With years of performance issues plaguing the Public Service, former deputy governor of the Central Bank, Dr Terrance Farrel, suggests giving the Prime Minister the power to select public officers.
Featuring on the government’s second segment of its Thought Leadership Series, Farrel, an economist, said the uneasiness for people with this idea, particularly in T&T and Guyana, was the tribal nature of the societies and politics. He said that citizens’ perception is that if a prime minister got the power to choose permanent secretaries of ministries, he or she would simply put their co-ethnics into those positions, irrespective of capabilities and competencies. Therefore, the countries get a tribal public service.
“I am saying, however, that what you need to do is, you need to give the government of the day and to the prime minister and his ministers the ability to decide since they are accountable. They are accountable, ultimately to the people of the country,” Farrel said.
He believes that if people voted for a government based on its vision, the administration should have control of the public service to carry out its plans. Farrel noted that citizens tend to blame the government for a high crime rate, even though the executive cannot select the Commissioner of Police on its own. As for accountability, he said it would be the people’s job, not only at elections but in taking to the streets as they did on the Section 34 controversy in 2012.
“We had a situation the other day where the Prime Minister of Trinidad & Tobago, Dr Rowley, said ‘there is nothing I can do. All I can do is give the police the resources for them to work, give them the cars and give them the guns and then I leave it to the Commissioner of Police to get the job done.’ But if in the estimation of the Prime Minister, who is the chair of the National Security Council, that there is a better person out there who can do that job, somebody who understands what the government is trying to achieve, how it wants to achieve it, then why should not the Prime Minister have the authority to be able to identify that person and select that person,” Farrel said.
He said there are examples in Barbados and Canada where the prime minister could select certain public officers. Farrel noted that many people perceive the Public Service as inefficient and hostile to citizens. He acknowledged the Public Service Commission’s admission of inefficiencies in its human resource system and outdated technology, infrastructure, job descriptions and functions. Its role in providing policy advice to the government is less forthcoming, and most ministers are reluctant to comment on the competence of their public servants. Farrel said governments began seeking advice outside the Public Service, opting for consultants and contractors to fulfil its objectives.
It also created State enterprises and statutory bodies to assist in developing and implementing policies.
Some issues in the Public Service stems from the Constitution, such as the role of service commissions like the Teaching Service Commission. Farrel highlighted that school principals could not discipline teachers as it was the role of the Teaching Service Commission (TSC). Ministers of Education in the past complained about the slow pace of the TSC.
Over the years, the Ministers showed dissatisfaction over their inability to get action from the TSC. But in the Commissions’ defence, Farrel said commissioners meet periodically and do not oversee these functions on a full-time basis. It is the same in the ministries where permanent secretaries no longer bother with performance appraisals as they cannot discipline their staff. Farrel said a failure to upgrade the public service comes as the parties involved blame each other. He said trade unions blame managers while the political directorate ignores the issue because of its potential political cost.