PERMANENT secretary in the Administration and Communications Ministry Joan Mendez yesterday said a system which allows government ministers to directly hire personal staff on contract has been in existence for the last 20 years.
Mendez made this disclosure after she declined to answer Opposition MP Christine Newallo-Hosein’s question on whether the ministry would repay money spent by another government ministry on the termination of a person who worked closely with a government minister.
Mendez was sitting before Parliament’s Social Services and Public Administration Joint Select Committee.
She explained, contract officers who support the mandate of government ministries are engaged “through a competitive recruitment and selection process.”
Mendez said the permanent secretaries of government ministries are ultimately responsible for administering this regime.
She said a second system of contract employment involved political appointees, chosen directly by government ministers as their personal staff.
Mendez said ministers have the “sole right” to hire, discipline, manage and even terminate the contracts of these workers, and the permanent secretary only “administers the salary and terms and conditions” for this category of contract workers.
When Newallo-Hosein asked about the repayment of money in the case of a political appointee’s dismissal, Mendez responded that the Prime Minister has appointed a committee “to investigate issues surrounding the dismissal and payment of a particular employee to a minister.”
“Out of professional integrity and ethics, I would prefer to have the committee undertake its investigation and report,” she said.
On April 10, Rowley appointed a committee to investigate the circumstances of the dismissal of Carrie-Ann Moreau from the Sport Ministry and the payment of a $150,000 settlement to her. Moreau was former sport minister Darryl Smith’s personal assistant.
Smith’s appointment as junior housing minister was revoked on April 10 by President Paula-Mae Weekes, after new information on this issue came to Rowley’s attention.
On April 9, Smith had been reassigned from the Sport Ministry to the Housing Ministry in a Cabinet reshuffle.
Responding to a question from Deputy Speaker Esmond Forde, Mendez said a Cabinet note in 1998 initiated the system for government ministers to appoint their personal staff.
That note was approved by the Basdeo Panday administration.