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Former Civil Service chief praises public officers

Derrick Binns, the recently retired Head of the Public Service (Photograph supplied)

A former head of the Civil Service has defended the organisation, claiming that public officers are highly trained and dedicated.

Derrick Binns, who stood down as Head of the Public Service last month after a career spanning almost 40 years, also said that technological changes have made the service much more efficient and productive in the past two decades.

Dr Binns spoke out in an interview for the This Week in Government programme, broadcast on the government information channel.

Asked by government information officer Tari Trott why the service had a questionable reputation, Dr Binns said: “I think we are a highly misunderstood and highly maligned group of people.

“For some time there has been a number of commentators who would like to see us as evil, lazy, good-for-nothing people. That is far from the truth.

“I’m not suggesting that we are all spotless angels by any means, and just like any organisation, we have those who do not reflect the best upon us, but we are by and large a group of people who are highly committed to what we do.

“We are here because we want to be of service. We’re here because we believe in the work that we do, and we work diligently.

“All you need to do is drive by a government building in the evening and see the lights that are still burning. People are still there working.

“An emergency happens. Who’s the first to respond? It’s going to be public officers responding. They’re doing it because, yes, it’s their job, but they’re also committed to what they do.

“There are some highly professional, well-trained, very committed persons who make up the backbone of the Public Service and for that reason I will continue to champion them.“

Dr Binns said that the value and difficulty of tasks within the Civil Service was not always appreciated by the public.

He recalled how, as Permanent Secretary for the Ministry of Public Works, he spent one morning working on a trash truck — an experience that produced “an incredible change” in him.

He said: “That was a time when there were many concerns about what was being put into the garbage and the impact that would have on the garbage collectors, issues around the quality of the trucks, and just the lack of respect that was shown to those men.”

He managed to work through the truck’s first run, but had to stand down after just a few hours.

He said: “It’s very exhausting work but exceptionally important work, exceptionally valuable work, and no, they do not get the credit they deserve.

“I had a completely new perspective of the work that they did, the value that they provided to this community, and I realised that if that trash was not picked up for three days, we had a public health issue on our hands that we would have to address.

“Many of us are not here looking for the credit, but some of the jobs are thankless.”

Dr Binns insisted that the Civil Service was the backbone of the island.

He said: “Just about everything we do as a citizen of this country, as a resident of Bermuda has been touched by a public officer.

“If you want to enjoy the parks and beaches, a public officer has probably been maintaining that beach. If you want to drive on our roads, a public officer has been maintaining that road.

“If you want to enjoy things that are available through the private sector, they are often regulated or enabled or laws have been created by the work of a public officer.

He added that although the organisation had become more efficient, it was expected to carry out more functions than in the past.

Dr Binns said: “The tools that we have to do it have significantly changed. In 2001 I had to ask if e-mail was available, if internet was going to be available, because it was not all that common back then.

“Now it is an absolute expectation and if the e-mail goes down everything stops. Technology has made a significant change in the way we work. People can do things on their own without having to rely on administrative support to get it done.

Agreeing that technology had led to “an absolute improvement” in efficiency, he added: “What it has also done is increased the burden. Now there’s a greater expectation that things will get done. There’s more work being produced, there’s a greater expectation of work being produced, so the volume has increased. We’ve become a more complex society.

The full interview can be viewed here.

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Published August 15, 2023 at 7:52 am (Updated August 15, 2023 at 8:12 am)

Former Civil Service chief praises public officers

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