Govt denies more contract workers hired, salary bill skyrocketed

Last Updated on Wednesday, 3 February 2016, 13:00 by Denis Chabrol

Minister of State, Joseph Harmon.

Minister of State, Joseph Harmon.

The Guyana government Wednesday denied reports that the hiring of contract workers has ballooned under the nine-month old coalition-led administration, saying that the new figure takes into account the creation of a super-ministry.

The Stabroek News newspaper, quoting from a 2016 Budget Review done by Chartered Accountant, Christopher Ram, stated that the Ministry of the Presidency (MOTP) now employs 505 contract workers, up from 298 in 2015 and the salary bill has consequently spiked from GYD$142 million to GYD$798 million over the same period.

Expressing concern that the Stabroek News carried a report without seeking a reaction from him, Minister of State, Joseph Harmon, in a brief comment, said explained that following the May 2015 elections, the MOTP is now comprised of the Ministry of Social Cohesion, Ministry of Citizenship, and still includes the Public Service Department, which was a standalone Ministry under the previous administration.

In addition, all the accompanying departments are now part of MOTP, including the General Registrar’s Office, Immigration, E-Governance, and the National Community Development Council.  The Ministry of Natural Resources was only recently designated as a separate Ministry and was also a Ministry within MOTP until January 2016.

These organisational changes have meant that the Ministry of the Presidency now covers a wider range of operational areas and cannot be compared to the Office of the President (OP) under the previous administration.  In addition, the staff complement dedicated to the work of the office of the President under the current administration has actually gone down.

“The operational strength of the Ministry has gone down. In May 2015, we had 375 staff working at OP. In January 2016, we have 325, specifically for the office of the President complex… So it is not accurate to say that the Ministry’s hires are skyrocketing. It is that there have been organisational changes that have taken place,” Minister Harmon said.

He noted that as of January 2016, the Public Service Department, previously the Public Service Ministry staff total is 50, Department of Natural Resources; 58, Ministry of Citizenship; 141 and E-Governance; 69.

Minister Harmon said that all of these questions could have been answered, if media houses had used the opportunity to obtain the Government’s response.

“I believe that journalistic ethics require that people call and ask you for a comment, which I am always prepared to give,” Minister Harmon said.  The Minister also indicated that he will report on the Ministry’s organisational make up during his presentation for the Budget debates in the National Assembly.

The Minister of State said that the President has already made his plans clear on the reform of the Public service in Guyana, and that commitment remains.

“There has been a clear direction by the President that it is our intention to return the Public service to a professional one and so contract hires will be reduced to a minimum.  This is why we have employed people to train public servants, who will be the core of that new development.  This is why the Staff College is there. There has been no indiscriminate hiring of contract employees… Some of the new hires have been people who have been brought back because of their skills, which they have to impart that knowledge to the new people. The Staff College will comprise of people like that. There were other departments where the skills base and skills set was severely depleted under the previous administration so you had to bring back people who can bring back the standards to run a country,” he said.

Adding that there was number of contract hires met under the Previous Administration, the Minister of State said many of them were actually unable to perform at the required standards.  “Some of the people were here because of some Freedom House arrangement and were all contract workers but in a structured environment you could not get them to perform. These are things we had to address. Contract employees brought on are people with a skill; people who are there to replace those people who were brought by the PPP [People’s Progressive Party] and just stuffed into positions. A lot of square pegs they had there and so to retain them, we have to retrain them,” the Minister said.

Minister Harmon made it clear that all contract workers, who have been added to the Ministry of the Presidency, are aptly qualified and skilled professionals, and are meant to add to the reform process of the Public Service sector.