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Sunday 20 October 2019
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Close the gap

Photo courtesy Pixabay
Photo courtesy Pixabay

AS AT March of this year, there were more than 13,000 vacancies at government ministries alone, according to the Ministry of Public Administration.

The vacancies, which were disclosed in the House of Representatives on Wednesday by Planning Minister Camille Robinson-Regis, relate to 22 ministries and break down into 6,505 in the permanent establishment and 6,517 vacant contract positions. The figures are high.

The biggest expense of any government department is personnel. Given the need to reduce expenditure across the board, it is in some respects not surprising the State is not in a rush to make its wage bill any higher. At the same time, the large number of vacancies suggests ongoing malaise in the way human resources are being managed. The more empty seats, the greater the workload on existing staff to compensate. Little wonder there are constant complaints about the public service not working as efficiently as it should. However, the fact of vacancies in substantive and contract positions does not mean no one is doing the work.

Often, temporary workers function in posts for which it takes years for them to be confirmed. It would be pertinent to get a breakdown of the nature of the vacancies involved. It would also be good to know whether the figures relate to ministries alone or also the quasi-private, State-owned companies that fall under those ministries.

What is clear, however, is the challenge facing the system by which vacancies are managed in the State sector. It’s clear the Service Commissions Department, which is the secretariat of the Public Service Commission, the Police Service Commission, the Judicial and Legal Service Commission, and the Teaching Service Commission, could do with more support. As could all of the commissions.

After all, filling vacancies is not the only thing these bodies oversee. They also handle temporary appointments, permanent appointments, promotions, acting appointments, secondments, transfers, confirmations, separations, examinations, disciplinary procedures and audits. The time has come for a rethinking of how these matters are handled. The current system reflects a colonial history that is long behind us. It grew out of the old Personnel Branch and the Colonial Secretariat. The Colonial Secretariat was the lead department in a highly centralised, bureaucratic system which accompanied Crown Colony Government from 1833. Vestiges of its workings are apparent today in the systems that govern public servants.

Large numbers of vacancies in the context of a situation in which labour unions are complaining about retrenchment across the board seem particularly perverse. Still, the deeper issue is not the numbers but the productivity of each individual worker.

What work is being done and what work is not being done? Are there not ripple effects on how the overall system of governance is working?

Closing the gap between the envisioned workforce and the current complement could be a way to shorten lines and waiting times at Government offices and to bolster the State’s ability to serve the people

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