Late payment of salaries, maternity benefits among issues plaguing public sector – Advisor

…says employees must receive benefits entitled to in a timely manner

By Feona Morrison

Government Advisor and former Public Service Minister, Dr Jennifer Westford on Monday came down heavily on Personnel Officers over back-door employment that are being done in various public sector institutions and Government departments in the country.
Dr Westford made these comments at the opening of the Annual Personnel Practioners’ Workshop, which is being held under the theme “Strengthening the Public Sector Through Human Resources Management” at the Arthur Chung Conference Centre (ACCC), Liliendaal, Greater Georgetown, and caters to Personnel Officers, Permanent Secretaries, and Regional Executive Officers (REO).

Advisor to the Public Service Minister, Dr Jennifer Westford

In her presentation, Dr Westford outlined several problems that beset the public sector, such as backdoor hiring, contract workers not getting their gratuities on time, female employees not receiving maternity benefits timely, and employees not getting paid in a reasonable manner.
Public Service Minister Sonia Parag mentioned the misuse of the sick leave policy.
“I have a real difficulty with and this is where professionalism is lacking terribly. I’ve had people whose medical leave outweighs their annual leave and I’ve had cause to send those persons to the medical board,” Parag said, adding that disciplinary action will be taken against them. The Minister noted that doctors approving such leave will be put “under pressure”.
However, Personnel Officers, Dr Westford noted, are the cornerstone and social workers of the public sector because it is where human resource management resides. She said she fears Guyana’s public sector is currently “a little shaky” because the human resources departments are not functioning “the way they ought to”.

Public Service Minister Sonia Parag

“Persons are working for five months and four months and not being paid. Personnel Officers are illegally employing staff. It is wrong and it must stop. If that happens without the necessary procedure, the public service is not going to rubber stamp any employment done through the backdoor. And who is going to suffer? None other than the staff who are employed illegally.”
“We have issues where we have our females who go off on maternity leave… why can’t their NIS [National Insurance Scheme] papers be processed efficiently so that they get their little monies?
Some of them return to work without even being paid their NIS. Then we have our contracted workers, to get their gratuity is another issue,” Dr Westford said. She went on to draw attention to more problems in the public sector by stating that paperwork for employees leaving for retirement is not “forwarded on time.”
She contended that in order for the public sector to run properly and efficiently, its employees must receive the benefits they are entitled to in a timely manner.
“These are the little things that are so important in the lives of a public servant. Someone whom you have stewardship over. I fear and I hope that each one of you here understands what your responsibilities are. I get the understanding sometimes that some people really don’t know what is it they have to do and it’s just business as usual.”
The Government Advisor also asked everyone in attendance to take the time to “get to know” their employees rather than simply “know of them” in order to learn about their personal lives.
For instance, she said there are times when the Ministry receives complaints of staff being repeatedly late.
“If a public servant is late, it affects the service. But then, do you know why he/she is late? Have you taken the time off to know why he/she is late? Do you know if he/she has five children and the smallest one is one year old? And that might be a reason why they are late because whomever is looking after her child…. She is a single mother. She cannot pay for someone to look after the baby and whoever is doing her that favour is not there…”

Scenes from the opening of the Annual Personnel Practioners’ Workshop

“Confidentially” is a crucial word for Personnel Officers, according to Dr Westford, because workers need to feel at ease approaching them with problems. She mentioned that there are systems in place to support staff members going through challenging times.
“We have mechanisms in place, we have tools in our hands that we can use to make the lives of our public servants, our colleagues much better so that they can perform. So that our public service would be a place where people would want to come and work. Have some empathy.”
During her closing remarks, Dr Westford implored the officials to make every effort, to be their brother’s keepers, and to interact with public servants in a constructive manner. She said that once this is practised, Guyana will have an effective and efficient public administration that will be the envy of its neighbours.
Meanwhile, weighing on the issue of backdoor hiring, Minister Parag said that over the last two months, she has had to deal with this “in a very holistic but a very exhausting way with all of the Ministries.” She made it clear that while she would not consider this practise to be “illegal”, it is outside of the Public Service Rules.
According to her, “I am not going to tolerate that. I am going to tolerate a culture of excellence and professionalism.”
She admitted that this is an “ongoing” issue which has resulted in workers not being paid.
Parag clarified that before hiring employees, Personnel Officers must first obtain permission from the Public Service Ministry.
Besides Minister Parag and Dr Westford, Prime Minister Mark Phillips and the Public Service Ministry’s Permanent Secretary, Soyinka Grogan, were among those who attended Monday’s opening. After it was disrupted in 2016, the Annual Personnel Practioners’ Workshop has now resumed; it concludes today.