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Public Service appears answerable to no one

Fatal flaw: John Rankin, the Governor, seems no more han a bystander in the hoped-for oversight of the Public Service (File photograph by Blaire Simmons)

Dear Sir,

Many times have I written to this newspaper on the subject of the inefficiencies and lack of accountability within the administration of our government, irrespective of which party sits on “The Hill”. So I will not bore you with a repetition on this subject.

I will, however, mention what I believe to be a fatal flaw in the structure of the management of our Public Service, which is a key factor in its level of accountability. The entire body of Bermuda’s Public Service sits under the oversight umbrella of the entity known as the Public Service Commission.

The PSC is appointed in accordance with the Bermuda Constitution Order of 1968, as an independent body, politically impartial and responsible directly to the Governor. It consists of a chairman and four other members, all appointed by the Governor. It is not a government department, and there is no head of department.

So what does it do?

The PSC ensures that appointments, promotions, dismissals and all disciplinary matters within Bermuda’s Public Service are conducted efficiently, fairly and without political interference. This includes:

• Advertising vacancies

• Assessments and selection

• Appointments and promotions

• Probation reports

• Performance appraisals

• Discipline appeals

• Trainees

In a perfect world, this sounds like an efficient structure by which to ensure the body of the Public Service is managed efficiently and with accountability — getting bang for the taxpayer’s buck, as some might say. But there is a fatal flaw that has always existed, but is rarely identified. And that is the PSC does not have an oversight mechanism for its own accountability and efficiency.

Why? Because the PSC reports only to the Governor, who is not much more than a bystander when it comes to the main functions of the commission.

As defined on the Bermuda Government’s own website, the primary responsibilities of the Governor are external affairs, defence, internal security and the police. The Governor is the commander-in-chief of the Royal Bermuda Regiment and all governors are to observe international obligations and to protect key values, such as the independence of the judiciary, the political impartiality of the Public Service, and integrity in the administration of justice. The Governor works closely with the elected government of Bermuda.

Where in this list of the Governor’s responsibilities does it speak to the direct oversight of the performance of the PSC, which reports solely to him? It does not. While the Bermuda Constitution Order of 1968 has broad and vague references to the Governor’s role over the PSC, there is very little to suggest a clearly defined oversight framework. And thus the fatal flaw is exposed.

Until the Governor’s role is empowered with a specific mandate that speaks directly to the oversight of the performance of the Public Service Commission, we will see little change in the continuing inefficiencies and lack of accountability of this seemingly untouchable administrative body known as the Public Service.