PPP/C parliamentarian Anil Nandlall yesterday released a recent Cabinet procurement document, which lists former Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Health Edward Persico as the Secretary to the Cabinet and he questioned why the appointment was not made public.
Nandlall pointed out that Persico’s name appeared on the October 24, 2017 document just days after Minister of State Joseph Harmon disagreed that his holding the office of Secretary to the Cabinet while being both the minister and a Member of Parliament (MP) was not a violation of the Constitution, which says the office holder shall be a civil servant.
Nandlall posted a photograph of the section of the document where Persico’s name was listed as well as a number of questions. This newspaper was unable to reach Harmon for a comment. However, Stabroek News was reliably informed that Persico has attended Cabinet meetings since government took office in 2015. Persico, it was explained, was the person who did the actual work, while Harmon was the “figurehead.”
“Did you know that Mr Joseph Harmon was relieved of his Constitutional post of Secretary of the Cabinet? When did this occur and why? Is it because of the Constitutional query raised by Dr Roger Luncheon recently? Is this not information to which the public is entitled? Why was this not disclosed at the post Cabinet press briefings? What are the terms & conditions of services and remuneration package of the new holder of the Office? Why the absolute secrecy about this appointment?” Nandlall asked.
Harmon had identified himself as the Secretary to the Cabinet during a post-Cabinet press briefing last month but this revelation did not go down well with former Cabinet Secretary Dr. Roger Luncheon, who held the post during successive PPP/C administrations.
Luncheon, in a letter published in the Stabroek News on October 11, had suggested that it was improper for Harmon to hold that position as well as political posts.
Luncheon cited similar concerns over Harmon’s holding of the office of Secretary to the Defence Board.
“I raise these two concerns because during my tenure as both the Secretary to the Cabinet and Secretary to the Defence Board, between 1992 and 2013, I, at no time, had reason to believe that as a Minister and Member of Parliament, I could still act in these two posts,” he wrote.
Luncheon noted that Article 117 (1) of the Constitution states, “There shall be a Secretary to the Cabinet whose office shall be a public office.”
Further, he noted that the Defence Act also makes provision for the Secretary to the Defence Board to also be a public officer.
As a result, Luncheon said President David Granger may be called upon to explain the “apparent breach” of the constitution, in light of Harmon also being a minister and parliamentarian.
Under the PPP/C, Luncheon would regularly resign during the run up to general elections in order to go out on the campaign trail without violating public service rules. Towards the end of the PPP/C’s time in office, some Permanent Secretaries ventured out on the campaign trail without resigning, thereby drawing criticism.
Harmon subsequently defended himself and made it clear that there is no breach of the Constitution.
“I want to know if Dr. Luncheon just woke up… After two years he recognise that? Dr. Luncheon is a medical doctor. He is not a constitutional judge and I read what he said,” Harmon told reporters shortly after delivering the feature address at an observance for the International Day for Disaster Reduction on October 13.
“I don’t appoint myself and I am sure that the government has taken note of what needs to be done to this country and therefore we will not be stymied by what Dr. Luncheon and the entire PPP are trying to do now… every single item, every single day, they are trying to raise up something,” he said.
Harmon added that PPP/C MP Clement Rohee had raised the same issue in the National Assembly last year during the budget debate and he responded to him. “I believe that was a fulsome answer, which was given,” he said.