McIntosh defends action in breach of public sector law
Edmond Campbell, Senior Staff Reporter
UNREPENTANT AND seemingly refusing to be shackled by the law, the usually soft-spoken Alvin McIntosh, permanent secretary in the Ministry of Labour and Social Security, yesterday stridently defended his actions for employing 224 persons in excess of the approved staff complement. Now, McIntosh has a possible surcharge amounting to millions hanging over his head for the breach.
Auditor General Pamela Monroe Ellis had outlined in her annual report that the ministry breached the Civil Service Establishment Act, and in the absence of the requisite approval from the Ministry of Finance, her department had deemed the payments unauthorised and the culpable officer(s) might be recommended for surcharge.
Acting committee chairman of Parliament's Public Accounts Committee (PAC) Everald Warmington said the permanent secretary and the finance ministry should have dialogue to regularise the matter. However, Warmington told McIntosh that talks with the ministry would not preclude the question of a surcharge for the breach.
"Surcharge for what! For getting the job done!" declared McIntosh, who explained that many essential services offered to Jamaicans by his ministry, as well as the overseas work programme, would have been negatively affected if he had not recruited the staff that was urgently needed.
The permanent secretary contended that it would be irresponsible on the part of the ministry and the accounting officer if it failed to deliver critical services to Jamaicans.
Attempting to provide further justification for his decision to employ the 224 people who are not on the establishment, McIntosh argued that the overseas work programme would be in trouble if the ministry did not recruit 26 drivers. He said only three drivers at the ministry are provided for in the establishment. "Are you telling me to lock down operations across the island when these vulnerable groups are looking for their benefits?" the permanent secretary questioned, adding that the situation could have become explosive.
McIntosh told PAC members that the permanent secretary had the authority to engage staff at a certain level.
Emphasising that the proper procedure and approval must be obtained from the finance ministry, the auditor general said the ministry was not only assessing the need, but the costs associated with paying additional staff. "It is not within a PS' (permanent secretary) remit, as I understand from the law, to take that action unilaterally."
While urging public servants to follow stipulated guidelines, committee member Fitz Jackson said he was sympathetic to the actions of the ministry. "I don't want a PS or any manager or any director come here and tell me or Jamaica that you could avert a problem, you could mitigate serious injury to many Jamaicans, but you couldn't because the prior approval was not in place when you could have acted."