There are times when I wish that I could come up with a profound and memorable quote to describe an event or situation. The announcement in the 2016 Budget that all temporary officers, who had been employed in the Public Service for three or more years, would be permanently appointed was one such occasion. No matter how hard I try, the only thing that comes to mind to describe that announcement is Shakespeare’s play: “Much Ado About Nothing”.
In December 2007 mere weeks before the 2008 General Elections, the Arthur administration, sensing defeat at the polls, passed the Public Service Act (PSA) and brought it into force on December 31, 2007. A few provisions of that act were designed to entice public officers to vote for them. There were in excess of 3,000 temporary public officers who had been working for three or more years. In order to appeal to that demographic, section 13. (7) of the act provided that all those temporary officers, who had the necessary qualifications and had been employed for three or more years prior to the commencement of the act, shall be entitled to be appointed with effect from December 31, 2007.
In other words, temporary officers who joined the service on or before January 1, 2005 and had worked continuously till December 31, 2007 were entitled for appointment, if they had the necessary qualifications. The appointments of workers in that category are guaranteed and are only awaiting the processing of the necessary paperwork. Mind you, that paperwork has taken almost nine years so far.
It is obvious from the legislation that Arthur intended to benefit electorally from the appointment of so many workers. But by that time his administration had become so unpopular that such measures failed to produce the desired effect. However, they enacted a set of procedures to ensure that public service appointments would not thereafter become a political football.
Rather than implement the provisions of the PSA, the current administration has presided over a system where appointments are not made in accordance with the letter or spirit of the law. My understanding is that there are approximately 250 temporary officers whose automatic appointments are still pending after eight years. I have heard it said, and I find it hard to believe, that there were not enough vacant permanent post to go around. Section 13. (5) of the PSA established (made permanent) all temporary offices that were in existence for three years prior to December 31, 2007. As a result, there were more than enough jobs to satisfy those who were entitled to automatic appointments.
For those officers who did not qualify for automatic appointment, the PSA provides a roadmap that does not require ministerial intervention beyond providing the post. The minister with responsibility for the Public Service is empowered by section 14. (1) to create temporary offices for an initial period for not more than three years. Thereafter, he can extend it “for a further period not exceeding 3 years beyond the initial period”. After that the minister has no power to further extend the temporary office. He must make an order to establish it, if persons are to continue in that particular job.
It is then left to the Public Service Commission to fill the post. Bear in mind that section 13.(11) of the act mandates that no established office in the Public Service shall be allowed to remain vacant for a period of more than one year, except the Governor-General allows the vacancy or if the minister had frozen the post.
We now know from the mouth of the Minister of Finance that there are temporary officers working in these jobs in excess of three years. Instead of thumping the tables in support of the announcement, MPs should be asking why is the Government is not complying with the law that is already on the statute books to make these appointments.
To be fair to the ministers of Government, their announcements are only as good as the advice they receive from senior civil servants.