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Govt votes against further scrutiny of Public Service Commission of Inquiry Report

People's Progressive Party Civic (PPPC) parliamentarian and Opposition Chief Whip, Gail Teixeira.

People’s Progressive Party Civic (PPPC) parliamentarian and Opposition Chief Whip, Gail Teixeira.

The opposition People’s Progressive Party (PPPC) wanted the Report of the Commission of Inquiry into the Public Service to be sent to a bipartisan parliamentary select committee to decide on the next steps, a desire that the Guyana government ditched Monday night.

“The recommendation of my colleagues on the other side that this matter goes to a special select committee cannot stand because the work has already begun. The work of the Commission has been done, all of the consultations have been done,” Minister of State, Joseph Harmon told the House in response to a PPPC-sponsored motion.

He said government was moving ahead with implementing recommendations such as the establishment of planning departments in government ministries, the introduction of public service code of conduct, and the establishment of a committee of Permanent Secretaries, University of Guyana and the Private Sector Commission from select ministries to identify scholarship awardees,

Harmon announced that a Public Service Appellate Tribunal would be appointed early next year, as government was considering the qualifications of several persons ahead of President David Granger summoning Opposition Leader, Bharrat Jagdeo in February, 2017 for consultations.

PPP frontbencher, Gail Teixeira said she would also like to see the report be the subject of public consultations including such talks with the trade unions that represent public servants. She said there was more work to be done and so the report should have been sent to a parliamentary special select committee for further review and scrutiny and report back to the House.

Sponsored by Teixeira, at the conclusion of the debate she proposed that her motion be amended for it to be sent to the select committee. In the end one-seat majority government voted a collective “no”

The 89 recommendations include the need to set up a special commission to determine the salaries of the President, Prime Minister, parliamentarians and top regional officials, as well as Wages and Salaries Commission to negotiate increases within a set time frame.

Minister of State, Joseph Harmon.

Minister of State, Joseph Harmon.

Under the Chairmanship of Professor Harold Lutchman, the Commission of Inquiry also recommended an increase in the retirement age. Responding, Minister of Social Services Volda Lawrence said there would be need for actuarial studies and scientific research to determine what should be the best retirement age and its potential impact on the National Insurance Scheme (NIS).

The PPP also used the opportunity to reiterate concerns about the scrapping of contracts for several categories of workers, including Cuban-trained Guyanese doctors and include them in the pensionable establishment.  Teixeira argued that such a decision would discourage many young people from taking up positions in the public service because they do not see themselves being in government service for at least 35 years. “These are not positive signs when we are trying to cope with the brain drain,” she said.

Harmon, in his contribution noted that on assuming office last year government noticed that there were arbitrary wage increases, no collective bargaining and the presence of a large number of contract workers  that left pensionable workers functioning with no prospect of promotion and eroding the strength of the union. The Minister of State said so far 1,784 contract employees have been absorbed into the pensionable public service.

The PPP also accused government of racial and political discrimination in the employment of contract workers at the Public Service Staff College. “The leadership of the public service staff college and staffing is partisan and excludes any other ethnic group. This is a worrying sign that we are seeing… it should be reflective of whom we are as a people.  A number of persons hired contractually and are doing political work,” the PPPC Chief Whip said in her contribution to the parliamentary debate.