By Michelle Sutherland
President of the Public Service Union Dean Flowers says the Joint Unions Negotiating Team (JUNT) will leave no stone unturned in attempting to get the People’s Constitution Commission (PCC) to explore the idea of reverting back to the implementation of permanent secretaries instead of Chief Executive Officers (CEO).
Flowers said that realizing the need to have the issue resolved as soon as possible, the JUNT will be sending in their recommendations to the PCC as was suggested by Prime Minister John Briceño in a recent meeting. Flowers, however, pointed out that he was not at all surprised by the Prime Minister’s response that he would be delaying the delivery of his party's promise contained in its Plan Belize Manifesto to do away with politically appointed CEOs and replace them with Permanent Secretaries.
“My issue with that is that is not a mandate for the PCC. They were supposed to look at the constitution. … The government needs to realize that CEOs are not good for public service delivery or public service administration. CEOs are more concerned about serving the political directorate and ensuring that the financiers of the political parties benefit by lucrative contracts and procurement such as we are witnessing now,” said Flowers.
Flowers stressed that even with the recommendations that they are going to submit, the unions do not have any idea what the PCC will eventually recommend, and even if those recommendations were in favour of the JUNT, the PCC does not have any legal authority to force the government to comply with those recommendations.
In the end, the decision will ultimately lie with the Government; a government that Flowers pointed out has already failed on delivering their good-governance promises to the Belizean people.
At the end of last month, the JUNT met with Prime Minister John Briceño, Deputy Prime Minister Cordell Hyde; Minister of Education Francis Fonseca; Minister of Public Service and Constitutional Reform Henry Charles Usher; and Financial Secretary Joseph Waight to negotiate 10 points relating to various issues, including reverting to permanent secretaries instead of CEOs.
Following the discussions, the government took a “No” stance explaining that their position would be to await the advice of the PCC on the matter. The Government, however, advised that the unions are free to make recommendations to the PCC on the topic.
The Briceño Administration, via their Plan Belize Manifesto, had promised that they would modernize the Public Service management by restoring the autonomy of the public service, which would prevent micro-management by the political directorate, to enhance customer orientation and quality service delivery. This would be done by “reverting to Permanent Secretaries, i.e., senior career public officers, as accounting officers of the Ministries.”
The use of permanent secretaries was omitted and replaced with the CEO system in 1999 under the Said Musa Administration.
While the function of the roles of Permanent Secretaries and CEOs are the same, the difference is that CEOs are politically appointed contract workers while permanent secretaries are longstanding members of the Public Service.
The return to Permanent Secretaries would result in continuity across successive government administrations, which would lead to the strengthening of the public service due to their institutional knowledge of the various ministries caused by their operating through the various ranks over time.