What the CoI had to say

In the fullness of time one expects that the recently completed Report of the Commission of Inquiry into the Public Service of Guyana will become the subject of vigorous public discourse and that such discourse will take account of, among other things, which of its recommendations are accepted by the President and the manner and speed with which those accepted recommendations are implemented.

Some sections of the report, particularly those that appear to go to the heart of real public service reform, are sufficiently eye-catching in their significance as to warrant some measure of focused editorial attention and that notwithstanding, what one is compelled to concede is the particular importance of the nexus between the completion of the report and the commencement of public service wages and salaries talks between the union representing public servants and the Government of Guyana.

For reasons that have to do with the longer-term well-being of the public service, there is a compelling argument to be made for a substantive comment, even at this early stage, on the CoI’s submission on the matter of the state of the Public Service Commission (PSC) and its suitability in its present state to effectively serve as the structural bedrock of the public service.

To the credit of the CoI is its apparent recognition of the fact that the effective makeover of the public service depends to an overwhelming extent on the renovation of the structure upon which it stands. That is why, we believe, its pronouncements on the PSC have been blunt, unequivocal and repetitive. When all is said and done the message that derives from what the CoI has to say about the PSC is that it is not anywhere near being adequately equipped to discharge its responsibilities, which are, “to make appointments to public offices and to remove and to exercise disciplinary control over persons holding such office.” It is a good thing that it makes clear its belief in that regard since, in the final analysis, it is the recognition or otherwise and acceptance by those in authority of that truism upon which real public service reform will stand or fall. In other words, to fail to accept what the CoI has to say in this regard is pretty much the same as indulging in an exercise in overwhelming self-delusion in the matter of public service reform.

In the process of its pronouncements on the  qualitative condition of the PSC the CoI raises searching questions as to whether the composition of the PSC’s membership “was conducive to the proper performance of its assigned duties.” Indeed, the report declares, correctly and without the slightest ambiguity that “it has always been a matter of concern as to whether the PSC is composed of the best collection of persons qualified to successfully and meaningfully give effect to the role assigned to it in the Constitution.” Once you had been present at its hearings and had listened to its exchanges with members of the PSC, you would have been left in no doubt about the source from which that particular view was drawn.

Having heard, too, from witnesses at the hearings, tales of ineptitude, departure from procedure and seeming bias in the execution of its duties, the CoI, it appears, felt compelled to make the point that the PSC along with the (Judicial, Police and Teaching) Service Commissions had all come under “pressure and questioning regarding their composition, role, method of appointment, functions and relationship with politicians and political influence.” For good measure the CoI declares that relations among members of the PSC were not only “not as cohesive, cordial, and productive of positive results as would be expected of a professional group” but that the condition was “in part, the result of limitations of knowledge, understanding and training in regard to the proper role and status required of members…”

Except we are thoroughly mistaken, what the CoI has done is to openly question the competence of the PSC to perform its functions fairly and efficiently. It does so profoundly and repeatedly as if it is mindful that its point about the unsuitability of the PSC (as presently constituted and given the manner in which it presently functions) to play any meaningful role in real public service reform not be either overlooked or glossed over in its findings.

Not only does it make the point that the PSC has long been prisoner of the country’s broader toxic political culture and the attendant partisan operational behaviour of state institutions, it also alludes to a process (if it can indeed be so described) for selecting commissioners that takes little if any account of such qualities and qualifications as might serve the appointees well in the execution of their jobs.

It is, presumably, against the backdrop of all that it would have heard during the hearings and based, more likely than not, on the prior experiences of the individual commissioners comprising the CoI that the report has tendered a recommendation that “the PSC should at all times be constituted with suitably qualified and competent persons of unquestioned integrity who would strive to be fair and impartial in the execution of their duty in consonance with the constitutional prescription that they exercise independent judgement and not be influenced by political and other external or extraneous consideration.”

It is here, of course, that the rubber hits the road. The report’s wish for a PSC that comprises “suitably qualified and competent persons of unquestionable integrity who would strive to be fair and impartial in the execution of their duty,” requires nothing less than the significant remodelling of a political culture which favours divisiveness and partiality over fairness and impartiality. Indeed, even as it recognizes “dialogue and agreement on procedures” as, perhaps, mechanisms for creating a way forward in the creation of a credible PSC (the report also makes reference to constitutional change) the report is quick to add those virtues “are generally noticed by their absence, or are infrequent or irregular in practice in Guyana.”

In the final analysis, while the Guyana Public Service CoI, makes clear, on the one hand, the critical role which the PSC has to play in real and meaningful public service reform it makes the point, simultaneously, that the PSC itself is in need of a comprehensive makeover before it can become a reliable and effective instrument for driving a reformed public service. The really telling point, however, reposes in the COI’s altogether valid contention that qualitative change at the level of the PSC and by extension the evolution of an improved public service can only derive from the creation of that collective will to remove partisan political interests from the process. It is this demon that we have had to confront in so many ways and which we have repeatedly and miserably failed to surmount. However, in our search for a reformed public service we must confront it again.

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