Commission on Errors, Omissions and Alleged Anomalies, 2013
It is indeed with a big sigh of relief and contentment that we welcomed the decision of the Government to appoint an independent Commission to look into cases of errors, omissions and alleged anomalies that have arisen after release in October 2012 of PRB Report 2013. It was a very wise decision and we congratulate the Prime Minister for this. Civil servants are looking forward to having a report that can restore justice, fairness and equity. Mr Manraj and his two assessors have a hard nut to crack but we are sure that they will live up to the task assigned to them by the government taking into account their proven professional track record.
Before coming to the anomalous situation referred to in the title, I would like to make a few general comments believed to be important for the enlightenment of the public and the readers in particular and especially for those who can contribute towards the production of a good report.
1. The decision of the Government to appoint an independent commission is correct for the following reasons:
(a) As a person with wide experience, it must have occurred to the Prime Minister that it would be unfair to ask aggrieved civil servants (the victim) to turn to the PRB (the perpetrator of injustice) to seek justice and reparation. The fact that the PRB people know that avenues for judicial review of their decisions are limited and complicated, they feel that they may be tempted to do what they want to irrespective of representations made to them. The law may need to be amended to facilitate civil servants who wish to take the PRB to court in the name of accountability and transparency. The PRB cannot be above the law. It is unacceptable that certain recommendations of the PRB favour one group to the detriment of another one in the public service. There must be equal pay for equal work, except where it can be expressly proved that there are major differences in attributions, accounting for marked salary gaps. Such things cannot be tolerated at a time when transparency, justice and equity are becoming the watchwords and no efforts are being spared to sanction favouritism, nepotism and corruption.
(b) It is only fair that were the PRB to address the disputes raised against their own Report and Recommendations, they might find themselves in embarrassing situations of conflict. This could make them refuse to listen to and address issues that would otherwise be sensible.
2. We agree with ‘Unyaye’ (Mauritius Times, 28 December 2012) that it is most economical and cost-effective for Government to appoint a team of consultants to review periodically the conditions of service and the salary structure in the public sector. We would suggest that the PRB must be disbanded.
3. In his article, ‘Unyaye’ also expressed a reserve on the appointment of a PAS as Secretary to the Commission. We concur with him and, as a matter of propriety, we believe that the Secretary must be an independent academician known for his objectivity and independence. A PAS cannot act as a Secretary and at the same time be a privileged witness to discussions that will have a direct bearing on his own pay and conditions of service. The Secretary can be a woman and this will bring in the missing gender dimension to the team of Mr Manraj. We would add to the argument another dimension by saying that there must also be a Social Scientist in the Commission. Very often, important decisions are taken at high level based only on economic considerations and this impacts negatively on the expected outcome of the policies. Examples are rife of cases where government programmes have had to be reviewed on social and humanitarian grounds. So, Mr Prime Minister, it is still time to ‘rectifier le tir’ if we want to have a good report that can contribute towards productivity, excellence and professionalism in the public sector.
En passant, we would like to raise an old but very pertinent argument regarding the balance of power between technicians and the administrative cadres. As matters stand today, administrators have a definite edge over technicians in the public sector. The Commission must not lose sight of the fact that technicians produce whatever service government decides to offer to the public and the administrators repackage the policy part leaving the impression that, without them, nothing is possible under the sun. Mr Manraj has to strike the correct balance to give the devil his due.
Let us now come to the anomalous situation that has been perpetuated by the PRB over the years under the ‘immunity’ accorded to PRB by SAJ who amended the law to debar civil servants from appealing against the PRB. In fact, appeal is possible but it has been rendered difficult; a civil servant has to reject all recommendations in toto and he has to forego all salary increases until judgment is pronounced in his favour. Knowing full well how time consuming and expensive are civil cases in Mauritius, very rarely will a civil servant venture out to sue the PRB when there is opacity about its recommendations. The PRB is one of the rare institutions where notes of meetings are not circulated. Hence, this makes production of documentary evidence essential for filing of cases is very difficult. Government has set up the Equal Opportunities Commission but this particular case does not fall under its ambit.
The case is understood better from the treatment of Welfare Class. The table below clearly shows how topsy-turvy the situation is regarding the salary structure (read comments after the table).
1. At Officer Level: Why should the other officers work for 5 years to be able to draw the starting salary of Community Development Officers when their entry requirements are the same? Ironically, their top salaries are the same!
2. At Senior Officer Level: There is an acceptable parity in salary except in the case of Senior Community Development Officers. Both their initial and top salaries have been pushed up for reasons best known to the PRB only. Senior Community Development Officers have been awarded the salary of Principal Officers. Quelle chance?
3. At Principal Officer Level: Here also parity is maintained both in Government and parastatal bodies except for Principal Community Development Officers who have been awarded the salary of Deputy Social Welfare Commissioner. Quelle génerosité de la part du PRB?
3. At Deputy Commissioner Level: PRB gives an edge of more than Rs 12,000 to the Deputy Commissioner, Probation as compared to the Deputy Social Welfare Commissioner. Principal Social Welfare Officers have an edge over Principal Probation Officers but things are reversed at the Deputy level. Quelle belle analyse? We hope that the PRB did not ‘guette figir’ to award salaries!
At the Commissioner Level: The PRB suddenly finds out that the work of the Commissioner, Community Development has lesser weight and awards him a salary much inferior to that of the Commissioner, Probation. The PRB gives a slight edge to the Social Welfare Commissioner.
It is clear from the above that the criteria used by the PRB for its analyses are not objective at all. It leaves room for manipulation. We request Mr Manraj to do his work independently of the PRB to ensure that the result will be better than the PRB Report 2013.
* Published in print edition on 12 January 2013