Aug 05, 2020 Editorial Comments Off on Transition and witch-hunting
With every change of government, even in the least contentious of political environments, there is the expectation that some people useful to the outgoing political administration would have no place in the new one. In more mature polities, the principled resignation of political appointees is standard operating procedure.
In Guyana, however, as limited as we’ve had changes in political administrations, the last past 30 years have shown us that incoming governments have had the tendency to clean house, witch-hunting persons loyal to one political fortress out of the public service while outgoing governments have had a tendency to, just before demitting office, attempt to populate the public service machinery with loyalists. The outgoing PNC administration of 1992 had so politicized the public service, stretching all the way back to the Declaration of Sophia in the mid-seventies, that it was impossible for the transition to the new Cheddi Jagan administration to be completely bloodless. That said, the then new administration went beyond any rational and just depoliticization and basically cleansed the public service of many highly qualified and politically unaffiliated persons, replacing them with party loyalists. The David Granger administration of 2015 found itself with the particular challenge of being ‘gifted’ many contracted workers in key positions, who were given contracts mere weeks or days before the change of government. While the politically influenced dismissals did not approach the levels of 1992, primarily because the new administration was ill-equipped to transition to managing government, it undertook its fair share of unwarranted firing of public service workers.
This brings us to one of the central challenges of any new political administration in as highly divided and contentions a political environment such as Guyana’s. On the one hand, no citizen of this country should be arbitrarily denied legitimate employment in the performance of their public service duties, simply because of their political affiliation. The right of conscience and political choice is a fundamental one that should be respected in this country. On the other hand, no new government should be burdened with an army of political appointees handed contracts deliberately before a transfer of power so that the new government is held hostage to political appointments of their immediate predecessor. Any legitimately elected administration faced with an army of political plants within the core of its central operations should be able to correct any such manoeuvre.
The newly elected Dr. Irfaan Ali administration thus has a clear challenge before it. The President needs to prove to the people who have not so distant and unpleasant memories of the spite with which the former Jagdeo regime was not unjustly associated, that he represents a new regime, one that is interested in respecting, retaining and incorporating qualified Guyanese into a government for all Guyanese. However, he also needs to show that he cannot and will not be held hostage to a politicized public service infrastructure established by someone who was voted out of office. There is no doubt that firings will come. Who is fired, and how, will make all the difference. For the transition to be relatively bloodless and to escape charges of witch-hunting, some clear protocol must be followed.
If it is that the outgoing Granger administration has in fact decided to play the game of making political appointments either immediately prior to, or at any time after the elections, the first litmus test for justification of the rescinding of any such contract would be based, ironically enough, on the spirit, if not letter, of one of Granger’s own professed policies. One of the very first things Granger, on acceding to office, committed to was the professionalization of the public service, including the moving of contracted workers to the fixed establishment.
What happened instead was that while some workers at middle or lower positions were moved into the formal public service structure, senior level contracted workers actually increased, with many positions carved out primarily for Granger’s fellow retired army personnel. The most telling example is the Bertram Collins Public Service Training College, an institution which was ostensibly created to contribute to training and staffing entry level members of that professionalized, fixed-establishment public service that the former president touted, but whose senior management consisted of super-salaried former army officers. The new administration simply, as a first measure, needs to check contracted employees against the fixed public service structure, and if there are any contracts, particularly newly signed ones that do not fit into the fixed public service infrastructure, these should be rescinded. A basic contract is not justification in itself for public service employment and if a contract does not fit into the very fixed structure that Granger himself supported, one would be hard-pressed to justify that contract not being ended.
The second litmus test for legitimacy of continued employment has to do with the circumstances of the employment. Just as how there are basic rules for the awarding of contracts for the procurement of goods and services – including advertisement, competitiveness and transparency – similar rules apply for the employment of contracted public service employees. Any contract that does not meet the basic standards associated with public service employment should be rescinded, re-advertised (if necessary) and rewarded based on merit.
The third litmus test for continued employment of course has to do with performance of duties. No contract is intrinsically proofed against breaches of performance, whether with regard to general competence, failure to achieve deliverables, and impropriety. Any officer who has breached any provision of his or her contract has to be answerable and face sanction.
These three general criteria established, once an individual employment contract – whether fixed establishment or not – is found to be in compliance, then that worker should, regardless of political affiliation, including whether or not they have appeared on a list of candidates in the recent election, be afforded security of tenure. Now is neither the time for political recrimination in the public service nor is it the time for accommodation of cynical political gamesmanship using the public service as the battlefield. The new administration has to be able to transition not only to a new standard of operation, but also a new culture of fair, merit-based public service employment, absent of any witch-hunting and unfair recrimination, away from the old standard that it had no small part in establishing in the first place.
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