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Establish principles to guide civil service issue

Published:Saturday | January 22, 2011 | 12:00 AM


Mr Delano Seiveright's article in The Sunday Gleaner (January 9) has stimulated a measure of debate - understandably. But no one should pretend that a government of Jamaica (or anywhere else in the world for that matter) does not require - or deserve to have - the right to select key public sector officers in whom it reposes full confidence in their understanding of - and ability to implement - its policies.

The Seaga administration re-quested the resignation of CEOs and members of boards of government entities - statutory bodies and government-owned companies. My recollection is that not all resignations were accepted. However, it gave the incoming administration a free hand to appoint individuals it deemed appropriate to ensure success of its policies.

Successive governments have not opted to adopt this course. Instead, when it is suddenly recognised that such changes may be necessary (and are made), eyebrows are raised.

Not long ago, the head of an important public sector body openly asserted his position on an important issue. His minister held opposing views, and in time one had to go. From the outset, however, both knew the other's position on the issue. Either the official should have tendered his resignation or the minister should have asked for it then. It would have saved both a great deal of embarrassment later!

Implementation of government policy is not a matter of choice. It is one of necessity. We should not be playing a type of Russian Roulette with this aspect of national life. Success of policies not only means success of the Government. Lest we forget, it is the lifeblood of the country that we are talking about.

Ground rules needed

Where government policies are ill-advised, the people will ultimately be the judge. But they - whoever they may be - should be afforded the exercise of that discretion in the selection of key personnel. This has always been the case, and one expects it will always be. What causes much consternation from time to time, however, is the clumsy manner in which successive governments have often effected these changes.

Governments are known to appoint 'friends' and supporters to key positions. This should be based on ability and demonstrated competence. Where it is not so, such individuals should be expected, as a matter of course, to be asked to step aside or indeed do so. Even competent officers might be asked to step down. The challenge, therefore, is to establish ground rules that would govern the process.

The charge of 'sabotage' or 'victimisation' can easily be laid against a public officer. It is far more difficult to prove. There is less difficulty proving that there are individuals who have greater sympathies for a particular govern-ment's philosophy or position on issues. The Government of the day should not be expected to ignore such individuals in their choice of personnel - all other things being equal. It should not be difficult to establish a set of principles to guide governments in the handling of this vexed, sensitive but critical issue.

I am, etc.,


Birmingham, England