Wednesday, April 17, 2024

CASWELL FRANKLYN: When public servants take a stand


Share post:

From all appearances and for all practical purposes, the present Democratic Labour Party (DLP) administration, like all past DLP administrations, has set itself up as the enemy of traditional public service employment.

    I am referring here to the Public Service that was established by, and enshrined in, chapter 8 of the Barbados Constitution. Even though non-technical persons consider employees of statutory boards to be public officers, with the exception of the staff of the National Insurance Office, they are not.

The first civil service commission was set up in England in 1855 to be responsible for the recruitment, promotion and discipline of civil servants. Its main mission was to create a civil service that was independent and free from political control. The resulting organisation was supposed to be apolitical and would faithfully serve whichever party that happened to be in government.

The Public Service, that was established by our 1966 constitution, was designed to function along the same lines as the British. But our local politicians found a way to circumvent the independence of the Public Service by amending the Constitution and by establishing a host of statutory corporations to carry out what are essentially public service functions.

The major difference between the two models is that at statutory boards, politicians have ultimate control and unfettered access to government funds, and they have control the over the recruitment process, promotion and dismissal of workers. Statutory board employment is therefore only a bastardised version of what obtains in the traditional Public Service.

Little evidence

Whenever a statutory board is formed or a public service department is converted to be a board, the spin is always that the resulting organisation would improve efficiency. So far, there is little to no evidence, except in the case of the National Insurance Scheme (NIS), that statutory boards produce better results.

NIS is a statutory board that is managed, on a daily basis, by public officers, and it has been efficient for most of its existence. Of late, its reputation has taken a battering, which has nothing to do with its model, but with political intrusion into its recruitment process. But I digress. That is a topic for another time.

Tampering with and diluting the independence and terms and conditions of the Public Service did not just start. But it is significant that the major assaults on the Public Service and its employees always seem to coincide with the DLP holding the reins of government. As if the DLP has set out on a mission to cripple the constitutionally protected public service and replace it with a number of statutory ministerial playthings.

The first and most significant intrusion that started the dismantling of the Public Service was the 1974 amendments to the Constitution. Those amendments saw the Prime Minister taking unprecedented power to appoint temporary officers.

Also, he was given the right to be consulted on the appointment of permanent secretaries, heads of departments and their deputies, which is now misinterpreted to mean that the PM decides who would be appointed to those posts. Since most people start their careers in the Public Service as temporary officers, the PM would now be able to put his people in place for appointment, by the Public Service Commission, when that time came. Those amendments effectively destroyed any semblance of an independent, politically neutral public service.

The DLP did not achieve absolute domination with the 1974 amendments to the Constitution. The politicians now effectively have control of the recruitment but they lack the ability to remove persons, from the Public Service, who do not find their favour.

This political inconvenience is being remedied by hiving off strategic segments of the Public Service and converting them into statutory boards, where a minister of government can sit in the background and manipulate, through his board, who would be hired, promoted or fired.

The Customs and Excise Department now finds itself in the sights of the political class, but unlike other workers that have been unceremoniously uprooted from their public service jobs, Customs employees have drawn a line in the sand and said to government: Thus far and no further.

Caswell Franklyn is the general secretary of Unity Workers Union and a social commentator. Email


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Related articles

WCPL start date announced

Trinidad and Tobago will be hosting the 2024 Massy Women Caribbean Premier League (WCPL) from August 21 to...

Oistins to get $5m spruce up

The refurbishment work in Oistins should be completed by the end of May. This assurance was given by the...

Oistins’ Magistrates’ Court closed early

The Oistins’ Magistrates’ Court has been closed after a bed bug was found in a chair inside the...

BUT action call

President of the Barbados Union of Teachers (BUT) Rudy Lovell wants Government to move urgently to address some...