Promotion in the Public Service is suppose to be the sole purview of the Public Service Commission in accordance with the Constitution, but is it really so? Before going into their role, it would be best to have some appreciation of the origins of services commissions.
The first civil service commission was established in Britain in 1855. It was intended to be an independent and impartial body with responsibility for recruitment of persons to the civil service. Its role was essentially to deliver a civil service that was apolitical that would serve and give honest advice to whichever political party that forms the Government. To achieve this goal, the commission was solely responsible for the recruitment, appointment, promotion and discipline of civil servants. Prior to this, jobs in the civil service were dispensed on the basis of patronage.
In Barbados, the Public Service Commission was established with the same lofty principles as the original British commission and its independence was enshrined in the Constitution. However, the constitutional amendments of 1974 opened a highway for politicians to shuttle their supporters in droves into the Public Service. Effectively, the Public Service Commission was side-stepped for recruitment into the Public Service, since most persons were recruited as temporary officers, and temporary employment was the purview of the Minister responsible for Establishments. Politicians therefore cornered the market on first appointment to the Service.
Except for promotions at the level of permanent secretary and head of department which became the responsibility of the Prime Minister, the Public Service Commission retained the responsibility for promotion in the Service. Those promotions were governed by an elaborate set of procedures set out in the Public Service Regulations which provided the only obstacle preventing politicians and senior public officers from promoting their handpicked candidates.
A person who had been overlooked for promotion had an avenue for objection based on the regulations. All that changed with the passage of the Public Service Act which became effective on December 31, 2007. That Act wiped out any semblance of fair play that existed under the old regulations.
Promotions in the Public Service are now purportedly done in accordance with the Recruitment and Employment Code which is the First Schedule to the Public Service Act. It requires that vacancies should be advertised, and the applicants would then be interviewed. Unfortunately, for most of the best candidates, the appointments seem predetermined. We are now witnessing a phenomenon where persons are appointed to specialised areas of the Public Service without any previous exposure to the work of the particular ministry or department, on the basis that they did a good interview.
The interview plus another provision in the Act, where the Minister can change the qualifications required for a post, without notice, have been used with surgical precision to remove otherwise suitable candidates from the line up. Alternately, they have been used to ease unsuitable persons into jobs for which they were previously unqualified to the detriment of serving officers who do not have the appropriate political or familial connections.
Persons who were overlooked are then required to train the successful candidate. As a result they are poorly trained or the officers with the institutional knowledge take leave of the Public Service.
In the original Public Service Act there was a provision where departmental vacancies of less than three months could be filled from within without advertisement. It would appear that even those short term promotions were too much for officer without connections. The Act was amended in 2009 to allow those posts to be filled for up to 12 months, without reference to any officers that are serving in the particular ministry or department, simply by saying, “the Commission considers, in the interest of the Public Service, that the appointment is necessary for the effective functioning or good administration of the relevant Ministry or department”. That amendment has completed the neutering process of the Public Service Commission that was started by the constitutional amendments of 1974.
The Public Service Commission has now become a rubber stamp for the system of patronage that has now reasserted itself to become the method of appointing and promoting public officers.