Minister’s statement about fraud raises wider question of Public Service recruitment process

Dear Editor,

 ‘I will not compromise on the issue of accountability within the public health sector.’

The foregoing words were quoted in Stabroek News of Wednesday 26th June, 2018 while reporting on the Minister of Public Health, Volda Lawrence’s meeting with ‘Senior’ staff of the Ministry the day before. It would appear that she had cause to be sufficiently agitated about ongoing ‘fraud’ as to involve the police and auditors in an investigation.

One must wonder how efficacious was the warning notice if indeed there were pranksters (or fraudsters) amongst those addressed.

That this particular situation has made the headlines is scarcely reason to believe it to be exceptional across the spectrum of public financial management.

It nevertheless points to the more fundamental issue of character and how such an attitude should be evaluated in circumstances of the responsibility assigned to so many public servants.

It raises the wider question of the recruitment process in the Public Service, and whether there is an objective formality that is consistently applied, resulting in recommendations that can be relied upon by the relevant decision-makers, assuming they themselves are not involved in the initial stages.

Much like the Minister, too many serving (senior) employees are nouvelles arriveés. In other words they are novices to a regime of management that demands a level of discipline to which they were unaccustomed before being generously, if not ingenuously, contracted.

One assumes that each Ministry or other Public Service Agency has developed a Mission Statement. One assumes that the interviewing stage of the recruitment process is principled and professionally conducted, with results being appropriately scored; as distinct from any automatic assumption that the candidate would have been some influential’s choice.

One assumes that the interview is guided by a relevant job description, with which selected trained panelists are familiar.

Having passed (fair to cloudy) the final examination, one assumes that there is a properly coordinated induction programme, which would expose the probationer to further sensible evaluation, at the end of which both team and individual should inform their conclusions to the ranking decision-making employer.

For those who think that such a process is unnecessarily laborious, it would be surprising how many labour pains such focused attention could save in the later stages of employment.

For the basic tenet is not just to fill a vacancy but to recruit potential for development.

Inherent in the Public Service however, is a development process that cumulates into a contradiction, and that is with particular reference to what in any organisation anywhere is an activity that would be regarded as pivotal. Unlike organisations anywhere, including Regional Public Service counterparts, ours still cling to the mundanity Personnel Management, so long overtaken by the more dynamic Human Resources Management.

The former’s agents’ growth path – principally by years of service – is as follows:

             Clerk

             Personnel Officer I

             Personnel Officer II

             Senior Personnel Officer

             Principal Personnel Officer

             Chief Personnel Officer

It is as if you can relate age to position. What is hardly related is qualification to position; or performance evaluation results (if any) to promotion.

This sterile upward progression does not necessarily indicate the level of sapiential authority as would apply in non-public service organisations. So that the incumbents would hardly be expected to advise a new coming Minister about observed individual/departmental strengths and weaknesses. In any case such a form of communication would hardly be expected by that Minister.

So that when weak performance systems (if any) cannot contribute to identifying weaknesses in character then the ensuing level of misbehaviour becomes the norm. What resonates is a loud flatulence.

One is still left with the cloudy decision of how many of the so far unidentified miscreants in the Ministry of Public Health will be appropriately disciplined, if the mis-accountability alleged is as widespread as portends.

Yours faithfully,

Earl John

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