Sun | Sep 24, 2017

Editorial | Need more on civil servants complaints

Published:Monday | January 2, 2017 | 1:00 AM

The transformation of Jamaica's public sector to improve its efficiency and, insofar as possible, remove impediments to doing business, everyone agrees, is important to engineering an economy capable of delivering sustainable growth. That is why, beyond the Government's stated commitment to the process, public-sector reform undertakings are among the key structural benchmarks in the administration's multibillion-dollar standby arrangement with the International Monetary Fund.

But the management of any process of this kind, where people's jobs are at stake, is usually a sensitive matter, requiring deft and sensitive handling. Missteps can derail the process or, at least, make the goals more difficult to achieve.

This is why we are concerned about recent complaints by O'Neil Grant, the president of the Jamaica Civil Service Association, about the Government's approach to facets of the reform project, or an element related thereto, for which there is need for scrutiny from the authorities, especially the minister with responsibility for the public sector, Ruddy Spencer.

According to Mr Grant, when the posts of accountants and auditors in the public sector are being retitled and upgraded, which apparently is happening a lot, the existing holders of these jobs have to apply for the "new" posts.

That, on the face of it, appears reasonable if the old jobs no longer existed, the positions are made redundant, and employees are paid off in accordance with the law or transferred to an equivalent job elsewhere in the public sector.

Except that Mr Grant claims that this is not the case. Often, he told this newspaper, "the only thing that has changed is the governance structure of the organisation".

Moreover, he argued, this approach applies only to the fiscal management group (FMG) in the public sector. There is a different standard, he said, for other employees.

There is a sense why the FMGs, at this time, may be subject to especially rigorous attention in determining their employment status and their suitability for posts in the public sector.

 

MAKING STRIDES

 

Over the past five years, Jamaica has made significant strides in the management of is fiscal affairs as part of the overhaul of its economy. We now have a better handle on how taxpayers' money is spent, and there are signs that we are beginning to get returns on those investments. That, in part, suggests that FMGs are getting better at their jobs.

But with the demands of expanding fiscal-accountability laws and insistence from the public for greater transparency, there are demands for them to do even better still. We expect, therefore, that there is growing pressure for only the best qualified and the more experienced and talented to fill the jobs in the new set-up.

But even in that, we expect that established labour-relations norms would be followed, especially in a country with well-developed industrial-relations mechanisms and the existence of a forum for stakeholders to discuss these matters of transformation.

In addition, managing public-sector transformation is not merely an industrial-relations issue. It is a political one, too. It can only happen smoothly if there is consensus around it, and can fall apart with antagonistic recriminations if some groups believe they are being hard done by. Prime Minister Andrew Holness and his Government should be attuned to this.