A bill that will allow for the appointment of a Head of the Public Service among other things, was successfully passed at the most recent sitting of Parliament.
The Public Service Management Bill was tabled by Minister of the Public Service, Frederick Stephenson on September 30 and passed by lawmakers with little debate.
“The government finds it convenient to enact framework legislation providing for the management of the public service. The provisions for the management of the public service are based on the recommendations contained in the final policy framework of the St Vincent and the Grenadines Public Service Act,” Stephenson said in his presentation of the bill.
Included in the final report are several recommendations for the general service legislation, and the legislation which was passed last week serves to formally appoint the head of the public service, establish a committee of permanent secretaries and establish a personnel department.
“The existing department is called the Service Commission Department. However, this existing department does not only operate as a secretariat for the Public Service Commission,” the minister said.
Stephenson also expressed belief that “with the passing of this very important piece of legislation, that we would have better civil service here in St Vincent and the Grenadines, where persons understand their role, their functions, their duties, and so that as they perform them, the role and the functions of the government of St Vincent and the Grenadines would better be carried out…”
The Public Service currently operates in accordance with Public Service Orders.
Minister of Finance Camillo Gonsalves, in his contribution to the debate said that there was always talk about the legal status of the Public Service Orders, which was further brought into question by a recent court case; the Public Service Union vs the Ministry of National Security.
The case involved an individual who was stationed originally in the Grenadines who was transferred to the mainland, and who said the transfer was improper, causing him an increased level of hardship.
“One of the arguments raised was look, the Civil Service Orders allow us to transfer any civil servant from here to there and that argument did not win the day in the case and it wasn’t clear in the case — well the judge in the case said ‘look, these Civil Service Orders; they’re not statutes…they’re not laws’,” Gonsalves explained. “These are sort of internal documents that you have, internal rules for the management of the way the civil service works and it wasn’t clear in the judgement when the learned Judge said that, whether that was central to her decision or whether it’s what the lawyers call ‘obiter dictum’, it was an opinion that was expressed but not critical to the decision making of the case…”
The judgement of this particular case, according to Gonsalves, created a moment of uncertainty as to the state of the Civil Service Orders and whether the judgement had weakened their status within the public service.
The finance minister therefore explained that the Public Service Management Bill was essentially about “bringing the civil service orders from uncertain status to the status where they have regulatory grounding”.
“We hope, and as the law provides, that as we go, we all update and modernise those Civil Service Orders and they will have the proper legislative force,” Gonsalves said.