Guarding independence of the teaching service


RECENT statements attributed to the Minister of Education regarding the filling of vacancies in the teaching service imply that the Teaching Service Commission (TSC) is derelict in the execution of one of its main mandates, according to the Public Service Commission regulations of 1966.

This is not the first time such an allegation has been levelled against the TSC and has been a point of contention between many ministers and the commission. Citing positions remaining vacant for several years, the minister pointed to the backlog of people awaiting interviews and subsequent appointments.

This is certainly an untenable situation over which the minister should be rightly concerned. The ministry has indicated that it has done all within its power to expedite the process. The responsibility accordingly now rests with the entity charged in law to fill the vacancies, according to the minister.

Owing to the severe negative impact this has on the delivery of education, TTUTA has made repeated representations to both the ministry and the TSC to rectify the matter. But after recent meetings between TTUTA and the TSC, it would seem the story has another side, as expected.

While the TSC is responsible for the filling of vacancies in the teaching service, among other duties, its ability to fulfil its mandate is contingent upon co-operation with relevant ministries, along with the provision of necessary resources.

It is no secret that all government ministries, departments and statutory authorities have been forced to function with significant reductions in allocations over the last seven years. This has caused many heads of department to make major adjustments in their functioning, and the TSC is no exception.

The advent of the pandemic, atop an expressly stated desire of the Government three years ago to put a "freeze" on filling vacancies in the public service, only served to exacerbate an already bad situation. Given the foregoing, it may not be entirely fair to exclusively blame the TSC for the large number of vacant positions in the teaching service.

If the TSC does not have the resources to carry out its mandate despite repeated pleas, its effectiveness and capacity to execute its obligation will be severely compromised. A prolonged allegation of incompetence against the TSC could once again fuel political calls for the abolition of the concept of the commission altogether. This would not be a far-fetched thought, given the history of ministers complaining about the "hindrance" the commissions pose in their quest to execute government policy in an expeditious manner.

The TSC, along with other commissions, has made repeated representations in the past to help improve its efficiency, such as making commissioners permanent, but to no avail. Successive governments have effectively accused the commissions of being incompetent, while making no meaningful effort to enhance their effectiveness.

While TTUTA holds no brief for the TSC, it recognises its critical role in maintaining the independence of the teacher from political interference and would jealously guard this creature of our Constitution. The commission is one of the ways in which the separation of powers between the legislature, executive and judiciary is maintained – a fundamental philosophical principle upon which our democracy is premised.

In attempting to have their way, many ministers, acting consistently with governmental policy positions, have sought to accuse the commissions of tardiness and, even worse, being antithetical to government policy. This was the basis for the establishment of many parallel structures within the public service as a means of bypassing established regulatory frameworks.

These included the obscene attempt to introduce contract positions inconsistent with public service regulations and establishing special-purpose state companies that are answerable exclusively to line ministers. But the history of such parallel structures unfortunately tells a tale of political patronage, nepotism, corruption and mismanagement.

So if the minister is genuinely concerned about the deleterious impact of positions remaining vacant in the teaching service for prolonged periods, her efforts should be concentrated on ensuring the requisite funds are released to the TSC to enable it to establish the necessary structures to expedite the process.

While the TSC and other commissions may not be perfect in their current incarnations, their role in maintaining an independent public service is critical. The temptation among politicians to deliver promises in an expeditious manner is understandable, but checks and balances in the form of the commissions are critical to prevent any abuse of political power.


"Guarding independence of the teaching service"

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