After claiming that no public servant had been dismissed, the press arm of the Ministry of the Presidency now has the gall to inform the nation that a Board of Inquiry has been launched into the alleged firing of staff at the Department of the Public Service. Since the workers who were sent dismissal letters cannot dismiss themselves, then it is baffling how they can be the subject of the investigation into their firing.
The dismissal letters reportedly were reversed and those affected sent on administrative leave. But why was the person who issued the dismissal letters not also sent on administrative leave if there is going to be an investigation into the ‘alleged’ dismissal of the workers?
What exactly is being investigated: the ‘alleged’ dismissals or some other allegations? According to the Ministry of the Presidency, the Board of Inquiry is being commissioned to investigate allegations of misconduct, corruption and improper behaviour. This contradicts the earlier claim that what is being investigated is the alleged firing of staff.
The investigation is taking place within the Public Service, but a Board of Inquiry has been constituted. Such boards of inquiry are alien to the Public Service. Boards of Inquiry are military investigative mechanisms. In the Public Service, it is traditional for a public servant of a higher rank than those facing charges to be asked to undertake the investigation.
It is traditional for that person to be a public servant, not a retired parliamentarian, since the latter would be considered ‘political’. This is not an indictment against or criticism of the person appointed, but of the decision by the government.
It is not in keeping with the traditions of the Public Service to have someone who has served in a political capacity, both within a political party and within parliament, to be asked to investigate public servants.
It is hoped that the inquiry will examine the dismissal letters, which were served on the employees and determine whether those letters were done with lawful authority and, if not, what sanctions are likely to be imposed on the person who issued such letters.
It is very important that the allegations being investigated not be framed in a general manner. The workers concerned are entitled to be provided with specific allegations of wrongdoing, afforded the right to legal representation, and sufficient time to prepare their defence.
Employment within the public service obligates even contract workers to abide by the rules of the public service. As such, it is to be expected that the same workers would be entitled to the same due process accorded to traditional public servants.
In respect of departmental disciplinary proceedings, Public Service rules dictate that the officer is served, in writing, with the particulars of the charges in such a manner as to leave no misapprehension as to the precise nature of the allegations on which these charges are based, and at the same time request in writing a reply to the charges, denying of admitting same. These are the minimum procedural requirements, which should be adhered to in this matter.
So what precisely are the charges against the workers? Reports in the media have speculated that the alleged dismissals may have been related to scholarships. This sounds like a red herring and an attempt at diversion, because what would the accountant and the Personnel Department have to do with any alleged breach of scholarship requirements.
The action taken against the workers has created a level of mistrust. So what happens if they are exonerated. Are they going to be transferred outside of their Ministry just to please those who initially had sanctioned them? Are the workers going to have to suffer transfers just in order to not make someone else feel uncomfortable or will the person or persons responsible for the initial injustice be removed instead?
Regardless of whether the officers are exonerated, the question, which still has to be answered is what is going to happen if it also found that there was no lawful authority to issue letters of termination. Would the person or persons concerned be subject to disciplinary action? This is a decision for the government.
After all, the Board of Inquiry can only recommend. It is left to be seen how the government would treat with the recommendations if it is found that the persons were unlawfully terminated.
We live in a country where there is a perception that there are two sets of rules: one for senior political appointees and the other for government employees. Hopefully, the outcome of this investigation will help reverse this perception and allay the fears that there are untouchables within the government.
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