Arbitrary Transfers: Neither Equity, nor Social Justice

For the attention of the new government

By CT Zen

And that is why our oft-repeated and high-sounding ambition sounds hollow: we will never become the Singapore of the Indian Ocean. We must be mad to think that by demotivating officers we will get the best out of them. Talk about reform of the Civil Service and making it more efficient is just so much hot air, when the very people who are supposed to give the example from the top could not care less about rules and criteria, and pressure is exerted on civil servants to execute instructions which give scant respect to fairness and to respect of procedures.

And yet, in the recent President’s speech, there was the promise to effect the ‘transformation of our country into a society of equal opportunities based on the values of Unity, Equity and Modernity.’ What’s more, government’s programme will be based on the values of ‘social justice, equality and solidarity.’

Equality and social justice my foot! Always, some seem to be more equal than others.

With a new government in, in all sectors people start looking for their pound of flesh, and rake up unfinished business. Venal officers approach ministers directly or through a senior one, or use lobbies, to be posted elsewhere – which means that the officer working in the location being targeted has to be moved, and this is done arbitrarily, without any due consideration of the implications in terms of regulations and the morale of the workforce in general, which impacts directly on efficiency and output. As for the officer who is pushed out, who cares! Especially if s/he is not as well-connected.

In giving the instruction, which may be coming from the minister him/herself but originate at a higher level, does the minister ask for the criteria for transfer? Of course not! The whole point is to ingratiate oneself for, who knows, other services rendered. In the process, the innocents pay.

As the editorial in last week’s issue of this paper argued, when an employee of an institution seeks ‘recourse to political pressure and/or other forms of corrupt behaviour… the whole system becomes prone to bypassing.’ And as a result, ‘this kind of one-upmanship ends up contaminating entire structures and demotivating those who really deserve.’

There is no denying that it is civil servants themselves who push politicians to act for them – but instead of responding reflexly, isn’t it the duty of the politician, more so if it is a minister who is involved, to ensure that there is fairness and reasonableness? That is why they are voted for in the first place. If they don’t do that, they are squarely failing in their duty, and shame the nation.

In just bending to the demands of unscrupulous officers, who don’t bother for their colleagues or peers, the politician/minister can be looked upon as unscrupulous too, and be seen as colluding with a third party to do harm to another party in his/her own ministry. And if this is done at the behest of another schemer politician, the minister concerned deserves no respect at all – for if there is no self-respect, one cannot expect respect.

I know that all ministers and politicians who read this – as they will indeed – will react by having a good laugh and say cynically ‘let the barking continue, we will do exactly as we want!’ Which just goes to show how further away we are from becoming even so much as Singapore-like, let alone Singapore as such.

But it is important for the citizens of this country to know what is happening in their country, and that the values spelt out in Government’s Programme seem to be there for decoration only and little else.

Fellow Mauritians are warned.

* Published in print edition on 17 June 2010

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