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The (messy) changing civil service

Friday, July 12, 2019

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He said that, she did what she did, but then she said she never did what they said she did! Say what?

Confused by the tongue-twisting riddle? You're not alone.

The revelations coming out of the Public Administration and Appropriations Committee (PAAC) about the alleged goings-on at the Caribbean Maritime University (CMU) have left many confused.

In case you've been under a rock, or have stayed away from public chat-bout, take a look at the Jamaica Observer story published on Thursday, July 11, 2018 under the headline 'CMU saga deepens', where the CMU council refers to “allegations of mismanagement/misappropriation of funds, impropriety and nepotism”.

From downtown street corner to rural taxi stand, over to Uptown verandah and Diaspora social media, the CMU soap opera has everybody talking. With every sitting of the PAAC and other investigations being conducted, more mix-up and bangarang comes to light.

In a recent conversation with a few friends, one rained curses on “sticky-finger pally-ticians who bringing down shame on our country”. Another friend joining in the discussion blamed the administrators at the entity in question. “How dem never pay more attention to what was going on?”

Executive Editor - Publications Vernon Davidson, writing in the Observer article, revealed that the CMU's council had been “disbanded in January 2018 and a new council appointed on April 25. However, the new council was not called to a meeting until the end of June”. The members of the new council apparently were not aware of what was taking place, and it is not clear, either, what the previous council knew of the situation.

As my friends settled into their argument, questions also came up about what happened to the gatekeepers in the civil service? In government agencies, checks and balances are supposed to be put in place to keep ministries and agencies on the straight and narrow.

Another friend of mine said, “Once upon a time permanent secretaries had an iron hand.” They monitored the goings-on of their relevant departments with a close eye. Sometimes they seemed to have more power than the political minister in charge. The memories of government work practice continued as my friend reminded that on occasion there had been serious power struggles between politicians and career civil servants.

In the late 1990s a change was made in the civil service. The feeling was expressed that because of the tribal nature of our politics, political administrations should have the ability to appoint workers who supported the vision and policies of the Government of the day. That started the 'contract work' phenomenon, and that practice has changed the way we do business today, both in the public and private sectors.

In recent weeks, concerns have been brought up about workers who are employed on short-term contracts. Some workers never make it to permanent staff, even though they have worked with the same company for decades. Businesspeople say the contract arrangement gives them the chance to hire more people and allows them room to negotiate and manage their bottom line. Depending on how the contract is drawn up, some of the entitlements that each worker should have are not included. A contract worker is responsible for their own statutory deductions; and so must pay over their National Insurance Scheme (NIS) and National Housing Trust (NHT) contributions from a salary that is sometimes barely able to cover everyday expenses. Most will not be eligible for retirement benefits, either, leaving them walking a tightrope in their latter years, hoping that their savings will stretch.

Both the business community and the public sector will have to consider how they balance the pros and cons of the contract work system. One thing is clear: if there is a loophole which allows for wrongdoing to occur, there are those who are willing to make use of the weaknesses. We must find a way to ensure that we do things the right and proper way. Our children and grandchildren deserve it.

Protocol and grace

Condolences to the friends and family of Ambassador Elinor Felix, former chief of state protocol in the Office of the Prime Minister, diplomat, civil servant and St Andrew High School old girl. Ambassador Felix was short in stature, but not short of wisdom and courage. She served as Jamaica's ambassador to Cuba and worked in foreign affairs for many years. If you had a question about the right way to do things, she had the answer. She was an asset to her country, working for different political administrations over the years, always making sure protocol was followed to the tee. Walk good, Ambassador.

Barbara Gloudon is a journalist, playwright and commentator. Send comments to the Observer or gloudonb@gmail.com.


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