The task before the Public Service Commission

MT 60 Yrs – 2nd Year No 50 – Friday 22nd July 1955

 Injustices in Government Civil Service

With the setting up of the Public Service Commission we are made to heave a sigh of relief in thinking that at long last there will be an end to injustices and fair play will prevail at least in so far as appointment, promotion and method of recruitment in the Public Service are concerned. Today when we think of those days when nepotism, discrimination and flagrant injustices were rampant, we cannot help thinking of those who have been victims of this corrupted system. Even today the position is no less worse. How many still suffer and who cannot protest for fear of losing what they have in hand. It is true that since some time members of the Legislative Council have protested against such abuses but the authorities have turned a deaf ear to these protests.

The young man who joins the Government Civil Service, if he does not belong to a certain class or community, has to face so many difficulties that at times he has to ask himself whether it is not better to give up the battle and resign to his fate. In the absence of any modern system of recruitment, appointment and promotion, the regulations and circulars are made and interpreted in such a way that it is easy for a head of a department or a senior officer in the Establishment section of the Secretariat to carry out a policy of nepotism and favouritism. However qualified one may be for a post, if he is not in the good books of the head of the department, his future is dark. It is easy to get rid of someone in order to make room for a protégé. It is just saying that this one is more suitable than the other one. One speaks of qualifications, but there are so many persons in government service today who do possess only the Sixth Standard certificate of the primary school and are yet occupying senior posts in the administration. They are supposed to possess experience but anybody, given the same facilities, could acquire the same experience, if not better.

The other device resorted to by certain heads of department is to recommend an officer for an acting appointment while the substantive holder of the post in on leave or on secondment, and when the time for definite appointment comes, to recommend the officer who has been doing the actingship for appointment on the strength that he has had considerable experience, however unqualified he may be to fill the post in question. This is indeed revolting. A qualified officer could have been given the same opportunity. Often one gets promotion just because he is the senior to others. There is no doubt that seniority should be reckoned as a factor in deciding promotion, but it should not be an argument for keeping down qualified officers in order to make room for persons who are not qualified and who are not competent.

It is a pity that progress in the establishment of departmental Whitley Councils has been every slow. The relations between Senior Officers and the junior staff constitute another big problem. There are some Senior Officers in the government service who act as virtual dictators. We are living in a world where relations between employer and employee have undergone such changes that the smallest employee is regarded with some respect. Why should it be otherwise in the government service? Regulations say that a civil servant can refute the arguments of a head of department, if adversely reported, but how difficult it is in practice for a junior officer to obtain redress of his grievances when the head of the department is all powerful and by a stroke of his pen can mark his future.

The Public Service Commission has been set up and has started working. Will it, as some say, inaugurate a new era in the history of the Mauritius Civil Service? This is a question which is being discussed these days. They are the pessimists who openly say that the establishment of the Public Service Commission is just a mere eyewash. To what extent, they argue, can the Commission stop the injustices? The powers and duties of the Commission are set forth in Article 9 of Ord 23 of 1953 which provides for the constitution of a Public Service Commission and matters incidental thereto. They look so impressive and one is lead to think that if things are done as they are set up on paper, it will really mean a big change. It now remains to be seen how far the Commission will make use of its powers without falling into the same state of unpopularity as previous Central Staff Boards. But one thing is certain: If the Commission lets itself to be guided by the Establishment section of the Secretariat, it is bound to fail, for so much depends on how a case is presented which in turn sometimes depends on the idiosyncrasies and racial feelings of the officers occupying senior posts in the Establishment section of the Secretariat.

It is important that before pronouncing on any question of promotion or appointment, the Commission be given the opportunity of assessing the merits of not only one officer who has been recommended by the Head of the Department or by the Establishment, but also of other officers, in whatever grade. Then and then only should fair play prevail. As things are being done now, the door is left open to many injustices. Have you heard of a case when an officer, who is not yet qualified to fill a post, is in the first instance given the opportunity of doing an actingship for that post; he is then sent to UK on study leave and on his return back in the Colony, is definitely appointed in that post, whereas others who do possess the necessary qualifications are not considered? If the PSC approves such things, then let us not entertain great hopes on it.

Recently the press announced that the Governor with the advice of the PSC has approved the promotion of two officers to two senior posts in the administration. Are we to believe that the names of other candidates were also considered before the abovementioned promotions were made? If yes, what has been the procedure for in fact, the news of these two appointments came to some officers as a bolt from the blue. There are at present many serving officers who are qualified for these posts and whose names have not been considered. If, on the other hand, it is only that the recommendation of the government that has been endorsed by the PSC, then let us at once dismiss the Commission as a mere registering machine.

The setting up of the PSC does not altogether solve the long-standing problems of the civil servants. What is required is a complete change of regulations that have been made with a biased mind and in terms of which the Commission is asked to work. In our next article we shall speak more about these problems.

(Friday 22nd July 1955)

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