Academic and constitutional lawyer Harold Lutchman has said that the conflict of interest created when union leader Patrick Yarde was appointed as acting head of the Public Service Commission (PSC) shows that a need exists for discussion and possible amendment to the constitutional requirement for membership to the body.
Lutchman, who chaired the Commission of Inquiry (CoI) into Guyana’s public service, noted that since Yarde is the head of the Guyana Public Service Union (GPSU), he should have recused himself from the chairmanship of the PSC.
“The Public Service Commission holds the powers to appoint, promote and discipline. The question of possible bias will always be raised if those representing the workers are those arbitrating their cases,” Lutchman said. He likened the situation to a court case in which the lawyer for one side is also the judge.
He reminded Stabroek News that one of the recommendations made by the CoI was that the PSC at all times be constituted with persons who can exercise independent judgement without the influence of political and other external or extraneous considerations.
On May 4, Yarde was sworn in by President David Granger as the acting Chairman of the PSC. This followed the president’s decision to suspend the PSC Chairman Carvil Duncan while he had matters pending in court. Duncan, has since challenged the decision in court and the case is pending.
A statement from the Ministry of the Presidency noted that Yarde’s appointment automatically makes him an ex-officio member of the Judicial Service Commission (JSC), the Police Service Commission and the Guyana Defence Force Commission’s Board. He has since been sworn in as a member of the JSC.
He has publicly stated that he ascended to the position of PSC chair through a vote of the other commission members. However, several commentators remain uncomfortable and have publicly called for a review of his appointment.
Jermaine Hermanstyne, a member of the Change Team that had campaigned in the recent contentious GPSU election against Yarde, has publicly urged President Granger to re-examine his appointment and understand its implications for public servants.
“The GPSU [is] supposed to protect the interests and the rights of workers when it is being abused and the Chairman of the Public Service Commission, that person has the authority to demote, promote, fire and hire. Now, how is it that you as an individual can be representing people and on the same hand, the same person that you’re supposed to be representing, you have the authority to dismiss them, hire them, promote them or demote them; this in itself is a major conflict of interest,” Hermanstyne told Stabroek News last month.
Supporters of Yarde, however, maintain that his appointment is in keeping with constitutional requirements.
Yarde’s membership on the PSC, which made him eligible for chairmanship, came through the application of Article 200 (1) (b) of the constitution. This article directs that two of the five members of the commission shall be appointed by the President after he has consulted such bodies as appear to him to represent public officers or classes of public officers.
The provision does not state that these individuals should be members or executives of the representing bodies (unions); it however does not prohibit them from being so. They only prohibition is that members of the PSC should not be members of the public Service.