June 22, 2018
Take another look, Mr Prime Minister

Things should not get to the stage where the head of Government, the Prime Minister, has to get involved in disciplinary matters related to the performance of very junior employees of the State.

The fact that Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves has to ask members of the public to make reports directly to his office on the non-performance of public officers speaks not only to dereliction of duty on the part of these employees but also to a breakdown in supervision and management at various levels of the public service.

Last week, at a press conference which was broadcast live on radio and the Internet, the Prime Minister spoke about reports he has been receiving that some public officers have not been providing members of the public with the quality service expected of them.

Some of the shortcomings mentioned by the Prime Minister include absenteeism, poor punctuality, non performance and under performance; fairly routine human resource issues.

From the Prime Minister’s description of the things that are going wrong, it means that supervisors, heads of departments, permanent secretaries and the various ministers have all been sleeping on the job.

It does not escape us that the Prime Minister is being the ultimate politician here, sending a clear message to the public that the substandard service that they may be receiving is not his fault. That aside, there are far too many public servants who would long be out of a job had they been employed elsewhere. The public service has traditionally been regarded as a preferred employer because one could almost always be assured of remaining employed until retirement because of the complexity involved in having someone dismissed.

The Prime Minister’s call also opens the door to false reporting, should a member of the public have a grouse, unrelated to on-the-job performance, with a public servant.

Rather than open the gates for everyone who feels aggrieved to flood his office with calls, the Prime Minister should be directing his attention to the permanent secretaries and heads of departments who refuse to write letters documenting the shortcomings of delinquent workers; and to the practice in the public service of transferring or even promoting problematic public servants, rather than dealing with the root cause of problems. There is also the issue of political appointees within the public service who feel untouchable and in many cases let their supervisors know who “put them in the job”.

The problem Mr Prime Minister is systemic and far more complex than weeding out negligent junior employees. The issue calls for the executive to look inward at the hiring, promotion and appointment procedures and the performance of those who manage the public service.