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Civil Service working with ‘broken system’

A high-ranking civil servant launched a staunch defence of his profession yesterday as he fielded questions about capital projects at the heart of the Commission of Inquiry.

Marc Telemaque dismissed the notion of a “government within the Government” and told the hearing that the civil service was made up of “good people” working with a “broken system”. Mr Telemaque's comments came as he answered questions about the Heritage Wharf project that came in millions of dollars over budget on the third day of the tribunal.

“As a 21st-century country we are still bound by a methodology for the basic award of public contracts that dates back to the last century,” Mr Telemaque said.

“Then we wonder why we are here. What we have, sir, is good people trying to execute the instructions of elected leaders via a system that is broken.”

Commission lawyer Narinder Hargun repeatedly asked Mr Telemaque why the Heritage Wharf project had been handled by the Department for Tourism and Transport, instead of the Department for Works and Engineering that had the expertise to deal with such a project. Asked by commission chairman Sir Anthony Evans why this “obvious” source of Government expertise was not used, Mr Telemaque said: “There is an inherent assumption, and it is an assumption made by the Auditor-General and all of those who have posed questions around this that somehow the Minister of Works and Engineering did not and does not experience the same level of staff changes, retention issues that anywhere else has.

“At varying times the Ministry of Works and Engineering may not have the capacity to manage all of the Government projects.”

Asked why the Ministry of Transport and Tourism handled the project, Mr Telemaque, the ministry's former permanent secretary, said: “Because the Ministry of Tourism and Transport had a direct interest as the steward of the policy to advance the matter and the Ministry was at least equipped to do that.” He told the panel that the project was a “national priority” and needed to be completed swiftly.

Mr Telemaque said there had been “collective amnesia” when it came to looking at the projects before the commission, saying that people had “forgotten the national priority of some of these things”.

Commission member John Barritt responded: “Our intention is not to cast a pall.”

“It is done by the convening of these proceedings, with respect,” answered Mr Telemaque.

Arguing that there needed to be a greater understanding of the constitutional position of a Cabinet-style government, Mr Telemaque said that ministers had a responsibility and duty to make their decisions.

Sir Anthony asked if Mr Telemaque was suggesting that the contracts under review were covered by exceptional circumstances.

“In some cases; it depends on the context,” Mr Telemaque answered.

Circumstances could justify a departure from instructions or normal procedures, he said, adding: “I'm just saying there is a context around every decision ultimately made; to look at a decision as corrupt or wrong does an injustice … it creates a firestorm in the public domain.”

Such an approach injured people's confidence, he said, causing public officials to be “forced to defend actions which are taken with political fiat, in the best interests of the country they were elected to serve”.

Sir Anthony replied that he did not think that had “anything to do” with the proceedings under way.

The commission was adjourned until 10am on Monday.

In the interest of treating the Commission of Inquiry much like continuing court proceedings, The Royal Gazette has taken the decision to disable comments. This is done for the protection legally of both the newspaper and our readers

Marc Telemaque

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Published October 01, 2016 at 9:00 am (Updated October 01, 2016 at 12:19 pm)

Civil Service working with ‘broken system’

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