Region Seven is the latest regional administration to report to the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) that it working with a staff deficit, including a shortage of teachers in the schools.
When the Region Seven administration appeared before the committee yesterday as the examination of regional accounts continued at the National Assembly, the PAC learnt that the region has an employee deficit of 204, which has forced members of staff to act in roles outside of what they were hired to do.
Regional Executive Officer (REO) Roderick Edinboro related that employees have gone “above and beyond” in their duties as teachers, nurses, doctors, and administrative staff, having cause to “double up”. Other gaps are filled by village volunteers, who Edinboro noted lend assistance, especially within schools.
Asked about the issuance of an acting allowance or a responsibility allowance to these persons, Edinboro noted that the concern was recently raised at a forum, and said that the Public Service Ministry has given approval for those persons to receive responsibility allowances.
In regards to what the region has done to address the vacancies, Edinboro said that requests were sent to the Public Service Commission and ministry, and while they are still awaiting the constitution of the Public Service Commission, in the meantime, the region has taken to employing temporary staff.
Regional Education Officer (REdO) Akbar Chindu informed the commission that at the beginning of this school term, 22 additional teachers were designated to the region. In the term preceding this one, he related, temporary staff was brought in. The REdO noted, however, that there are still staff shortages within schools in the Upper-Mazaruni area.
Committee member Nigel Dharamlall, of the PPP/C, yesterday drew the committee’s attention to the Jawalla Primary School, which the committee later learnt has had an acting head teacher since 2016.
It was stated that while an individual applied for the position, there is yet to be a response from the Teaching Service Commission (TSC).
Chindu related that the former headmistress is currently a member of government, and no longer on the teaching staff. However, it was made known by the REO that the vacancy, first advertised in 2016, was recently advertised again. The REdO said that no one had qualified for the position.
Committee Member Juan Edghill, also of the PPP/C, after asking Edinboro and Permanent Secretary (PS) of the Ministry of Communities Emil McGarrell if they were aware of the provisions made within the Representation of the People Act regarding a matter of this nature, advised that they familiarise themselves with the law, and cautioned that the way the matter is being treated can create the illusion of there being an ulterior motive.
“…In this particular case, that is the process that would have needed to be followed, the person continues to enjoy security of tenure—their position, their benefits and everything is held—they go on to higher service, but there is provision for the immediate filling of that vacancy so that the community don’t have to be three years without a head teacher because a person has become a Member of Parliament or a Member of Government or a Minister, in this case,” Edghill stated.
“We have several instances where teachers and other public servants have moved on to… another discretionary position where the vacancy is probably held until you’re ready to go back. You are kept in your position; you don’t lose any years of service or anything…the Representation of the People Act is very clear. So, I would not like to see a repeat of this because it looks bad on the part of administration, as if the position is being held until the person is ready for it again, or we don’t know what to do…I’m not saying that is the case; I don’t believe that is the case, but because of such scenario, the law says what we should do, and I ask that we acquaint ourselves with the law,” he added.
Meanwhile, Minister Volda Lawrence enquired whether officers of the Regional Democratic Councils assist with disseminating information in relation to job vacancies to outlying regions. She noted that it would be one way to ensure maximum participation from residents who want to contribute to building their regions.
Edinboro had indicated that there was no formal system for such, stating instead that from time to time councillors would bring applications to the region, or send information out.
On the matter of healthcare, Regional Health Officer Dr Edward Sagala assured the PAC yesterday that everything is done at the level of the region and the ministry to ensure that expired drugs do not make it into the system.
Dr Sagala, a former Chief Medical Officer, however, acknowledged that there are some challenges that do exist. He explained that at the hospital level, it is easier to monitor drugs because there are pharmacists available, as opposed to at a community health centre in a far-flung area, where that expertise may be missing, and only community healthcare workers are present.
He suggested that there is a need for constant supervision and ongoing training to address the issue, but assured that it is something being worked on.
Asked by Edghill about whether he is aware of complaints by medical personnel about receiving drugs with a short shelf-life, the doctor stated that those drugs are usually flagged and the expected date of expiry indicated.
Extended questioning on the state of employment within the region and matters related to the healthcare delivery system aside, Region 7’s appearance before the PAC yesterday was impressive enough to warrant an acknowledgment from Committee member Pauline Sukhai, of the PPP/C, who commended the members of the panel on what was deemed to be improvement within the region. They were, however, told to take note of the areas that attracted prolonged questioning.
Meanwhile, the examination of the accounts of Region Nine was terminated after the committee found that members could not provide adequate answers to the questions being posed.
Sukhai, concluding that acting REO Kerwin Ward was not prepared for the appearance yesterday, put off the questioning to a later date.
Ward had explained to the PAC that he had not had time to sit down with the substantive REO to discuss the region’s appearance before the PAC, but tried to assure the committee nevertheless, that he felt “somewhat prepared” to address the questions.
Sukhai did not agree, however, and requested that on the next occasion, the former REOs for regions Eight and Nine as well as the former regional engineers be brought, as those in the position have only been recently-appointed.
McGarrell, in defending the REO, stated that officers will never be fully prepared for all angles of questioning that can arise during a hearing, and vouched that the Ministry’s officers would have worked with the Region Nine administration in preparation for yesterday’s hearing.