Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Perm secs serve with impartiality


AT THE HELM: Maha Sabha head Sat Maharaj sits next to PM Kamla Persad-Bissessar during this year’s Indian Arrival Day celebrations.

Mark Fraser

The undersigned are all former permanent secretaries, or persons who have held positions equivalent to that of permanent secretary, in the Public Service of Trinidad and Tobago. Four of us have been heads of the Public Service. All of us were appointed by the Public Service Commission, an independent body under the Constitution. 

We write in response to the reported remarks of Satnarayan Maharaj, Secretary General of the Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha, at an Indian Arrival Day ceremony in Debe on May 30. According to one daily newspaper, Mr Maharaj said that former prime ministers Robinson and Panday “could not have lasted more than five years because they had to get past the civil servants who have been planted by the PNM. They planted two generations of civil servants to block you.”  Again we remind: our appointments were made by a constitutionally  independent Public Service Commission in accordance with the criteria in its regulations.  We consider ourselves professionals who know and understand the roles and responsibilities of public servants in the service of our country. Chief among these is to serve with impartiality and to the best of our ability.

As persons who fit the time-frame mentioned, we take serious objection to Mr Maharaj’s reported words and sentiments. They may be due partially to a misunderstanding on his part of the responsibilities of senior public servants in their roles as accounting officers in relation to meeting the demands of ministers.  Sometimes, these demands may not be able to be met within the financial regulations and this may be viewed by ministers as obstructionist.

Public servants, like other members of our society, have the constitutional right to belong or not to belong to political parties. Traditionally, however, permanent secretaries in this country have overwhelmingly been politically neutral and impartial in the performance of their duties.  All former heads of the Public Service have attested to this.

On Mr Maharaj’s specific reported charges, we note that political analysts have suggested that the Robinson government failed to secure a second term because of the harsh economic measures imposed on the population.  With respect to the Panday administration, analysts are generally of the view that the collapse of that regime was precipitated by the defection of three Cabinet ministers. The key point here is that general unpopularity or internal divisions brought these administrations to an end via the electorate; not the actions of public servants. 

We note also that non-PNM governments have been in office for 15 of the 28 years between 1986 and today.  We note further that, constitutionally, a sitting prime minister has veto power over appointments to the position of PS that have been proposed by the Public Service Commission. Thus, for the years of non-PNM rule all appointments to the position of PS were endorsed by the sitting PM. 

In closing, we reiterate that public servants must serve the government of the day with impartiality and to the best of their ability, whatever their political affiliation or their opinion of the performance of the government in power. If there are those who are actively working to undermine the government, they must be identified, investigated and dealt with appropriately. Sweeping statements about “PNM plants” do not help in fostering cohesiveness in the society at a time like today when such cohesiveness is sorely needed.

E Patrick Alleyne; John Andrews; Roland Baptiste; Annette Des Isles; Reginald Dumas; Hart Edwards; Carlyle Greaves; Ainsworth 

Harewood; Joan Massiah; Victoria Mendez-Charles; Vincent Moe; Zaida Rajnauth; Thecla Reyes; 

Winston R Rudder; Eustace 

Seignoret; Maurice St John; 

Christopher Thomas

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