Left by the wayside

A WEEK ago, a group of public servants gathered at Independence Square, Port of Spain to protest.

They gathered not in relation to the ongoing issue of a four-per-cent salary hike, but rather to highlight the reported failure of authorities to release basic information about the workings of the Public Service, such as policies on acting appointments and the number of contract workers.

Duaine Hewitt, head of the Industrial Court section of the Public Services Association (PSA), said the failure of the Personnel Department to provide comprehensive responses to a suite of applications he made under the Freedom of Information Act, should be a cause for concern.

Certainly, it is a matter that powerfully demonstrates that there are wider issues that cry out to be addressed when it comes to the working conditions of public servants.

If public servants cannot get access to information about basic policies relating to their work, they certainly also cannot, once they retire, get access to the pensions they are due.

According to evidence heard at a recent Parliament committee hearing, public servants, including members of the protective services, who have spent years working for the State continue to have trouble getting their entitlements.

So much so that the Auditor General’s office, in conjunction with the Treasury, has had to help 3,872 people get their pensions.

Parliament’s Committee on Public Administration and Appropriations also heard, last week Wednesday, how nightmare scenarios for pensioners continue to happen.

Computational issues continue to delay payments. Ministries continue to be chronic defaulters when it comes to submitting basic information.

Timelines that are set out in policy are frequently not met. So bad is the situation that the Service Commission Department now sees fit to proffer disciplinary procedures to get permanent secretaries to act on time.

The resort to a big-stick approach, however, does not appear to have improved anything.

The realignment of ministries is still a big hurdle when it comes to recording employment histories. This issue, in particular, was the very first issue raised in the Third Report of the Public Administration and Appropriations Committee on this issue, published in 2021.

That report was actually a follow-up to a series of earlier reports. Last week’s sitting was itself a follow-up to all these follow-ups.

Such is the frustration over a lack of progress that even the Speaker of the House Bridgid Annisette-George, chairing the committee proceedings, was moved to query how the challenges could be superseded.

“How do we use our creativity, our will, our love for people, to improve the system?”

It’s a good question, and we’re not sure any state agency has put forward a compelling answer.

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