Hats off to Public Servants


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Category: Trinidad Politics Date: 20 Jan 02

It must be a sobering thought to the critic of the Public Service that the frequency of change of political Governments that has characterised Italy in the post-war period had not impaired the underlying growth forces in that economy and it was the Public Service which kept that ship of State together.


The lecture by the late Frank Rampersad, economist, former PS in the Ministry of Finance, speaking on July 28, 1998 to public service management trainees echoes with extraordinary prescience today.


The 18/18 tie or not, Parliament or not, Speaker or not, unpaid Ministers or not, an absence of an Opposition Leader or not, tough times ahead or not, the country is running isn’t it? I asked anxiously of two top senior civil servants this week echoing the questions on many citizens minds.

Yes and no.

The following is an edited version of interviews with two senior civil servants who spoke on the condition of remaining anonymous.


Senior Civil Servant 1:

“The very bureaucracy that is so often criticised is what protects us from chaos in these politically troubled times.

“The roles of each Ministry, department, and each officer is clearly defined. All members of the 65,000 Public Service, including the 35,000 civil service officers, 15,000 teachers, the 10,000 members of the protective services-prisons, fire, police, the judicial and legal service - the state counsels, and solicitors in the ministry of Legal Affairs, are on duty.

“Our Customs, Immigration nurses, doctors, Inland Revenue, air traffic controllers, met officers without whom the planes can’t take off, are continuing to provide essential services which allow the country to run.

“We all serve the public in the context of legislation, rules and fixed policy. Law and order is in place. The Police Commissioner is working within the confines of clearly defined law, and anyone in breach of that will have to take the consequences of that.

“Public servants recognise that a Government is in place, and it’s business as usual. We continue to take directives from Cabinet.”


Senior Civil Servant 2:

“Between the day of the election on December 10 to 24 of December when the new Prime Minister was sworn in, the country was run, from solid waste disposal, to mail delivery to health so seamlessly, the public was not even aware of the systems, procedures, and bureaucracy it takes to do it. This did not happen by chance.

“Senior Permanent Secretaries (PS’s) were prepared weeks before the elections with three plans: Plan A: Same Government. Plan B: New Government, and Plan C: A coalition Government.

“With plan B in hand, the PS’s met with Prime Minister Manning, the then Leader of the Opposition for transition training in early December, a week before the election with the then Prime Minister Panday’s knowledge and approval.

“They didn’t know the names of Ministers, but were told of how many Ministries were to be created and what they were to be named. We worked round the clock to ensure that the minute the new Ministers walked into Whitehall, they had offices and Permanent Secretaries assigned to them. I’m very proud of the Public Service and especially the Permanent Secretaries. We are consummate professionals, politically sensitive, not partisan.”


Senior Civil Servant 1:

“Nothing can replace a stable Government. Without that we are faced with severe limitations. We can only go on as long as funding holds out. The proposed measures of giving public servants one months salary in advance and the $1000 pensions will mean approved financial allocations will run out long before September, the end of the fiscal year.

“Parliament not convening will mean no new legislation will be enacted, no budgetary reallocations can take place, so even those in new Ministries will be paid out of the pockets of the old ones. There are budgetary allocations for 16 ministries and now we have 24.

“While one can understand that various administrations have their own ideas as to how to run the country, public officers lives, especially those who are shifted around ministries are disrupted, their assignments uncertain and the PSA is worried if they will get paid at all.

“Sudden change in policy, however beneficial it may initially appear to be, is disruptive and often counterproductive. One example is the negotiations over the arrears of increments owed to public servants amounting to millions of dollars. It will have to be revisited by a new Ministerial committee and the delay could create resentment with public officers and unions.

“Clearly, something has to be done in getting the parliament convened and if both parties say they have the interests of the country at heart they should set aside personal agendas and address the bigger issue of the national interest.

“We would be operating in a very incomplete system without a Parliament.

“In a situation where the Presidents term ends in March to a non-functioning Parliament, and where the money will run out, we have no choice but to go back to the polls or fragment into bits. In the meantime, hats off, deep bow, to the Public Service for providing us with interim stability.”


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All Articles Copyright Ira Mathur