The Public Service Commission

MT 60 Yrs – 2nd Year No 56 – Friday 2nd September 1955

Civil servants are speaking more and more about the Public Service Commission. They are glad to see that Heads of Departments are no more free as before to commit injustices. In short, they are looking up to the PSC for a fair treatment.

The PSC has been at work for the past few months. It has not done anything spectacular but its quiet existence and untrumpeted work have generated some confidence. In course of time, the PSC will go through a severe test. If it lives up to the expectation of the public, the confidence will grow. If it does not, despair will again reign supreme in the hearts of deserving but unprotected civil servants.

The merit of the PSC lies in the fact that it is the embodiment of four voices. The solo of the Head of Department may be stopped at will. The music of the one-man band may be stilled any time. It is easy to imagine how one man may be swayed by considerations irrelevant to the issue but it is hard to conceive how a body like the PSC can deliberately commit crying injustices.

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To know how powerful the PSC can be, one has but to consider the Public Service Commission Ordinance, 1953. Section 9 of the Ordinance deals with the functions of the Commission. It contains four sub-sections but sub-section 1. only is of interest to the bulk of civil servants. We find in that sub-section that the Governor acting in his discretion may refer to the Commission for their advice any question relating to the following matters, set down here in outline:

 (a)    appointments which it is within the Governor’s power to make;

(b)    the promotion of public officers;

(c)    the method of recruitment to any office;

(d)    the transfer of a public to a different department;

(e)    the dismissal or other disciplinary control of public officers;

(f)     the confirmation of any public officer in an office;

(g) any recommendation for the retirement of a public officer;

(h) the entry into a salary scale on first appointment or on promotion at an incremental point;

(i) the award of study leave;

(j) any matter affecting public service, prescribed by regulations or referred by the Governor;

(k) the award of scholarships (not concerning examinations).

It is made clear in sub-section 3 of the Ordinance that it is the duty of the Commission to advise the Governor but the Governor is not bound to act in accordance with the advice given. That proviso, it may be remarked, is only a safeguard – just like the Governor’s power of veto in Council.

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Of all the matters enumerated above what should claim more attention are appointments, promotion, method of recruitment and scholarships. There lies the big task for the PSC.

It is not seldom that we hear of appointments having been practically made before applications for the vacant post are invited. We spoke about such a case some time ago. It was a high post in the Telephone Department and the holder of a Sixth Standard Certificate got it. Only last week one of our correspondents wrote about vacancies in the Income Tax Department for filling which the Department is in search of – candidates with Practical Experience. It is almost always practical experience that supersedes qualifications when the protected candidate is unqualified.

Promotion too very often follows the appointment pattern but with a different terminology. Seniority seems to have become an archaic criterion of ability. What counts today is Efficiency. And goodness knows how vague that term is and how wide it opens the door to favouritism. Not very long ago our contributor Nestor said that a Head Teacher is soon going to be made inspector. We are watching that promotion.

When we come to consider method of recruitment we come to think naturally of the selection board and inevitably of the big word Personality. Qualifications, ability, experience – all can be swept aside by the dramatic posture of the candidate or his studied look or his smart appearance. We wonder if the colour of his skin, the kind of his hair and the ring of his name go unnoticed when the board has to exercise their discretion. The method of recruitment for the Teachers’ Training College has caused much uneasiness. And now, is the enlistment of nurses what it ought to be?

We have reasons to believe that scholarships are not always granted to the most deserving. One must have the necessary connections, it appears, to be given a scholarship in most cases. On what basis, for example, were scholarships distributed recently among handicraft teachers? It would be quite interesting to make a survey to ascertain who got scholarships, say during the past five years, and in what way Mauritius has benefited from their studies.

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For the good of government the public must have confidence in the various departments. Just fancy the people losing faith in the Police Department – the department which enforces law and order!

And for the good of the Civil service, civil servants must get what they deserve. How can the clerk or the official do his day’s work to his satisfaction and to that of the public if he feels frustrated all the time?

Merit should be the guiding principle whether appointment, promotion, enlistment or scholarship is concerned. Communalism should be banished forever. The influence of this club or the backing of that clique can but perpetuate nepotism and favouritism at the expense of merit.

The Public Service Commission must be given as much chance as possible to advise government. The members of the Commission must never forget that they are the guardians of Justice in the Civil Service. If they carry out their duties as true Mauritians, they will deserve the thanks and gratitude of the Mauritian Community at large.

* Published in print edition on 19 February 2016

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