Feb 10, 2021 Editorial
Kaieteur News – This week, it was broken in the media that the PPP/C government would be closing down the Bertram Collins College of the Public Service, a flagship project of the David Granger administration. There is little known today about the man after whom the entity was named, with the website offering really the only substantial source of bio-data on who was no doubt an accomplished gentleman: “In 1968, at the behest of Sir David James Gardner Rose, Commander in Chief of Guyana, Dr. Bertram Collins was appointed to be the Chairman of the Commission of Inquiry into the Public Service of Guyana. Dr. Collins was both a consummate student and a prolific writer. He penned among other articles: ‘The Civil Service and the Ministerial System,’ in British Guiana Civil Service Magazine, December 1983. ‘The Civil Service of British Guiana in the General Strike of 1963,’ in Caribbean Quarterly, University of the West Indies, Vol. 10 No. 2, June 1984, and ‘Racial Imbalance in Public Services and Security Forces in British Guiana,’ in Race, London, Vol. 7, No. 3, January, 1986.”
In response to the publication of the news of the impending closure, former APNU+AFC Minister of the Public Service, Tabitha Sarabo-Halley wrote, or was instructed to write, that the closure of the ‘College’ was essentially an attack on the Public Service as a whole. In response, her successor, PPP/C Minister of Public Service, Sonia Parag, countered that not only was the college a financial drain on the Treasury, but that it was, in fact, used as a site of political operations for the APNU+AFC political machinery.
It did not help the institution’s reputation in any way in defending that charge when it was that – in April of 2020, in the middle of the Granger administration’s attempt to steal the elections – Dr. Mark Kirton was appointed by Sarabo-Halley as “Senior Executive Director” of the Bertram Collins College. Kirton who is otherwise a sound academic, but whose appointment was tainted by the fact that his immediate previous engagement was as effective Coordinator of the APNU+AFC campaign for over a year, beginning in February of 2019, a position that he had not officially left at the time of his accepting the posting to the College, a posting it should be noted that no one in the Granger Administration had the legitimate authority to make. His appointment therefore was as antithetical as you could get in fulfilling the spirit of imparting non-partisan, ethical, professional public service values.
As a general idea, the Bertram Collins College of the Public Service made sense. As implemented, it was tainted by the theatre, the pomp and ceremony, and the consequent insubstantiality that was typical of not just of the Granger administration but of the man at the helm of the administration itself. It should be noted that, in the wake of ‘dismantling’ of one of his flagship ‘institutions,’ the man himself remains in hiding and silent, with not so much as a ‘principled’ press release in protest.
The larger picture here, of course, is that the public service does in fact need both urgent capacity building and systemic overhaul. It has needed it for years past and any meaningful transformation of the public service is going to take several years going forward, and would need to start with precisely the sort of institution that Dr. Bertram Collins, who passed away in 1997, would have in fact been proud of. Certainly, for example, he would have seen the need to have an inquiry into the dysfunctional relationship between the institutional public service and the political system that has led to abuses of power under multiple administrations; and he would have definitely been keen to solve the touchy challenge of racial imbalance in the public service, something he observed in the 1960s, published on in the 1980s, and which remains a topic of discussion in 2021. And of course, there are several other critical new challenges that are facing the public service that would require a transformative approach, one which the current capacity of the public service’s internal training mechanism is grossly inadequate to meet.
In short, shutting down the ironic farce that was the Granger administration’s Bertram Collins College of the Public Service was a sensible idea. However, completely shutting down the idea of a College of the Public Service is one that warrants revisiting.
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