By KHRISNA RUSSELL
Tribune Chief Reporter
FORMER Public Service Minister Brensil Rolle yesterday defended public sector promotions granted in the weeks before the general election, insisting the previous government was simply acting on years’ old recommendations that were in some cases left behind by the Christie administration.
The former Cabinet minister said it was unfortunate that thousands of public sector officers and their deserving promotions were being portrayed as politically driven when this was not the case.
He questioned whether Foreign Affairs and Public Service Minister Fred Mitchell was comparing the former Minnis administration with the 2012 Christie administration, saying: “Perhaps he was reflecting upon what they did just before elections last time and perhaps he thought that we were like them, but we were different.”
On Sunday, Mr Mitchell told reporters the promotions were temporarily halted to give the new government an opportunity to review them to ensure nothing “nefarious” had taken place.
When he was contacted yesterday, Mr Rolle explained the promotions came on July 1, after there had been a freeze on promotions, reclassifications and hirings except in exceptional circumstances.
He rejected the suggestion the promotions were awarded with ulterior motives.
“You will recall that all promotions, reclassifications, were on hold, and we lifted that in July of this year prior to elections being announced,” Mr Rolle told this newspaper.
“All we did in the public service is to promote qualified persons whose recommendations had been made. Some of those recommendations had been made by the PLP from 2017 and so I don’t know why Mr Mitchell believes that promotions of public officers would be driven by politics.
“In the public service, there is a service wide promotion which takes place so that everyone in the service would be considered and then in addition to that the public service is a space where if you are promoting somebody and another person is of the same stature and the same status then they must be given an opportunity to say why they are not being considered.
“I can assure you that the permanent secretary in the Ministry of Public Service sits by and abides by every single protocol and so I don’t see anything nefarious being done by promotions of public officers.
“I think it’s regrettable that the PLP would inject this level of politics into something as important as promotions of public officers.”
Mr Mitchell has said the Davis administration was suspicious that the promotions were an attempt to either offer an incentive in exchange for support of the previous government as it headed into the 2021 general election or a “poison pill.”
He said in the latter instance it is thought people promoted or hired were presumably supporters of the Free National Movement and would end up “causing problems” for the new administration.
To this Mr Rolle said he was of the view it was very difficult for public sector promotions to be driven by politics, adding they were usually slow moving.
Asked then if he was defending the previous government’s actions, the former minister said he had no other choice.
“If you put it in context, I don’t have a choice,” Mr Rolle said. “Remember, like I said, the basis of these things were that there was a hold, a freeze on promotions. A freeze on reclassifications and a freeze on hiring except in exceptional circumstances and so the public service was given the latitude to begin promotions to begin reclassifications and to begin hiring July 1.
“And that process does not take a week. It may take a month. It may take two months for it to take place and so, yes, some persons may have been hired up to and during election time. Some persons may have been promoted during election time. But I can assure you that scores of those promotions, scores of them, were recommendations.
“Remember when we came to office in 2017 one of our first actions was to put a freeze on hiring to deal with the placement of individuals who were hired and who were promoted and so for the last two years there were no promotions and no hiring in the service.
“So, on July 1 the public service had to then begin the process of promoting individuals and I can assure you that tons of those recommendations were recommendations that came from 2017. Recommendations in the service from 2017 from as early as I can remember seeing some from 2014.
“I certainly don’t see why the minister took the position that he took, but he is the minister. It’s ‘a new day’ (and) the first action by the PLP is to not promote individuals in the service who are duly promoted, and I am going to stay on the side and watch.”
He added: “I can assure you that I did not work the night of elections or the night before elections. I did not do anything on election night or on Election Day. You will not find scores of individuals around the Ministry of Public Service and or other government agencies who have been sent there and told to go and show up. That was a set of circumstances that were in place in 2017 and we did not, and this is critical, we did not send the individuals home.
“We did not say to them ‘you were unfairly hired.’ We did not say to them you should not have been hired because it is not the workers fault that a political decision may have been made on behalf of that worker,” Mr Rolle said.
Mr Mitchell said when he assumed his office at the Department of Public Service, he found “stacks of promotions,” many of which he said he suspected were “long overdue”. He said in view of this fact, he did not want to put a “negative imprint” on the situation.
When asked how long the hold would be, he said he could not say for certain. Mr Mitchell said it was important to make a “distinction” between the routine public service jobs and political level jobs.
When asked on Sunday if all of the promotions that happened in the last few weeks of the Minnis administration in the public service have just been halted temporarily, Mr Mitchell said: “Yes, that’s a way to describe it, just to let us have a look at it because you don’t want anything nefarious to be taking place.”