We mashing up the Civil Service
November 29, 2019
We mashing up the Civil Service

The role of the civil servant is to serve the Government of the day and the people of the country. Civil servants are supposed to serve and serve well, irrespective of which party forms Government.

Their loyalty is to the Government and they are obligated by law to implement the policies of whichever political party forms Government.

And in pursuance of these ideals, the Civil Service Orders of the Government of St Vincent and the Grenadines expressly forbid civil servants to participate actively on behalf of any party or candidate in an election. They are also expressly forbidden to act as agents, sub-agents or canvassers at elections of this nature.

When civil servants, particularly those in the senior ranks of the service, choose to mount a political stage or hold office in the hierarchy of a political party, it is a demonstration of that officer’s bias. If the political party of the civil servant’s choice is in opposition, is that civil servant saying they oppose the policies of their employer and are they actively working to secure a victory for their party at the next polls? And if, as is more commonly the case, the civil servant holds high office in the ruling party, are they saying that in carrying out their duties, they favour members of the ruling party and discriminate against opposition supporters? Are they making a public statement about what will be their attitude to the incoming administration should the Opposition form government?

An Act (No. 24) was passed in 2005 to repeal the Public Officers (Conditions of Employment) Act. It is said that the passage of this Act makes the Civil Service a less restrictive regime and allows civil servants more freedoms to express themselves politically than formerly was the case.

How this Act interplays with the Civil Service Orders is open for debate, but it cannot be that it is now proper for civil servants, especially those in senior positions, to openly work on behalf of their respective political parties.

The public administration system we inherited from the British was tried, tested, developed and tweaked over the centuries for good reason. Politicians elected to Government must have no reason to question the loyalty of those around them and the people of the country must feel comfortable that the public servants will serve all of the people.

Of course, we all have the right of association and freedom of speech as guaranteed by the Constitution of St Vincent and the Grenadines. But how do we achieve a happy medium in the interest of the country? We must draw the line somewhere. There is a difference between attending a political rally in party colours and mounting a political platform. There is a difference between supporting a political party and being a member of the party’s leadership.

As the election season warms up, party members and supporters employed by the Government will begin to wear their party symbols and paraphernalia openly, while in the service of the Government.

Will a reprimand from a senior officer be perceived as a rejection of the party that the junior officer is signalling that he or she supports? This is especially the case when that senior officer has made his or her allegiance clear. Open partisanship by public servants rips apart the fabric which holds the government together and leaves it a weakened, fragmented shadow of what the Government service is supposed to be.