The Public Service Commission (PSC) would have good reason why it denied a public servant study leave to take up a scholarship in an area that the government of St. Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) has identified as a priority.
Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves also noted at a press conference this week that the public servant, Phillip Jackson, is an open critic of the government, adding that this is no reason to “positively discriminate” in his favour.
The Gonsalves government is being accused of victimising Jackson politically after it did not approve his study leave to take up a scholarship to pursue a doctorate (PhD) in economic development policy at the University of the West Indies (UWI).
One of the basis on which the scholarship was awarded is that the area of study is deemed to be a “priority research area” by the government of SVG.
The scholarship is a UWI-12+1 Scholarship and one is available to applicants from each of the countries of Anguilla, Antigua & Barbuda, Bahamas, Belize, Bermuda, British Virgin Island, Cayman Islands, Dominica, Grenada, Montserrat, St Kitts and Nevis and SVG.
iWitness News understands that the PSC endorsed Jackson’s scholarship application through a letter to UWI in 2014, in which it said that Jackson’s research proposal fits into the government’s priority.
Asked to respond to the allegation of political victimisation of Jackson, Gonsalves told a media briefing this week that the PSC decides who gets study leave.
He said that not everyone who applies for study leave gets study leave.
“In fact, if every single person who applies for study leave gets study leave, there will be a breakdown of the public service,” he said, adding, “But indeed to say this, that there are very few persons who get study leave to go to do a PhD face-to-face.
Gonsalves said that as he understands it, the PhD is for a period of three years “and what is requested, I have been advised, is study leave with pay”.
He said the normal way when study leave is given for that period is full pay is given in the first year and half pay in the second and third year.
Gonsalves said that neither he, as Prime Minister, nor any minister gets involved in the issue of granting or denying study leave, but added that he happens to know that Jackson had applied for study leave.
“He didn’t come to me, but I heard about it. Incidentally, not through the state administration, but you know it is a small place, people — and I didn’t raise it with anybody either to grant or deny.
“Sooner that people realise how I function — that is not in my domain. That is not in my domain. And those who have the authority to grant or withhold study leave, the independent bodies, those are the one you should ask those questions to — if they choose to answer,” Gonsalves said.
“But, I don’t understand that because somebody is opposed to the government — because Phillip Jackson has made no bones that he is opposed to the government, he traduces the government all the time on social media. He calls in on the radio station and traduces the government. The question must be asked as to whether such conduct is within the four walls of the public service regulations.”
Gonsalves, however, said that he does not deal with the disciplining of public servants.
He said that the fact that someone is opposed to the government should not be a consideration for the PSC to grant study leave out of fear that they would be accused of political victimisation.
“That is an absurd reasoning which no reasonable person can countenance,” he told reporters.
“I believe that the Public Service Commission, in its determination, would have good reason why it acted in the absence of any political consideration,” Gonsalves said.