The government is “abdicating” its duty to revert from politically appointed chief executive officers to permanent secretaries by passing that task unto the People’s Constitution Commission (PCC), Albert Area Representation Hon. Tracy Panton told The Reporter Thursday.
Panton described the act as “kicking the can for reform down the road” and is essentially passing the responsibility unto another entity.
The Albert Area representative’s comments echo those of the Public Service Union (PSU)’s President, Dean Flowers. “It is convenient to pass it onto the PCC,” opined Flowers, who also said that this is something that he would need to discuss further with the PSU’s general membership as it pertains to the way forward.
Flowers, while admitting that the change is not “an emergency issue,” said that there would be little to no disruption to the public service’s ability to function if the change is made now. The PSU president underscored that the reform was something welcome by his union because it would improve accountability.
“The current political creatures that are the chief executive officers have one sole mandate: To determine who gets ‘the business.’ There is no emphasis on improving the public service,” lamented Flowers while citing recent and past procurement practices that violated the relevant regulations.
As The Reporter reported last week, the Joint Union Negotiating Team (JUNT), comprised of the Belize National Teachers Union (BNTU), Association of Public Sector Senior Managers (APSSM), and Public Service Union (PSU), issued a press release updating the public on the outcomes of their meeting with several government officials.
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.
The Reporter had also spoken with Cesar Ross, head of the Good Governance Unit in the Ministry of the Public Service, Constitutional and Political Reform, and Religious Affairs, who opined 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 CEOs?”
The public service employed Permanent Secretaries up until the Said Musa administration of 1998 when the CEO system was introduced in 1999 and also recommended by the Political Reform Commission of 2000.
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.
The People’s United Party (PUP) had promised the change in their PlanBelize manifesto and reiterated it in their Good Governance Motion. In both documents, they promised to “revert to Permanent Secretaries, i.e., senior career public officers, as accounting officers of the Ministries.”