by Zena Henry
Among the few but significant changes to be made by President David Granger to revamp and dignify the ailing public sector is the establishment of a Public Servant Staff College, the increase in wages and the return of the Collective Bargaining Agreement which was has been desecrated for more than a decade now.
Guyana’s new President met with Heads of Government Departments and Permanent Secretaries May 20, at the renamed ‘Arthur Chung Convention Centre’ at Liliendaal, East Coast Demerara to impart on them expectations under the new administration.
Granger made it quite clear that he was not satisfied with the level of service Guyanese are currently receiving and blamed that on a number of issues such as poor wages, nepotism, and political infiltration among others.
The President was adamant, however, that under his watch the public service would take on a new identify as “integrity, impartiality and intelligence” would be the hallmark of civil servants. In that vein Granger announced that, “career officials will not be selected on the basis of non-merit principles.
“It doesn’t serve the purpose of good administration for a politician to be elected, selected or appointed as a Permanent Secretary and his or her subordinates know more about how the ministry is run than he or she,” he said.
Among the Permanent Secretaries in attendance were Nigel Dharamlall of the Ministry of Amerindian Affairs, Colin Croal of the Ministry of Local Government and Regional Development; Joslyn Mc Kenzie of the Ministry of Natural Resources and the Environment and Omar Sharif of the Office of the President.
Other heads of government departments included the Chief Executive Officer of the Guyana Sugar Corporation, Dr. Raj Singh; the Chief Executive Officer of the Guyana Energy Agency (GEA), Mahinder Sharma; CEO of Guyana Water Incorporated, Shaik Baksh; Head of the E-Governance Project, Alexei Ramotar; Head of the National Industrial and Commercial and Investments Limited (NICIL), Winston Brassington; CEO of the National Drainage and Irrigation Authority (NDIA), Lionel Wordsworth; CEO of Guyana Power and Light, Bharrat Dindial and Secretary to the Treasury, Nirmal Rekha.
He said that the public sector must function on a merit system for the smooth running of country, since they are the engineers of state activities. Granger said that public servants must possess expert knowledge and a high standard of academic education. He introduced the Public Service Staff College (PSSC) which according to him will allow, “Everyone entering the Guyana public service must do a course at the PSSC, so they learn to read and spell properly and to count. The present training division within the system will be upgraded and converted to the college where persons learn public administration, and “understand how the public service is meant to operate…,” he said.
The College, explained, Minister of State Joseph Harmon, will formalize the guidelines and discernible steps requiring the elevation of workers. “To get to various levels there is a set of training that you have to do.” He explained that the College is based on certainty for persons seeking careers within the public sector, where they can expect that their hard work will pay off.
The government insinuated that this addition is to push out cases of sidelining, nepotism and other ills under the previous administration that saw the collapse of the public workers unit.
Granger went on to say that he has no interest in colliding with the Public Service or their representatives within the union. “we have accepted as a matter of principle to respect the Collective Bargaining Agreements we have with the State or government on one hand and the representatives of the public servants one the other hand,” he said.
Granger mentioned too that, “If you pay the public servants badly, you will not get good work.” He opined that since the 1999 eight week strike by public workers, there has been a “conflictive” relationship between public servants and the government. He said this does not help to build an efficient public service and, “The morale of public service has sunk.”
“I am not interested in working with a disgruntled public service… we have to solve that problem in a consensual manner…” and that means returning to the bargaining table, Granger added.
President Granger made it absolutely clear too that there is no place for corrupt officials within his administration. He pointed out that in some cases poor pay cause staffers to seek other ways to making ends meet, but moves are being made to address this. He insisted however that, “People guilty of corruption will not have a place in the public service. He noted to that it is his expectation that, “in the months to come when we have a reformed public service people will regard the public servant as unbribeable.”
The Guyanese leader said that while Permanent Secretaries are expected to provide the best expert advice to ministers, they must also implement the decisions with the same level of enthusiasm if the ministers turn down their advice.
The President mentioned that the new technology talk must not be just that and explained that the College will also seek to make every public servant computer literate in that regard. He reiterated a computer for every teacher and noted that digitalization of every state sector.
The President in his almost two hour talk with public heads said that while the issue of contract workers will not be thrown out the window, it will be reviewed. Contract workers have been a pain to public workers. They were a feature of the last administration. They were not unionized and received higher pay that existing workers.