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Who is a Public Servant?

(by Earl John)

Interestingly enough too few politicians can readily identify which of those who work for them are legitimate public servants. It is not necessarily their immediate fault, since there is no central register of public service employees. Worse, with the deliberate depletion of its constitutional authority to recruit and/or oversee the recruitment process, the Public Service Commission is rendered incapable of providing information on the numbers of public servants in the respective public service entities (budget agencies), and more critically perhaps, about the jobs to which they are recruited, or promoted.

The manner in which the public service has been deconstructed during this century flies in the face of several consultancy Reports the administration contracted to recommend its modernisation. Meanwhile the absorption of the function of public service management under direct presidential purview over the recent decades clearly signalled the decreasing authority of the Public Service Commission. An examination of the national estimates would also show the extent to which the technical capabilities of the once Ministry of Public Service has been depleted by sheer reduction in staffing over the last five years, say.

The national estimates also very transparently display the increasing numbers of ‘contracted employees’ in the so-called ‘establishment’ of each agency, in the bold pretence that they constitute a category of public servant – the other categories being listed in the following order.

  • Administrative
  • Senior Technical
  • Other Technical and Craft Skilled
  • Clerical and Other Support
  • semi-skilled Operatives and Unskilled
  • [Contracted Employees]

And (to compound the illogic of the so-called classification)

  • Temporary Employees

Even if one were to forgive this patently outdated classification, one still has to grapple with finding out to which of the categories of jobs ‘contracted’ and ‘temporaries’ are assigned. It is by no means to be assumed that any of the latter fall below the level of ‘Semi-skilled Operatives and Unskilled’.

Indeed the extant evidence suggests that ‘contracted employees’ are generally favoured for the more lucrative positions since their recruitment, lacking formality, has degenerated into a largely non-transparent process. This is particularly true in cases of funded projects wherein the employee’s salary is tax-free.

Although encumbering traditional pensionable public service positions, contracted employees are not pensionable, and are therefore compensated by a gratuity payable every six months at the rate of 22.5% of monthly salary. Exceptions, however, might well be those persons contracted at the level of the two lowest grades of the 14 Grade job structure, e.g. drivers, office assistants, cleaners and others who inhabit Grades 01 and 02. These have to apply for renewal of their employment contracts every year, with three months’ notice. (There needs to be an inquiry into how these payees relate to the NIS).

One only has to look at the increasing trend in contracting (which still obtains) to get an appreciation of not only the disaggregation of the Public Service, but equally, if not more importantly, the indiscriminate allocation of values even for the same job across agencies – up to now still a compulsive indulgence.

What appears to be no longer a concern to supervisory managers is the standard of performance of duties assigned; and therefore whether value is received for the compensation paid. This indifference to individual or group effort is seen in the peremptory and demotivating across-the-board increases made – more or less annually.

One debilitating impact on the recipients of this intended incentive package is that the consequential percentage adjustment made to the 14 salary scales leave them exactly in the same point as before in the respective scales, often at the entry level. It means that after ten years’ service the employee who entered the service at the minimum of the applicable scale remains just there, where a new recruit 10 years after will enjoy exactly the same return. This condition of ‘bunching’ is quite prevalent in today’s Public service. Gone are the days of performance appraisal and the reward of an appropriate increment.

In an increasingly global environment in which economies to be competitive must rely on the efficient performance of their component institutions, it is remarkable that there is no interest in, or system instituted to assure effective performance evaluation of the standard of public services delivered to client citizens, and indeed to regional and international counterparts.

But part of the reason for this default may well be the absence of accurate job descriptions. How else does one explain the joint categorisation of ‘Semi-skilled Operatives and Unskilled’! Incidentally, no one has asked recently about the agency, unit or system utilised for grading skills and competencies.

