By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
A senior civil servant has “unequivocally” warned that all government ministries are failing to properly manage and develop personnel, and have “major room for improvement” in both areas.
Elise Delancey, permanent secretary in the Ministry of Public Service, was quoted by a recent Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) report as revealing that ministries and departments are not living up to their “responsibilities” to effectively manage staff,
The report, The state of the civil service in The Bahamas by Joan Underwood, highlights numerous weaknesses and deficiencies that make the Bahamian public service among the worst in the Caribbean, scoring only 19 out of 100 for civil service development and quality.
It said: “The permanent secretary [Ms Delancey] in the Ministry of Public Service stated unequivocally that all line ministries are failing in their personnel management responsibilities. Some internal stakeholders suggested that this was due, at least in part, to the practice of promoting human resources practitioners to fill the role of deputy permanent secretaries and other senior administrative roles.
“It is noteworthy that while this practice has supposedly depleted the human resources talent pool, it has not been associated with a commensurate improvement in capacity within the deputy permanent secretary ranks.
“In addition to the concerns expressed by the Ministry of Public Service, internal stakeholders suggested that the human resources units focused more on their administrative functions than on duties related to human resource development. There appears to be significant room for improvement in both areas of responsibility.”
The IDB report ignited significant discussion when its contents were revealed by Tribune Business last week, not least the assertion that The Bahamas’ top civil servant, Camille Johnson as Cabinet secretary, branded deputy permanent secretaries - the second highest rank in the public sector - as “extraordinarily weak”.
She also revealed that the civil service is “overstaffed by as much as 40 percent”, prompting politicians from both sides - those inside government and outside - to rush to the defence of public sector workers by blaming each other for the deficiencies.
Criticism in the IDB report also cut both ways, with the Ministry of Public Service said to be falling massively short of its “vision” and “mission statement” by persons inside the Government and those on the outside.
Describing the Ministry’s structure and operations as “aspirational” because key posts, such as director of training, are currently vacant, the report added: “The Ministry of Public Service received very low ratings from both internal and external stakeholders.
“The published vision and mission statements were described as inspiring. However, the consensus is that they are not currently being operationalised.” The Ministry’s “vision” is “to be a model organisation delivering first-class human resource services”, while its mission goal is to “maximize productivity in the public service by providing efficient, effective, and equitable human resource services to public officers and the community through the formulation and dissemination of policies”.
The IDB report, meanwhile, raised concerns about the lack of co-ordination between the Ministry of Public Service and the Public Service Commission, finding they had not met since the May 2017 general election with the former having more contact with other ministries.
“In addition to recruitment, promotions, and transfers, the Public Service Commission has responsibility for discipline,” the report added. “However, some elements of that function are delegated to permanent secretaries and department heads.
“The Public Service Commission has expressed concern about the exercise of that delegated authority. The concerns relate primarily to tardiness in addressing or resolving disciplinary matters and failure to comply with the provisions contained in the General Orders, union agreements and regulations.
“Delays in resolving disciplinary matters have a financial impact, since interdicted officers receive half their salaries while their cases are pending. There are reported cases of officers remaining on interdiction for years (even until their retirement) without the substantive matter being addressed or resolved.”
The Public Service Commission also “categorically rejected” accusations of “political interference and a lack of transparency” in its operations and decision-making, with “extreme delays in processing appointments, transfers, and promotions” one of the major concerns.
“However, in responding to these concerns, the Public Service Commission pointed out that delays were often associated with the Ministry of Public Service’s failure to submit all the requisite documentation, thereby necessitating the return of the file to rectify the deficiencies,” the IDB report said.
It added that the Bahamas Public Services Union (BPSU), which represents civil servants, “expressed concern about the independence of the Public Service Commission and the Public Service Board of Appeal (PSBOA)” as bodies where workers can contest disciplinary decisions.
The union suggested that “officers must appeal to the Supreme Court to procure justice”, leading the IDB report to state: “It is not clear whether this is a contributing factor in the relatively small number of cases lodged with the Board or whether the volume of appeals lodged is a reflection of officers’ acceptance of the validity of the Public Service Commission’s decisions.
“Justice Milton Evans, whose three-year appointment as chairman of the PSBOA expired on January 31, 2018, indicated that only about 10 cases were brought before the PSBOA during his tenure...
“During the period 2014–2016, nine appeals were made. The decisions of the Commission were overturned in six of those nine cases, and one of the remaining three cases was withdrawn. Most of the decisions that were challenged related to dismissals, and reinstatement orders were issued when the Public Service Commission decisions were overturned. Factors cited included the lack of timely processing of matters and failure to adhere to relevant procedures.”
The IDB report noted that one case was delayed for eight years, and it also highlighted BPSU concerns over “a perceived lack of urgency” in dealing with government buildings plagued by mold and other health issues.