The Government of Belize (GOB) has decided to delay the delivery of a promise contained in its Plan Belize campaign manifesto to revert the public service to having Permanent Secretaries instead of Chief Executive Officers.
The announcement came this week via an update on negotiations between GOB and the Joint Union Negotiating Team (JUNT) comprised of the Belize National Teachers Union (BNTU), Association of Public Sector Senior Manager (APSSM), and Public Service Union (PSU).
The JUNT explained that at the meeting with Prime Minister John Briceño; Deputy Prime Minister Cordel Hyde; Minister of Education Francis Fonseca; Minister of Public Service and Constitutional Reform Henry Charles Usher; and Financial Secretary Joseph Waight, the government took the position to wait for advice from the People’s Constitution Commission (PCC).
GOB also said that the Unions were free to use their seat on the PCC to make recommendations on the matter.
Following the announcement, The Reporter spoke with Cesar Ross, head of the Good Governance Unit in the Ministry of the Public Service, Constitutional and Political Reform, and Religious Affairs, who said that GOB was exercising prudent judgment by awaiting word from the PCC.
“The problem is if they went ahead and changed it, and then the commission’s recommendation countered that, then what would they do?” Ross said. “So rather than jump ahead and do something that would contravene the reform consultations, the government is saying, ‘Let’s see what the consultation produces. Do they recommend a structure that has Permanent Secretaries rather than CEO's?”
The public service employed the use of Permanent Secretaries up until the Said Musa administration of 1998, when the CEO system was introduced. The functions of the Permanent Secretaries and the CEO were essentially the same. The main differences between the two roles were the requirements. The post of Permanent Secretaries was given to long-standing members of the public service that had operated within the ranks of their ministry and, as such, had institutional knowledge of the Ministry itself as opposed to just the ministry’s mandate.
Permanent Secretaries also enjoyed more stable job tenure as the appointment and/or firing of a permanent secretary was a process governed by the Public Service Regulations, not the political will. This process ensured continuity across successive government administrations. CEOs, alternatively, are contract workers who are not required to have a public service background and who can be replaced with the expiration of a government administration.
In the “NURTURING THE NATIONAL CONSCIENCE” section, Page 34 of plan Belize, the People’s United Party (PUP) pledged to “Revert to Permanent Secretaries, i.e., senior career public officers, as accounting officers of the Ministries,” among several other good governance promises.