progressively increase with the Rank.

Therefore in Sri Lanka too the retirement age of officer’s achieving the rank of ONE STAR can be extended to 58 (subject to flexibility in time in rank), to begin with, and to review it after two to three years. Similarly for NCO’s who have reached the penultimate rate (to be explained, since the numbers are comparatively low) can be extended by further three years. Such a system will automatically have a bearing on performance and brings in rationality to the system, where performance could be linked to the recognition of the service requirement.

Even now the existing regulations allow Medical officers of the SF’s to serve until the age of 60. This is based on certain other regulations covering the Medical profession and the necessity of their services. Therefore it is fair to pose the question; by limiting the retirement age of only the SF members, has the country unintentionally projected an image that the services of experienced and matured military officers are not an absolute necessity? Unless such is the case, the whole government service can retire at 55 and allow new recruitment.

In this background a favorable consideration to extend the retirement age would become a decision which will have a very positive impact on the government. At a time when opposing forces are trying to create a negative image of the government on its treatment of the Security Establishment, a decision on extending the retirement age will go a very long way to ensure to the public as well as to the members of the SF that the government is having faith and respect, and values the continued contribution of the professional members of the Military towards National Security.

The total strength of the Tri Forces is around 250,000. The immediate family circle of a single SF personnel would be 6 elders on a conservative average. Which, depending on circumstances include; parents, siblings, in-laws and in some cases children. This would add to about 1.5 million additional people who are concerned of the wellbeing and the job security of their loved ones and most of the time half of this number is dependent of the SF member. Therefore the possibility of a long term employment in a respected government institution, for their immediate family member, would give this large segment of the society a sense of additional security and a very positive image of the government. This has to be looked at the background of the negative images created by those who oppose the government and on the other hand the benefits to the SF members, the large majority of which are coming from not so comfortable backgrounds of the Island.

For the other rankers of the military, who are worried about the requirement to retire at the age between 40 to 45, and the challenge of securing employment to look after their children and aging parents, this would be of great value. Politically also it is a strong message to the society of how the government intends to go about the national security issues, with the valuable contribution of those who have perfumed well in the Security Sector.

Military Profession is a “lifelong call”. By voluntarily agreeing to serve the nation and been forward deployed at the firing line, at the most crucial time of our history, the military personnel have shown extraordinary courage, commitment and faith and helped the state to prevail. By not allowing them to enjoy the same privileges that the other government servants have, it seems that the country, which they so faithfully and passionately served, has not recognized the value of the “lifelong call”. Sincerely, we will never have to face a conflict again, but we will have to be prepared. A better prepared professional military will always prevent conflict and ensure peace. Lack of same will increase the chances of peace becoming fragile. We need to have the Security Forces as attractive as possible and then only the best of youth will answer the ‘’lifelong call ‘’ to embark on a “way of life’’. (Sri Lanka Guardian)

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