I once was blind – and it appears I still am!
Several weeks ago, I wrote to this newspaper about the importance and (sadly), the lack of effectiveness of one of the Government’s bipartisan watchdog committees known as the Public Accounts Committee.
Recently, I was pleased to find some PAC reports available online to the public and they are listed on the parliament.bm website, under the Committee Reports section.
There are at present four report entries shown, including a report on “Breaches of Financial Instructions and Recommended Corrective Measures” and there was a very interesting report regarding the processes involved in handling cases of public officers who have been placed on paid administrative leave.
The compilation of this report was the result of eight PAC meetings held between June 2018 and June 2019 for the purpose of reviewing and gathering further information on the cost to the Government from this issue. The resulting report is very revealing with regard to how the independent administrative arm of the Government works and I encourage you to read it (below in “Related Media”).
Here is a summary:
The PAC came to recognise that there was an inordinate amount of administrative leave taken within the Civil Service. Information provided by the Accountant-General to the PAC for a 15-month period during 2016-17 showed that the total cost of paid administrative leave amounted to $568,239.94 involving 19 cases. An additional $24,538.86 was paid out for deputising other civil servants to take on additional responsibilities during this period. The PAC focused on three of those 19 cases — each falling in the same ministry — which among them accounted for $314,167.00, representing 55 per cent of the total paid leave charged to the public purse. It was revealed that these three cases involved lengthy investigations of gross misconduct and each individual took paid administrative leave for approximately one year before their cases were “settled”. Translation: the taxpayer forked out salaries of $92,785.00 plus $80,522.00 plus $140,860.00 to three government employees on administrative leave before it was finally determined that one of the individuals should be dismissed; one be handed a short suspension with reinstatement; and the third be given a job demotion with a lesser salary.
But wait there’s more. These three individuals, as is their right, appealed their cases to the Public Service Commission and in each instance, the PSC ultimately overturned and dismissed the judgments, and in August 2017 allowed full reinstatement of all three employees with no reason being offered in either case. With many questions to be asked on this matter, the PAC then met with the chairman and the secretary of the PSC to inquire:
• Why the lengthy investigations occurred
• What circumstances led to all three case decisions being overturned after being fully investigated and dispensed with
The PAC reported that it made little progress in these meetings and it was very apparent that the PSC representatives were unwilling to provide clear reasons as to why the judgments were reversed and why it took so long to investigate them, thereby costing the taxpayer unnecessarily from the paid leave and the extra costs of deputising.
As a result of the failure of the chairman of the PSC to be more forthcoming in assistance to help protect the public purse, the PAC has made recommendations in its report, including:
• More timely investigations
• Full and available documentation of the entire PSC appeals process
• Changes to the legislative regulations of the PSC to allow for reasonable disclosure and sanctions for witnesses who do not co-operate
Just when I think I know how things work in our administrative government, I am presented with facts and data that prove me wrong. This three-year-old report, like so many other government “efficiency” reports, is shedding a glaring — some might say blinding — light on the inner workings of our government.
How many other important, time-sensitive reports might be sitting out there, yet to be transcribed into a civil servant's computer, yet be tabled in the House, and ultimately still waiting to be uploaded on to the Government’s website, where I found this one?
Remember what the Auditor-General keeps telling us about “timely reporting”?
She said: “Unless committee reports to the House are timely, discussion on matters in the House on my reports can be delayed until they are no longer relevant.”