Mon | Dec 11, 2017

JaRistotle’s Jottings | The bastardisation of the public service

Published:Thursday | August 31, 2017 | 12:00 AM

The current brouhaha at the Firearm Licensing Authority and the many instances of breaches of public sector procurement guidelines, among other questionable occurrences, spurred me to ponder the efficacy of our civil service, especially given the cross-generation transition of civil servants during the 18-year tenure of the People's National Party from 1989 to 2007.

It is no secret that over the last two decades our politicians have mercilessly bastardised the public service, creating executive agencies, implementing contracts for normal career positions, and hiring political lackeys to fill key positions, including permanent secretaries and heads of agencies. Just look at the profile of some of the current appointees, political baggage on their last breath.

 

Checks and balances

 

The public service in any country, consisting of elected officials and civil servants, is expected to perform a variety of key functions on behalf of the central government, namely, the provision of services which benefit all of society.

The civil service, for good reason, normally consists of career bureaucrats, hired and retained based on merit, whose institutional tenure typically survives political transitions. Career structures and security of tenure, underpinned by selection, appointment and promotion based on merit and experience as against political loyalty underpin objectivity and professional loyalty. The subversion of the civil service robs the country of an important mechanism for checks and balances. Key functions of a professional civil service are the protection of the interests of the country against the whims and fancies of politicians, and ensuring probity in the administration of public services.

Professional civil servants promote continuity of government institutions and resistance to subjective policy changes, thus balancing the youthful exuberance and wily dogma of politicians, intent on usurping established processes. They ensure that services are delivered to all of society consistent with official procurement and employment guidelines.

 

Due process

 

According to our constitution, statutes and guidelines, selections, appointments and removals appurtenant to public offices rest with the governor general acting on the recommendation of the appropriate commission of the public service. In the case of permanent secretaries, prior to finalisations, the prime minister basically has to acquiesce to the recommendation, otherwise the matter is referred back to the commission for reconsideration.

Appointments to public offices are supposed to be made through due competition and should facilitate fair and equitable access and opportunity to all candidates across the public sector who are appropriately qualified, with seniority being a deciding factor among equally qualified and experienced candidates.

In addition, where appointments are made without competition due to 'limitations in the available talent pool', the decision to forgo competition should be posted so as to facilitate appeals.

Death announcement: Due process, shamefully assassinated, desperately missed. Rest in Peace.

How can we expect to have professional loyalty when even the basic personnel systems within the civil service are being usurped? A junior clerk will forever be just that, because prospects for promotion are diminished, unless, of course, the individual sells their political soul.

There are many highly educated and well-experienced civil servants, so why their exclusion from consideration and appointment? Why is their union sitting down and doing sweet nothing instead of demanding consideration and appointment from within, for fair and equitable treatment for their members?

Permanent secretaries are responsible for the overall management of their ministries under the general direction of the minister. They are also responsible to ensure fairness and equity for the staff, and that there is no discrimination of staff due to various factors, including political affiliation. So when a permanent secretary who is a political lackey has to deal with a complaint of discrimination owing to political bias, who can guarantee objectivity? Even if they wanted to side with right, being on contract and wishing to remain employed inevitably diminishes such prospects. Resentment and apathy readily develop, as does hope for a political turnaround, wid dawg replacing monkey after each election. The manifestations: lousy(ier) service quality and hustling - if top dawg a hustle, no problem.

Our civil servants and Jamaica deserve better than this. It is high time that the Jamaica Civil Service Association gets off its posterior and stands up for their members and their rights as a professional service, otherwise they will be reduced to and perceived as asses.

Their choice: hee-haw or hero.