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BIU chief critical of civil servant’s SAGE submission, eligibility

Civil servants should not have been allowed to enter the SAGE Commission's ideas contest because their inside knowledge and privileged access to information gave them an unfair advantage, says Bermuda Industrial Union president Chris Furbert.

“I think that it's a grave injustice to somebody else entering the competition without having the kind of knowledge he had about it because they have a big disadvantage,” Mr Furbert told The Royal Gazette.

The SAGE Commission has defended the decision to include civil servants, saying senior civil servants had insisted on their inclusion.

Magnus Henagulph, a Public Affairs Officer, submitted the proposal deemed by the Commission the best overall earning himself a $12,500 cheque. Mr Furbert is as unimpressed with the SAGE Commission's rationale as he is by some aspects of the winning submission.

And he shares the concern of a number of observers that a submission with numerous factual errors emerged as the overall winner.

He pointed to Mr Henagulph's claim that some Ministers had been using Government issued credit card for non-business purposes.

As it turned out, the policy is not to allow Cabinet Minister's and civil servants to use the credit cards locally, and Mr Henagulph removed the claim in a revised version of the submission.

“Here's a Public Affairs Officer making these kind of mistakes,” he said. “You wouldn't expect a Public Affairs Office to be making these kinds of mistakes.”

Mr Furbert pointed out another factual error in Mr Henagulph's submission — the claim that bus drivers who fill in for colleagues on furlough would be paid time and a half.

In fact, the recently concluded agreement between Government and its employees specifically provides that the 12 days of furlough — unpaid and unworked days — will be filled in at straight time.

“For him to say it will be paid at time and a half or double time, he don't know what he's talking about. Because we've agreed it's going to be straight time. We've told our members it's going to be straight time.”

And Mr Henagulph's suggestion that Government negotiate a voluntary redundancy programme capped at 20 weeks' pay would lead to less favourable redundancy terms than provided for by the Employment Act, which caps redundancy payments at 26 weeks.

Another aspect of the submission that got Mr Furbert's attention was a parenthetical comment that “Hospitality CBAs are out of date — issue with 70 percent occupancy rule — stifles competitiveness”.

“What has that got to do with the SAGE Commission and their whole remit to look at Government expenditure?” asked Mr Furbert.

“How does that get in there?”

The union leader was also critical of a suggestion that public works such as road paving should be privatised.

Mr Henagulph noted that Works employees start work officially at 7.30am but cannot actually start working until nine, killing over an hour doing nothing.

But the challenges of paving roads at rush hour would be the same whether it was done by the public sector or the private sector, said Mr Furbert.

“I just think that all these kind of stuff needs to be properly managed,” he said.

“We need to make a check on all the facts before we start speaking about ABC. Can we improve the system? We can always improve the system.

“What people are finding now is that we need to improve the system so that we won't continue to have the problems that we are having.”

He added that privatisation had not been the hoped for panacea in some other jurisdictions.

“So you want to go get some examples where it is working and working well? Then we can sit down and have that conversation so we can see whether or not it's working the way people thought it was going to work.”

But Mr Furbert seemed most aghast at Mr Henagulph's suggestion that the Cabinet intern programme be cut.

“The Government is looking to get young people engaged. They've developed an intern programme and this guy sees it as an overage expense and is saying that the Government should get rid of it.

“Here's a way to encourage Bermudians to join the civil service as productive citizens and he's trying to throw cold water on it.”

Mr Henagulph's submission states: “While Government needs talent in the civil service the ad calls for ‘no experience necessary' yet they will be paid $61,278.10 p/a. For five interns that is $306,390.50.”

That, said Mr Furbert, is “money well spent” and he noted that the interns get a good grounding in various civil service departments.

“My understanding is that the programme is working extremely well. That's what I've been told.”

He acknowledged that the fiscal crisis had forced a closer look at spending and the size of Government, but said an analytical approach had to be taken. “I think you should identify what the needs are, what the wants are and maybe come up with a criteria as to what that should look like.”

Mr Henagulph was also concerned about sick day policies for bus drivers. Some unionised workers can carry up to 100 accumulated and unused sick days to the following year.

Mr Furbert said any worker who used such time during a given year would be suffering a long-term illness and the numbers of such people would be a tiny minority.

Bermuda Industrial Union president Chris Furbert
SAGE Commission contest: Unanswered questions

SAGE Commission Chair Brian Duppereault has opted to address questions about the Awards contest at public meetings scheduled for next week.

This newspaper has asked a number of questions about the contest — prompted in part by controversy surrounding the winning submission.

But our e-mailed queries to the SAGE Commission spokesperson yielded little.

“The SAGE Commission appreciates there is ongoing discussion about the Awards Programme,” said Mr Duppereault. “I would like to talk about the programme at the public meetings scheduled for next week and will do this at the start of each meeting.”

Some outstanding questions include:

1 How did the 400 submissions break down, category-wise? And the 24 shortlisted?

2 How was the shortlist created and by whom?

3 How were the winners selected? Was there a marking system?

4 The big prize was going to be $10,000 from the announcement of the competition. But the overall winner got $12,500. Why the discrepancy?

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Published September 12, 2013 at 9:00 am (Updated September 12, 2013 at 12:52 am)

BIU chief critical of civil servant’s SAGE submission, eligibility

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