‘The entrenchment of mediocrity’

Dear Editor,

One always suspected that there was more than one ‘Juan’ Edghill. A graphic display of this was observed on Tuesday evening (April 24) on NCN, when party loyalist (as distinct from the Bishop), to the surprise even of colleague participants, claimed that 90% of the current establishment of the Office of the President was there when this administration took over – that is 20 years ago. The discussion was clearly designed to misinform the public of the process of recruitment, status, and value, of contracted employees, not necessarily because the respective positions of the participants were founded in facts, but moreso were representative of superficialities inspired by emotional reactions to legitimate critiques of the deconstruction of the public service over the last several years.

Unfortunately their misapprehension of issues surrounding contracted employees had been fuelled by the equally emotional behaviour of identified professionals in the service (who, up till now, one assumed, knew better) – thus inviting a re-evaluation of the latter’s capacity for objective analysis.

Nevertheless one is disposed to forgive these individuals, on the suspicion that they may not have studied carefully enough the estimates finally proposed for their respective agencies, or else, they must wonder how the increase in the costs of salaries for 2012 (for established and contracted categories) turned out to be multiples of the 8% across-the-board increase in 2011. The following Table provides one example.

Figures: G$’000. Source: Ministry of Finance (2012)

It would appear that the Minister responsible for Public Service may not have realised that the following numbers relating to that ministry reflect more or less, the obverse of the same across-the-board increase.

Figures: G$’000. Source: Ministry of Finance (2012)

Apart from the foregoing, a careful examination of the staffing and related salaries costs as recorded in the 2012 National Estimates, does not necessarily reveal the various sub-categories of contracted employees. It is not surprising therefore that, with the best will in the world, all the parties involved are confused about the issue.

First, to rewind to loyalist Mr Edghill, and invite him to account for the following positions in the Office of the President being graded 00 vis-à-vis the PSC salary structure of Grades GS 1-14:

Community Development Officer

Administrative Clerk

Director, Joint Intelligence Coordinating Committee

Head, Presidential Guard

Administrative Secretary

Cabinet Monitoring Officer

Mail Despatch Officer

Cabinet Administrative Officer

Chief Parliamentary Officer

(The above are distinct from the corps of advisors.)

One obvious question is how are these jobs evaluated?  Nor is there any indication of the number of incumbents of each of the positions. But, at least it could have been verified by the discussants of Tuesday, April 24, 2012 on NCN whether the above list of contractors were among the 90% found in the woodwork of the aforementioned structure 20 years ago.

Other sub-categories of contracted employees include the following:

a)  A significant proportion of retirees in all grades, some at reduced salaries.

b)  Those recruited into regular established positions at regular rates, and required to renew their contracts annually.

c)  Those recruited into regular established positions at personally negotiated rates. Thus, for example the value of an Accountant can vary amongst individual employers.

d)  Those recruited into positions not identified in the establishment at personally negotiated rates.

An outstanding example is the position of Regional Executive Officer, which has never been included in the Estimates, unlike the top position of Permanent Secretary (GS 14) to which appointment is preponderantly on contract.

e)  Those jobs that have emerged from the introduction in recent years of new technologies and methodologies, particularly in such areas as health and agriculture. Rather than being formally evaluated to facilitate consistent rates of pay, they have been arbitrarily forced into a salary grade structure established in the last century. (The last comprehensive job evaluation exercise was undertaken in the early ’90s).

The result would have been both the over/under-valuation of jobs encumbered by contracted employees.

Of course the list is not exhaustive. Completely below the radar is the plethora of donor-funded project coordinating and execution units, whose employees do less onerous work for rather generous remuneration. One verifiable example is of the incumbent of her first job ever – as Secretary – being officially titled ‘Office Manager,’ and starting her working career at a sum much superior to what any public service Accountant was being paid at the time.  It should be noted that none of the above are eligible for pension benefits. Instead they are rewarded with gratuity payable every six months at the rate of 22.5% of monthly salary (basically appearing to double their salaries within approximately 2.5 years), reinforced of course by annual across-the-board increases; which in turn confirms that there is no overarching mechanism in place for evaluating performance, a dysfunction that must surely be an incentive for mediocrity. By extension therefore the promotion process, however articulated, is essentially honoured in the breach. Inherently this conclusive bypass of the constitutional public service Commission’s procedures, while making it irrelevant, hardly provides assurance of quality performance for the money paid by the institution or, on other hand, of identifiable career prospects for the individual.What emerges is a very disaggregated series of compensation regimes throughout the public service, with the evidence suggesting the absence of a structured regulatory mechanism, and of course a comprehensive database that can lend to effective analysis of relativities, irregularities and inequitabilities.  It is all a frail and fragile arrangement (certainly not a system) that in no way speaks to the principle and practice of human resources development, which must be the foundation of the other forms of development being promoted. In the most fundamental way the absence of a suitably designed and effectively implemented human resources management system and development plan, leaves nothing else but the entrenchment, nay, the celebration of mediocrity.

One possible reason for the inability to upgrade performance may be the relative youth and inexperience of the players placed at various levels, going through their individual learning curves, then hardly staying the course long enough to be coaches and mentors to future replacements.

Yours faithfully,
E B John

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