Home Letters For a professional, depoliticised, and independent public service (Part 1)
The Commission of Inquiry (CoI) into the public service submitted its report to then President David Granger in May 2016 by Professor Harold Lutchman, Chair of the Commission. The report was also circulated to Members of the National Assembly for debate and consideration.
There was no debate following a disagreement between the Government and Opposition on referring the report to a Select Committee of the National Assembly. Many of 87 CoI recommendations support the creation of a professional and politically neutral public service to provide for efficient and effective service to the national community. The Government and the Public Service Ministry should carefully consider the CoI report and its recommendations.
Lutchman’s CoI notes that Guyana’s Constitution provides for an independent Public Service Commission on employment matters for the public service. However, there is no law governing the Public Service Ministry which should function under a Public Service Law in which the governing principles are stipulated. The basic principles would be embodied in a Public Service Act along with appropriate regulations as recommended by the G Burgess and J K Hunn Report on Public Administration in Guyana, dated November 16, 1966.
The Burgess and Hunn Report recommended a strong, well structured, and capable Public Service Ministry, supported by a Public Service Act which defines the functions of a Public Service Ministry as the lead Ministry responsible for public management and administration.
Such an Act defines the status and duties of the Permanent Secretary of the Public Service Ministry with powers, duties and responsibilities for the effective organisation of the departmental and ministerial machinery of Government, and human resource management, outside the constitutional duties of the Public Service Commission. The report also specifically recommended, “that the Permanent Secretary of the Public Service Ministry be the convener of the Permanent Secretaries’ Committee to discuss and implement ways and means of improving efficiency and economy.”
The Burgess and Hunn Report further emphasises that a Public Service Act is generally regarded as a fundamental requirement and is referred to in the revised New Zealand’s State Service Act 1988 which outlines the purpose of such an Act as “to promote and uphold a state sector system, which: –
• is imbued with the spirit of service to the community;
• operates in the collective interests of Government;
• maintains appropriate standards of integrity and conduct;
• maintains political neutrality;
• is supported by an effective workforce and personnel arrangements;
• meets good-employer arrangements;
• is driven by a culture of excellence and efficiency; and
• fosters a culture stewardship”.
The Bertram Collins Commission of Inquiry into the Public Service, dated May 26, 1969, affirms the justification of the creation of the Public Service Ministry with defined functions and responsibilities for continued improvement of the public service. The Collins Commission also supported the enactment of legislation for a strong public service embodied in a Public Service Act. This is a common feature for effective public management and public administration in Caricom countries.
Such legislation can be found in the laws of Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados, Jamaica, Belize, Canada, New Zealand and South Africa. In Canada, its Public Service Employment Act provides for a “Public Service that is based on merit and non-partisanship and in which these values are independently safeguarded” by its Independent Public Service Commission which has exclusive authority on public service appointments.
Professor Lutchman’s CoI into the Public Service of May 11, 2016, in its first recommendation, (number 1) strongly supports the enactment of a Public Service Law which provides for professional and effective public management by the Public Service Commission, having regard to its constitutional functions, and by extension, a Public Service Ministry should be enacted.
Such a law establishes the Public Service Ministry, defines the functions of such a Ministry, identifies the Permanent Secretary as the Head of the Public Service, and as Chairman of a Committee of all Permanent Secretaries to advise the Government on public management matters for the improvement and efficiency of the public service, among other relevant provisions, and “to insulate the public service from irregular political influences and other external pressures”. (Drawing from Barbados and examples of Caricom countries and PSC Circular No 46 of 1966, and other international examples)
Permanent Secretaries and Professional Relations with Ministers
The public administration system, in line with the Constitution, Article 115 and other laws, mandate that where any Minister has been charged with the responsibility for any department of Government, the Minister shall exercise general direction and control over that department. Such direction and control is of a general and policy nature. While the Minister is primarily concerned with the determination of policy, the Permanent Secretary and the technical and other staff under the Permanent Secretary are required to faithfully implement the policy decisions of the Government of the day in an impartial and professional manner.
The Permanent Secretary assists the Minister in the formulation of policies, prepares papers for Cabinet, and is also the Accounting Officer who manages, and is accountable for the funds voted by National Assembly for the ministerial departments, and is answerable to the Public Accounts Committee of National Assembly for public expenditure. These duties and responsibilities have not changed since the PSC Circular No 46 of 1966, embodying an extract from a speech from the then Prime Minister, LFS Burnham, and was circulated to public officers in November 1966, noting that the Permanent Secretary is the Accounting Officer and states that: “… A Minister should never, therefore, give instructions for expenditure to be incurred on any project without prior consultation with his Permanent Secretary to ascertain that appropriate funds are available…”
In a letter dated May 5, 1989, to Permanent Secretaries, former President Desmond Hoyte states that under the Constitution, Permanent Secretaries have the responsibility to manage their Ministries, to advise their Ministers, to help the Ministers in the formulation of policies, and the effective management of the resources of personnel, finance, stores, plant, machinery, equipment, vehicles and buildings. The letter further warns that:
“…No Minister has authority to direct a Permanent Secretary to ignore the law or to breach regulations and directives governing the administration of finances, the use of Government property, etc. Indeed, no Minister has the power to direct a Permanent Secretary to commit any other act that is unlawful or otherwise irregular…”
President Hoyte’s letter also reiterates that a Permanent Secretary is expected, and is required to act strictly within the scope of law and relevant regulations and other rules governing the management of finances and other resources. The letter further admonishes Permanent Secretaries to bear in mind that the Public Service exists to serve the people promptly and in an efficient manner, and to treat all with courtesy and consideration.
The Permanent Secretaries are to ensure the Public Service delivers quality service to the citizens and the public at all times. The Permanent Secretary and the Minister’s principal technical staff are concerned with providing advice and assistance in policy determination and formulation. This calls for a cordial working relationship among the Permanent Secretary, technical staff and the Minister and the permanent staff of an impartial public service in a spirit of mutual respect and confidence. “The Permanent Secretary is not a clerk for the Minister.”
In keeping with the foregoing principles and with the supporting testimonies of many witnesses to Professor Lutchhman’s CoI into the Public Service of May 11, 2016, affirms these principles for a capable, professional, and efficient public service as outlined in PSC Circular No 46 of 1966, and President Hoyte’s letter on May 5, 1989, as sound, valid and relevant for the contemporary situation in the public service in Guyana. These principles are strongly recommended to be incorporated in Public Service Law, and related regulations. (Rec. # 1)
The Government and the National Assembly are again requested to give serious consideration or pronounce otherwise. The public is invited to join in this discussion on the proposals for the creation of a professional, depoliticised, and independent public service by law in the national interest.
Other recommendations of the CoI of May 11, 2016, will follow in another letter.
Samuel J Goolsarran