In this connection enquiries should be made regarding the capacity of the relevant Public Service Department (former Public Service Management) to evaluate jobs for placement in the 14 grade job hierarchy (now about 30 years old), in the face of all the new technologies that have been developed and utilised since. That the job of Clerk/Typist still exists in the establishment speaks indicatively to the question. That in the long recognised age of human resources management and development the Estimates of the Public Sector 2015 boldly lists the following positions:

Designation Grade
Chief Personnel Officer 12
Principal Personnel Officer 11
Senior Personnel Officer 09
Personnel Officer II 06
Personnel Officer I 05

 

Those who are more familiar with Human Resource Management must enquire first into the competency criteria utilised to differentiate amongst appointees to the above positions. At first glance it looks more like an internal experience ladder on which to climb – while processing paper; but quite estranged from the substantive function of management and development of the human resources. It is an organisational chasm that can partly be successfully straddled by a broad range of relevant professional training, including dedicated trainers.

In the meantime the 2015 Estimates show the population in the Public Sector to be as follows:


Table 1

Agencies Administrative Senior Technical Other Technical & Craft Skilled Clerical & Office Support Semi-skilled Operatives & Unskilled Contracted Employees Temporary Employees Totals
Ministry of
Presidency
11 2 6 33 15 298 3 368
Office of the Prime Minister 0 0 0 1 1 15 0 17
Finance 19 6 23 31 2 162 3 246
Foreign Affairs 51 3 44 49 52 95 8 302
Parliament Office 9 2 2 7 6 75 0 101
Public & Police Service Commission 5 0 4 3 2 15 0 29
Teaching Service Commission 7 0 3 5 3 22 0 40
GECOM 6 9 24 195 52 78 0 364
Public Service Ministry 1 1 0 6 2 30 2 42
Indigenous Peoples’ Affairs 6 0 2 0 8 72 0 88
Agriculture 11 9 28 15 13 248 20 344
Tourism 1 0 0 0 0 31 0 32
Business 6 1 5 6 2 30 0 50
Infrastructure 7 3 21 12 7 271 0 321
Education 668 1154 310 143 169 601 410 3455
Communities 24 0 1 5 4 55 2 91
GPHC 2 121 391 199 585 332 0 1630
Public Health 35 96 464 43 364 930 16 1948
Social Protection 19 28 73 25 68 369 3 585
Public security 229 2 1032 3667 512 239 1 5682
Legal Affairs 23 0 1 10 2 32 1 69
Public Prosecutions 8 0 1 3 0 18 2 32
Totals 1148 1437 2435 4458 1869 4018 468 15836

Note 1:    Listed but with no numbers for GDF, Supreme Court, Public Service Appellate Tribunal

Note2:     Regional Administration. The Regions have been dealt with in a separate submission.

However see summary later as it relates to ‘contracted employees’ only

 

 

The above Table 1, apart from reflecting the relatively high proportion of contracted employees, invites contemplation on the varying populations of the Ministries, with Public Security being the largest with 5682 employees, followed by Education – 3455; Public Health – 1948 together with GPHC – 1630, totaling 3578.

The substantive differentials in the span of control may well raise the issue of appropriate compensation for the parties responsible for decision-making, including Permanent Secretaries, amongst others.

Meanwhile the Table 2 following shows the proportion of contracted employees to total staffing in Regional Administrations.

Regional Administration

Regions Total Staffing Contracted Employees % of (2)
1 754 73 9.7
2 1282 193 15.1
3 1951 205 10.5
4 2058 139 6.8
5 1011 103 10.2
6 2279 351 15.4
7 650 153 23.5
8 287 61 21.3
9 680 96 14.1
10 1112 96 8.6
Total 12064 1470 12.2

 

It is clear that the content of the variety of contracts will have to be closely examined and analysed, with a view to establishing the validity or otherwise of the employee’s status as a public servant. In the process, depending on the weight of the evidence, consideration may have to be given to effecting a mutually acceptable mechanism for transitioning this target group to proper membership of the establishment.

Taking into account the new dispensation the relevant unions can be expected to insist on participating in this, as in other areas of decision-making, including the re-institution or otherwise of the performance appraisal system and award of merit increments – in place of across-the-board increases; not to mention the massive undertaking of an updated job evaluation exercise. In all of which the pre-eminent role of information technology systems cannot logically be overlooked.

Earl John is a Human Resource Management consultant

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