Can the Cabinet Secretary be a Minister?… Harmon dodges constitutionality

Last Updated on Wednesday, 22 June 2016, 20:15 by Denis Chabrol

Minister of State, Joseph Harmon.

Minister of State, Joseph Harmon.

Guyana’s Constitution provides for a public officer to serve as Cabinet Secretary, but the current office holder, Minister of State Joseph Harmon, appears to think that a minister can be a public servant.

Article 117 states that there shall be a Secretary to the Cabinet “whose office shall be a public office.”

Asked whether it was unconstitutional for the Secretary to the Cabinet to be a minister, Harmon responded by querying “have you seen anything in the Constitution which prohibits a minister from being that person (Cabinet Secretary)?”  Told that the Constitution states that the Secretary to the Cabinet should be a public officer and quizzed on whether a politician could be a public servant, the Minister of State said “I don’t think I want to enter into debate now..I answered the question already and I think that’s the final thoughts on the matter.”

Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo is already on record as saying that the post of Cabinet Secretary should be handed to a senior or retired public servant who could appreciate the rules of secrecy and confidentiality.

With regards to the constitutional provision that the public service must be free from political influence, Article 38G states that “the integrity of the public service is guaranteed. No public officer shall be required to execute or condone irregular acts on the basis of higher orders” and that “the freedom of every public officer to perform his/her duties and fulfill his or her responsibilities in protected.”

Guyana’s constitution further states that a public officer means the holder of any public office and includes any person appointed to act in any such office and a public office means an office of emolument in the public service and for the avoidance of doubt it is hereby declared that the expression includes the office of a teacher in the public service and any office in the Police Force.

The constitution also says that the Cabinet Secretary is in charge of the Cabinet office and shall be responsible in accordance with such instruction as may be given him or her by the President, for arranging the business for, and keeping the minutes of the Cabinet and for conveying the decision of the Cabinet to the appropriate person or authority and shall have such other functions as the President may direct.”

The Minister of State sought to show that Guyana’s public service is headed by a public servant, Permanent Secretary, Reginald Brotherson. “That is the distinction that needs to be made.”

“I think that the point that needs to be made is that, as a government, we will not hire public servants, we will not hire permanent secretaries primarily based on their affiliation to a political party; that permanent secretaries are products of a system that produces permanent secretaries,”  said Harmon.

Government, he said, was finalizing the establishment of a Public Service Staff College which would ensure that entrants to the public service are professionally trained and equipped for the modern public service. Harmon reiterated government’s position that political affiliation, sexual orientation, ethnic origin or geographical origin would not determine who is appointed permanent secretaries. “We are looking for an efficient public service and we are looking for a public service that represents all of the people of Guyana therefore our efforts would be to make sure that the public service and particularly at the level of the permanent secretaries that they are efficient and that is a major hallmark of a permanent secretary,” he said.

He said the task of permanent secretaries, as accounting officers, is to advise their ministers on government policy.

President David Granger, Minister of Finance Winston Jordan and the Minister of State recently met with Permanent Secretaries and urged them to speed up the implementation of public sector investment programme by clearing bottlenecks.