Public sector criticism must be well informed
I wish to comment on the opinion by Tom Conyers published in The Royal Gazette on January 28, 2017.
Conyers failed to grasp the essential points of my view on the Public Service Commission Amendment Regulations 2016 published as BR 114/2016 on page 40 of The Royal Gazette on December 7, 2016.
He then lost himself in his own untested presumptions and half-truths about Bermuda's constitutional framework in relation to the Public Service Commission, the Civil Service and the process of accountability in government.
Chapter VI of the Bermuda Constitution Order 1968 focuses on the Public Service. Section 82 (1) provides as follows: “Subject to the provisions of this Constitution, power to make appointments to public offices, and to remove or exercise disciplinary control over persons holding such offices, is vested in the Governor acting in accordance with the recommendation of the Public Service Commission.”
The role defined for the Public Service Commission by the Constitution is clear and precise — it is an appointing authority.
However, the amendments to the role of the PSC published in December 2016 extend the role of the PSC to include the setting of annual performance objectives for senior officers in the Civil Service (new clause 22A).
In my view, this is problematic because it goes beyond the role given by the Constitution to the PSC in section 82. Further, the setting of performance objectives is an executive management function. This new function is not congruent with section 82. It is a change that properly requires a consultation between the Government, the Opposition and the Foreign Office, followed by agreement between all parties. This necessary step has not occurred with these amendment regulations.
But there are other issues as well. The amendments involve the PSC in consultations with the Premier and ministers in the setting of annual performance objectives for senior officers. This action “politicises” the role of the PSC, as it now has a vested interest in the delivery of the Government's political agenda. Therefore, the PSC loses its pedigree as an impartial body.
Conyers is incorrect in saying that: “The changes are quite simple.” The changes are problematic and have not been thought through fully.
Under Bermuda's Constitution, the process of translating a government's political agenda into policy changes, programmes and service delivery is a matter for the Cabinet and the senior Civil Service. The process exists and it has been working since 1968.
Can the process be improved? Yes, but that is a function for the Government and the Civil Service as per the Constitution; it is the Government of Bermuda that is charged with running the internal affairs of our country.
There is a strong framework for accountability in the public service and it has been improved through time. Annual performance appraisals are a requirement throughout the service except for a handful of senior public officers. These officers include Secretary to the Cabinet/Head of Civil Service, the Auditor-General, the Attorney-General, the Ombudsman, the Commissioner of Police and the Deputy Commissioner of Police.
These exceptions are not the personal wishes of the office holders; rather, they flow from the Constitution. In the event of negligence, dereliction of duty, or a serious violation of the PSC Regulations, the Governor has the power to remove or exercise disciplinary control over persons holding or acting in these offices.
The overwhelming majority of public sector workers are Bermudians who work to achieve good outcomes in public policy for all the people of Bermuda. They do so with integrity, a fine sense of public service and good conduct.
Constructive criticism of weaknesses in performance in the public sector — or indeed in life — is helpful if it is well informed and objective. Criticism is unhelpful, most regrettably so, if it is driven by ignorance, malice or prejudice.
Donald Scott, now retired, was Secretary to the Cabinet and Head of the Civil Service from 2010 to 2013