By Dr. Tara Singh
The hiring of political advisors, political operatives, and contract workers when a new government assumes office is a normal and customary practice in all democracies. We watch daily with great expectation as to who US President-elect Joe Biden will appoint to fill important positions in the government. The current holders of those positions (the Trump appointees) in the US government know that they have to resign to make way for the Biden appointees. This is a smooth process.
In Guyana however, the transition from one administration to another, is shrouded with controversy, especailly with respect to the hiring of political, contract and technical workers. Despite their acceptance, knowledge, and past practice of the transition norms and principles, the PNCR political party (APNU+AFC), along with their sister organization, GPSU (Guyana Public Service Union) has now politicized and attempted to demonize this process.
The PNCR and GPSU had contended during the PPPC administration (pre-2015) that the system of appointments of political appointees, advisors, and contact workers also undermined the role of the Public Service Commission (PSC), whose responsibility is to hire, promote, examine work conditions of public servants and to discipline those who are errant. They also alleged that the hiring of contract and political-type employees had placed traditional public servants at a disadvantage. The latter have been getting lower salaries compared with contract and politically appointed workers for doing similar or even higher-level jobs.
However, once in government, the PNCR bloated the public service employment roll with over 10,000 new employees (during 2015-2020), says a top PPPC government official on a recent Globespan program. A significant percentage of the new employees were (1) on contract and/or (ii) were party supporters/members. And the GPSU and others kept quiet on this issue as well as on the massive firing of thousands of workers (1,972 Amerindian CSOs, hundreds of Indo-Guyanese in the public service, and 6,000 Indo-Guyanese sugar workers who were thought to be supporters of the PPPC (People’s Progressive Party, Civic).
According to PPPC Minister for Parliamentary Affairs and Governance, Ms Gail Texeira, “the public service [under the PNCR] was embedded with many political appointees that were found in all the Ministries and who were on contract and receiving high salaries, had few qualifications, if any, and not working except doing open political work for the PNCR. Their services were terminated but they were given their leave and benefits.”
To decrease the level of contract and/or political appointees, and to enhance workers’ productivity, as well as their professionalism and make them responsive to the requirements of the government’s policies, the PPPC administration, as did the PNCR government before, terminated, but to a much lesser degree, several of those contract and politically appointed workers to clear the way for the appointment of their (PPPC) own political operatives, contract workers, and technical advisors. The terminations of PNCR political appointees were not carried out ruthlessly as were done by the PNCR in 2015, but rather in a measured way to ease the level of disruption.
President Dr Irfaan Ali, under the constitution, has the power to appoint and terminate Permanent Secretaries and Regional Executive Officers (REOs). Accordingly, President Irfaan Ali terminated the services of 8 Permanent Secretaries (PSs) and six (6) Regional Executive Officers (REOs) who were on contract. Three of the PSs were on the fixed establishment and have been sent on accumulated leave and would be re-assigned to other positions with same level of remuneration and benefits. Some 20 CEOs (Chief Executive Officers) of state entities have been terminated. Some of them have been linked to corruption and are under criminal investigation. I have learnt that 60 staff comprising personal assistants, confidential secretaries, and drivers who were hired on contract by the former President and his Cabinet have been terminated. Other staff hired by the PNCR have been placed on the fixed establishment and therefore remain in the system.
Some of the staff hired by the PNCR administration were terminated because their positions have become redundant consequent upon the reorganization of a few Ministries like that of Citizenship and the closure and movement of departmental units like Social Cohesion (SC). The State Assets Recovery Agency (SARA) was disbanded. The lower-level skilled staff will be re-assigned elsewhere. The Energy and Environment Departments are being downsized. Contrary to some critics, a government source confirms that no one on the fixed pensionable establishment has been terminated, and that terminated workers have been given their benefits.
To define those terminations as “ethnic cleansing” is unfortunate and a reckless use of language. What the PPPC is doing is to clean up the system to make it more functionally productive and responsive to the needs of the people. PNCR operative Rickford Burke’s claim that over 900 of their PNCR supporters were fired by the PPPC is patently false. He also castigated David Granger for sipping tea at Pearl and of remaining silent of this perceived travesty. Recently he and his cohorts have called upon the army and police to reject the PPPC administration and for the young Afro-Guyanese to rise up and shut down the country. The Burkean incendiary rhetoric will only lead to degeneracy and defeat his struggle to uplift the position of his Afro-Guyanaese people. The man has not offered one constructive idea on how he can make Guyana a better place for his followers and all Guyanese.
About Burke’s exaggerated figure on terminations, Mr David Granger knows that Burke’s concoted figure of 900+ is more than 3 times the actual terminations. Mr Granger is also haunted by his precarious duplicity when his PNCR administration fired thousands of workers, including 6,000 Indo-Guyanese workers.
To avoid allegations of discrimination or ethnic cleansing in respect to the hiring and firing of political and contract employees, it is advisable that the government considers bringing legislation to Parliament to determine the optimal level and type of political appointees, contract workers and technical advisors that any government should hire. And such appointees should only be given contracts for the duration of time that the government is in office. It should be left to the President of the succeeding government to determine if he/she wants to retain or terminate or extend any such contract.
The views expressed in this article are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the position or policy of the THE WEST INDIAN.