We would like to use this forum to highlight the plight of senior officers at the Ministry of Agriculture, which has been ongoing in excess of 7 years and worsening within the last year.
These officers have 17 plus years of experience at the said Ministry and functioned competently under various Ministers and Permanent Secretaries; to the point that they were awarded prestigious foreign-funded scholarships to conduct postgraduate studies, while being granted leave with pay to pursue same. As records can reveal, these officers sustained their high level of performance, completed studies and returned to serve as expected.
Their plight commenced upon their return from study when they were told it was ‘difficult to place’ them due to their ‘qualifications’; a strange occurrence since one would expect their additional qualification to enhance their position, rather than result in deprivation. As such they were given two positions where they functioned outside of any department but conducted duties as were assigned by the Minister and Permanent Secretary (PS). These officers constantly complained both verbally and in writing of these unusual and awkward positions but all complaints fell on deaf ears.
With the change of Government these officers expected that some regularization would have been conducted under an uncompromising and clean Public Service. Indeed, in 2017, an attempt was made to place these officers in regularized positions after the call was made for Planning Units to be set up to advance the Public Sector Investment Programme (PSIP). These officers were appointed and given three-year contracts to fulfil same, while approval was granted by the Public Service Ministry (PSM) to fill corresponding positions.
However, with the appointment of a new PS in February 2018, a drastic turn was taken. These officers were told that they would be reverted to their former un-regularized positions; a strange move.
Even more strange, it was indicated that there was need for regularization. The officers would have thought that regularization would include the aligning of persons in suitable positions commensurate with their qualifications and experience. Instead, these officers are being bullied to revert to their former un-regularized and awkward positions. Additionally, there seemed to be haste to place persons in some ‘new’ positions hurriedly, just ahead of the reconvening of the Public Service Commission (PSC). If indeed there is regularization, how can this include rescinding of officers to un-regularized positions?
If indeed there is need for regularization, why should there have been a hurry, just ahead of the reconvening of the Public Service Commission? Would it not be the just and right thing to have the PSC oversee this regularization in a transparent manner; aligning current staff who are fit and proper in the required positions, with no prejudice?
Of great interest and amazement is that in the height of efforts to rescind the officers, attempts were made to force the very officers to produce a Plan to operationalize the very unit they are to be rescinded from; a clear indication that there is knowledge of the capability of the officers but a determination to deprive them anyway. The question is: A plan to give to whom? So are these officers being pushed down to provide ‘shoulders’ for the ‘new’ positions to stand on? This must not be.
It should be noted that when persons are placed in positions for reasons other than their qualification and experience, this can create controversy and awkwardness. A head who has to constantly ask his or her subordinates for direction, will find himself or herself in embarrassing positions, when tasked to explain themselves beyond what is described and given to them. Is this the direction to take?
The Officers are being tacitly bullied to accept the former un-regularized and awkward positions, by what is called a re-appointment letter and other means. When they don’t accept, their gratuity, among others is being withheld under the excuse of mismatch of position and duties. But the officers have been performing duties delegated to them, even in their awkward situation. Are these officers the cause of this chaos?
These officers would have complained of this situation years ago, with no redress. These officers have always been employed as professionals, are not politically aligned and have competently represented Ministers, Permanent Secretaries; including the current Minister and Permanent Secretary and the wider Ministry, at both local and foreign events, even in instances with correspondence of commendation for their performance.
To try to rescind these officers to the former un-regularized and awkward positions, by what these officers consider subtle blackmail efforts, should be investigated. It should not be condoned. In fact, the entire structure and placement of positions at the Ministry of Agriculture should be investigated. Is it any wonder we often read what we read about the Ministry in the media? Place the fit and proper staff in the correct positions across the entire Ministry and let meaningful work be conducted. The Public Service Commission should be allowed to perform this function without fear or favour, if indeed good is meant to be achieved.
A lot more has been meted out to these officers which cannot be written but is available. In fact, the intensity of this onslaught against the officers is making them concerned about their safety and well-being on the job and otherwise. If their work is not in question for 17-plus years, then what is the cause of this demoralization? Is it because they cannot or do not wish to engage in certain activities? Is it a case of discrimination or injustice? Is it a case where the presence, knowledge and experience of the officers is intimidating to persons who intend to bluff? How can officers at the highest levels of qualification and experience not be fit and proper for appropriate placement? Who really is responsible for this and what then are the criteria for appropriate placement?
Editor, this matter needs urgent, unprejudiced and transparent investigation.
The officers do not believe that these are acts of the current Government, but rather, some person(s) trying to let them feel that their plight will be the same or even worse with the change of government and to finally force them out of their jobs. The fact that this argument and intimation of finding it ‘difficult to place’ the officers, has moved across governments, is very telling. The officers are thus of the firm belief that it is the work of a person or group of persons who have managed to move smoothly across governments in a position(s) of influence, (whether overtly or covertly) and have convincingly continued to advance the same argument against the officers – in short, the officers may just unintentionally be ‘in the way’ of the person(s).
Are these professionals to deduce that they are singled out and targeted for reasons unknown? For the good of the MOA, this matter needs to be thoroughly investigated.
H.E. President Granger in his inauguration speech, appropriately quoted from Psalm 118: 24 indicating: “This is the day the Lord has made; we will rejoice and be glad in it”. The situation at the Ministry of Agriculture seems otherwise.
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