EDITORIAL: Important for Civil Service to remain neutral
IT MAY TURN OUT to be a storm in a teacup, but may also be the beginning of a shift in the ethos of the Civil Service and the role of its permanent officers in partisan politics.
The public indication by Asokore Beckles, general treasurer of the National Union of Public Workers (NUPW), of his intention to seek political office at the next general election, seeks to change the understood neutrality and permanence of the professional bureaucracy.
Off the bat, some will indicate that career public officers and active politics have been around in Barbados from the introduction of ministerial government, yet the “faceless” nature of the Public Service has never been brought to the fore as in this case.
We can only assume that Mr Beckles, a statistician, sees his rights under the Barbados Constitution as superseding any rules, regulations and conventions which govern the terms and conditions relating to the employment of career officers.
Mr Beckles’ political intent is clear for he is already firmly established within the Barbados Labour Party, serving as leader of its League of Young Socialists and also on the hustings. The danger of this approach is that he remains on the job as part of the non-partisan civil service there to advise a Government which he clearly opposes. In a puerile attempt to justify this position, defenders will try to find precedents. Indiscretion cannot be supported.
Yet, we would be stupid to expect career public officers to be apolitical, given the importance of their partisaan support on election day. We also recognise that separation from the political process may be merely a scholarly ideal today, given the active participation of the professional public officers in formulating strategy and policy for the administrations they serve.
These officers must, however, undertake their roles with commitment, skill and efficiency. Elected officials and the public must feel that career officers can be counted on for loyalty and discretion in their duties regardless of political stripes.
What Mr Beckles’ public declaration has done is to turn attention to the NUPW. He was part of a team which swept the polls for the union’s top elected offices. It may be coincidence that this union subsequently took a militant stance on a number of issues against the Government. Its position may have been absolutely necessary, but also leaves right-thinking people to arrive at certain conclusions.
In a changing environment, common sense would suggest that partisan political supporters in the Civil Service say no to politicking in the workplace. Anything may happen after and outside of work, with discretion. The Civil Service is and must always remain a neutral machine of the state, no matter who sits in Bay Street. Asokore Beckles and the NUPW have little choice but to do the right and decent thing.