Dilemma of political and contract workers

Dear Editor,
The hiring of political advisors, political operatives, and contract workers when a new Government assumes office is a normal and customary practice, as is illustrated by the ‘transition’ between the outgoing administration of President Donald Trump and the incoming administration of President-elect Joe Biden.
In Guyana, however, this transition, including the hiring of workers, has become an area of contention which has been precipitated by the GPSU (Guyana Public Service Union) and the APNU+AFC (A Partnership for National Unity and Alliance for Change) political parties (which will henceforth be referred to as PNCR).
These entities had contended, during the PPP/C administration (pre-2015) that the system of appointment of political appointees, advisors, and contact workers also undermined the role of the Public Service Commission (PSC), whose responsibility is to hire, promote, examine work conditions of public servants, and discipline those who are errant. They also alleged that the hiring of contract and political-type employees had placed traditional public servants at a disadvantage. The latter have been getting lower salaries compared with contract and politically appointed workers for doing similar or even higher-level jobs.
However, once in Government, the PNCR bloated the public service employment roll with over 10,000 new employees (during 2015-2020), says a top PPPC Government official on a recent Globespan programme. A significant percentage of the new employees were (1) on contract and/or (ii) were party supporters/members. And the GPSU and others kept quiet on this issue, as well as on the massive firing of thousands of workers (1,972 Amerindian CSOs, several hundred Indo-Guyanese in the public service, and 6,000 Indo-Guyanese sugar workers who were thought to be supporters of the PPP/C (People’s Progressive Party/ Civic).
According to a PPP/C Government functionary, “The public service [under the PNCR] was embedded with many political appointees that were found in all the Ministries, and who were on contract and receiving high salaries; had few qualifications, if any; and were not working, except doing open political work for the PNCR. Their services were terminated, but they were given their leave and benefits.”
To decrease the level of contract and/or political appointees, and to enhance workers’ productivity, their professionalism, as well as make them responsive to the requirements of the Government’s policies, the PPPC administration, as did the PNCR Government before but on a much lesser scale, terminated several of those contract and politically appointed workers to clear the way to have their (PPPC) own political appointees, contract workers, and technical advisors to fill some of those positions. The terminations were not carried out ruthlessly, as were done by the PNCR in 2015, but rather in a measured way to ease the level of disruption.
The President, under the constitution, has the power to appoint and terminate Permanent Secretaries and Regional Executive Officers (REOs). Accordingly, President Irfaan Ali terminated the services of 8 Permanent Secretaries (PSs) and six (6) Regional Executive Officers (REOs) who were on contract. Three of the PSs were on the fixed establishment, and have been sent on accumulated leave, and would be re-assigned to other positions with same level of remuneration and benefits. Some 20 CEOs (Chief Executive Officers) of state entities have been terminated. Some of them have been linked to corruption and are under criminal investigation.
I have learnt that 60 staff members, comprising personal assistants, confidential secretaries and drivers, who were hired on contract by the former President and his Cabinet, have been terminated. Other staff hired by the PNCR have been placed on the fixed establishment, and therefore remain in the system.
Some of the staff hired by the PNCR administration were terminated because their positions have become redundant consequent upon the reorganisation of a few ministries, like that of Citizenship, and the closure and movement of departmental units like Social Cohesion (SC). The State Assets Recovery Agency (SARA) was disbanded. The lower-level skilled staff will be re-assigned elsewhere. The Energy and Environment Departments are being downsized.
Contrary to some critics, a Government source confirms that no one on the fixed pensionable establishment has been terminated, and that terminated workers have been given their benefits.
To define those terminations as “ethnic cleansing” is unfortunate and is a reckless use of language. What the PPP/C is doing is to clean up the system to make it more functionally productive and responsive to the needs of the people. PNCR operative Rickford Burke’s claim that over 900 of their PNCR supporters were fired by the PPP/C is patently false.
He also castigated David Granger for sipping tea at Pearl and remaining silent on this perceived travesty.
Well, Mr Granger knows that the figure of 900+ is more than 3 times the actual terminations, and he is also conscious that his PNCR administration fired thousands of workers, including 7,000 alone from the sugar industry, with 6,000 being Indo-Guyanese.
To avoid allegations of discrimination or ethnic cleansing, it is advisable that the Government considers bringing legislation to Parliament to determine the optimal level and type of political appointees, contract workers and technical advisors that any Government can hire. And such appointees should be given contracts only for the duration of time that the Government is in office. It should be left to the President of the succeeding government to determine if he/she wants to retain, or terminate, or extend any contract.

Dr Tara Singh