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Heartless, uncaring Govt?


ALBERT BRANDFORD

Heartless, uncaring Govt?

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WE HAVE A CONSTITUTION which lays  out the method of hiring and firing of people in the Public Service of Barbados. That system has been subverted by the political directorate. It is very  easy now to point fingers at Public Service  managers, but bit by bit the running of the ministries has been taken over by the ministers. This doesn’t  mean Public Service managers are faultless.  It means there is a lot of blame to go around. – Charlie Skeete, former permanent secretary in the Ministry of Finance, diplomat and international public servant.
DIRECT INVOLVEMENT by Ministers in the day-to-day running of departments within their portfolios  has been talked about almost, it seems, from  the introduction of ministerial government  nearly a half-century ago.
Permanent secretaries are the de jure heads  of the ministries, supposedly taking only policy directions from the politicians, some of whom nonetheless have seen themselves as the de facto managers of those departments.
Over the years, some ministers have publicly denied the charges, while others have taken credit for even interviewing Barbadians overseas for Public Service jobs “in the interest of the greater good”. One controversial former minister, in one of his fleeting moments of candour, said, and I paraphrase: “If I am the minister and I have responsibility for it, then  it is my ministry and I will run it.”
So, it should not have come as a surprise that Charlie Skeete, an eminent former permanent secretary, whose credentials and reputation as “a civil servant’s civil servant” are unchallenged, would be lamenting that the running of ministries has been taken over by the ministers “bit by bit”.
If that is so, and I have no reason to doubt, and those ministers so involved take credit for the work done by efficient public servants, then they should  a fortiori accept the fallout for below par performance or abject failure.
A case in point.
Who would have been responsible for informing temporary/substitute workers that their services would no longer be required and from when?
Who would have been responsible for informing Post Office and Customs officers, who have been acting in positions well above their substantive posts for several years, that they would no longer receive the acting allowance and from when?
As Skeete pointed out in his recent conversation with the DAILY NATION, some of the “serious omissions” of the 2013 Budget included that it contained “targets that were vaguely defined  and there is an absence of timetables”.
On the acting allowances, it appeared as if Government belatedly recognized that it had to reduce some current expenditure, but it had not done its homework on the number of people who would be affected or from which departments, and logically, therefore, could not calculate the resulting savings.
The Budget text seems deliberately vague.
We are told that the Budget proposals are aimed  at reducing current expenditure by $285 million  over the 19-month adjustment period in areas such  as “personal emoluments”.
“Government has been careful to design these expenditure adjustments in such a manner as to limit the potential for major job losses in the Public Service, through instructing the line ministries and statutory entities to use retrenchment as a last resort,  while preferring to institute creative programmes  for work hours/days/week reductions among staff,”  the document says.
“The Ministry of the Civil Service and the Ministry of Finance will assume general oversight of the implementation of this aspect of the measures so as to ensure that the targets are achieved while adherence to the preferred approach outlined by Government  is maintained.”
Note there is no specific reference to “personal emoluments”, which is the category where they  are most likely to be located.
And while some can put a face to the ministers responsible for the Ministry of the Civil Service and the Ministry of Finance, members of the special “Fiscal Adjustment Implementation and Monitoring Team” which the Minister of Finance said he has instructed  to be established to oversee the execution of the programme, have not been identified.
So, the angry Customs and Post Office workers, some of whom have had up to $1 000 removed from their “emoluments” without warning, are ignored  and left to wallow in their discontent without a word from either minister.
They are now describing the Government, whose public relations machine persuaded them eight months ago they were in caring, capable hands, as being suddenly uncaring and heartless.
Low income workers, who have had their reverse  tax credit cut in half, may also feel that way.  Having endured the last five years without any real increases, while the rising cost of living eroded their purchasing power, they may also be saying that  about the Government.
Even when it made an effort to help the tourism sector by reducing the VAT on accommodation, it reversed the benefits by imposing a greening levy  on property values which are known to be very high. Since the Budget, the size remains uncertain, with Minister Donville Inniss suggesting the rate announced by the minister was incorrect;  that is, too high.
Perhaps the heartless and uncaring characterization is the consequence of a Government that has not embraced senior members of the civil service sufficiently in formulating policy. This has left it purely concerned about the numbers and not the incidence  of its policies.
• Albert Brandford is an independent political correspondent. Email [email protected]

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