On the heels of a damning court judgment, about unfair promotions in the Public Service, Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves said, on Monday, that while senior public officers have not been keeping personnel files up to date, he does not want any “friend-friend” promotion among public officers.
He said that even before the judgement was handed down, he had inquired about the functioning of the government’s reform unit and, in the case of teachers, the assessment unit for which monies had been budgeted.
“I want to see a modern system, and if the judge’s comments contribute to this happening, I’m all for it. I’m happy about it. Don’t, for one moment, believe that Comrade Ralph wants anybody to be appointed on the basis of any friend-friend arrangement. Not at all. I don’t have any interest in that. Absolutely not.”
In December, High Court judge Justice Esco Henry ruled that the Public Service Commission has failed to observe principles of fairness, transparency and objectivity in exercising its function under the Public Service regulations in respect of promotion five officers.
The Public Service Union sued the PSC after the officers were overlooked for promotion — some for as many as three decades — even as persons who were less qualified and experienced than they, others whom they had trained, and relatives of high-ranking public officers, some of whom had no relevant training or experience, moved ahead.
Asked on Monday at his first press conference for the year to respond to the judgment, Gonsalves said he has a copy but was yet to read it.
“But I have asked persons in the state administration who have read it — I intend to read it and study it and one comment I get is the preparation for the case, the actual evidential basis by the relevant persons could have been stronger. That’s one.”
Lawyer Joseph “Joe” Delves represented the PSU while Attorney General Jaundy Martin, along with counsel Duane Daniel and Shernell Hadaway, represented the PSC.
Gonsalves further said:
“The second thing is the Public Service Commission — a number of persons don’t accept this — that’s an independent body under the Constitution. As far as I am aware, the persons whose appointment I am directly involved in are not subjected to any of those queries or adverse comments.”
He said that he had been advised that, for years, since before his
government came to office in March 2001, that permanent secretaries do not keep
up to date or at all, the report on the various employees.
Therefore, they are not feeding that information to the PSC, he said.
“I can’t do a permanent secretary’s work for him or her but I have called for a modern system of personnel management which would require a basic compliance with those kinds of rudimentary things.
“It doesn’t mean, however, that because somebody has been — let’s take a maintenance department somewhere in the public service, let’s take for example. You have a man who might be experienced more than others but may not have the qualifications what others may have in bringing to bear leadership with that. A person may be there for a long time, takes a lot of time off, isn’t working as diligently as he should work.”
Gonsalves said the point is that “what should be written up is whether that person who is not so qualified but who is there for a long time, his lack of alleged diligence. Because if that is on the file and you raise a query, well there is something there and [it] gives you an opportunity to respond to it.
“Remember you know, the law courts can’t tell the Public Service Commission that they must appoint John Browne over Mary Jones.”
Gonsalves reiterated that he had not read the judgment, but said he understood it to be saying that the extent of that person’s experience would come up.
He said: “But I have absolutely no doubt that the names of all those persons would have been in the wash for the Public Service Commission and it is for the Public Service Commission to say why they gave a greater weight to somebody with the qualification though not with the same experience, as against somebody with the experience and not the qualifications and an assessment of the performance, the relative performances.”
He said that the permanent secretaries and the other immediate supervisors of state workers “need to document what they are doing, which, I think, is what the court asked for”.
It was pointed out to Gonsalves that he came to office promising to be different and better and the situation would invariable reflect badly on his government.
“No. No. No. I am not — look we have spent resources and put together for public sector reform,” he responded.
The prime minister further said public sector reform requires for persons at all levels in the public service to cooperate with the project.
“And there is a great difficulty. I have told the Teachers’ Union, where it is stark – I’ve said to the teachers Union, I do not like how the appointment processes, I am not talking about the individuals who emerge as principals or who get graduate teacher positions or who get what. Very often, there is not a proper assessment.”
He said that the Estimates has, for a few years now, an assessment unit in place for assessing teachers and their performance.
“I want that. I want the persons, the best person to get promoted. But I cannot, as a matter of law, compel somebody who is a public servant, a permanent secretary to ensure that these reports are kept, they are forwarded. If you have a — maybe the way in which things have been done hitherto, when you had a relatively small public service. That’s why all these things need to be modernised.
“If you have a permanent secretary or a chief education officer in education, you think they know the teachers? No. The people who tend to know them are the senior education officers who interact with them on an on-going basis. And that’s why we’ve put – I have asked for assessments to be done with objective criteria for teachers.
“But, the criteria having been established, and persons are assessed in relation to them, if you want to question the criteria how they are, that’s a different story, but you should have those criteria established and followed.”
“… Some who complain, it would be a good thing if the data exist in the interest of transparency for all those things to be published.”
It was noted that outside of that, one couldn’t make any conclusions — because the date is non-existent.
The prime minister said:
“The point is this, they will have data but they are not going to have all the data that you require.”
He said that one of the most difficult things to get public servants to do is to write about other public servants.
“So, somebody who is senior to you, you have been insubordinate, you have done so and so, they will grumble and complain, the senior person may grumble and complain, may call you and talk to you, but they would not put pen to paper. I can stay here and compel them to put pen to paper?”