Political Activities of Government Servants

Mauritius Times – 60 Years Ago 

By Somduth Bhuckory

A circular concerning the political activities of government servants was sent to all heads of departments by the Secretariat in December of last year (1956). The heads were requested to bring the circular to the notice of all members of their department. We understand that the request has recently been complied with.

Political activities of Civil Servants became a topical subject not very long ago. When Mr Malcolm de Chazal wrote of the omissions in the programme prepared in connection with the visit of Princess Margaret, it was murmured in certain quarters that he had gone beyond the limit. It was even feared that disciplinary action would be taken against Mr Malcolm de Chazal, the civil servant. It is hard to forget how violently the writer in Mr de Chazal had reacted to the suggestion that he had meddled with politics. That was when our distinguished compatriot wrote the following among other moving words: “Si je dois afin de maintenir ma place au service du Gouvernement, abdiquer l’intégralité de mon être, abandonner ce qui fait la richesse de ma personnalité, perdre la liberté ma conscience, je préfère mordre les roches du chemin, avaler la poussière.”

We emphasized in this column how important and urgent it was to define clearly the political activities of civil servants. We welcome the attempt made by the Secretariat in this direction.

We are taking the liberty to deal with the Secretariat circular because we sincerely wish to find a happy solution to this thorny problem. Also because the circular itself says in paragraph 2: “a more detailed examination of what is implied by the expression “political neutrally of the Civil Service” would be useful not only to members of the Civil Service itself but also to members of the public.”

It appears that the Secretariat issued a circular in 1953 pointing out that the political neutrality of the Civil Service was a fundamental principle which should be maintained but the full implications of the circular were not properly understood. Hence, this new circular.

After having told Civil Servants what their duties and responsibilities are, the circular goes on to tell them that they should not:

“(i) Hold office or take active part in any political organisation; (Note, however, that they may belong to a political party).

(ii) Engage publicly in political controversy;

(iii) Write letters to the press, publish books or articles or circulate leaflet or pamphlets on political matters:

(iv) Canvass in support of political candidates or in any way publicly support the candidature of political candidates.

Let us add, by the way, that “the above code has been framed with particular reference to officers on the permanent and pensionable establishment and others who, though not holding pensionable office, occupy positions of responsibility in the public service”. Some more latitude is given to employees under “Other Charges”.

The keynote of the four official commandments is, as it should be politics. But what is politics? may be asked not necessarily in the tone of jesting Pilate when he inquired about truth. Borderline cases are legion. Did Mr Malcolm de Chazal, for example, indulge in a political activity when he wrote on the Royal visit in the way he did?

Because there are so many doubtful cases, we should like to know what will happen if one crops up for disposal. The circular does not say anything about the procedure to be followed in dealing with Civil Servants dabbling in alleged political activities.

It is said in the circular that the terms have been agreed upon after consultation with the Staff Side of the Central Whitley Council. Did not any member on the Staff Side bother to know what will happen to him or to one of his colleagues the day he stands charged?

The circular deserves publicity and consideration. Every Civil Servant must know the extent of his rights and privileges. Political passion may soon reach a dizzy height with constitutional changes and general elections just round the corner. It’s time we thought of the defence of potential regulation-breakers!

In a recent parliamentary reply, Mr Powell, Financial Secretary to the Treasury, spoke about Civil Servants suspected of communist sympathies. Later the Treasury issued a statement telling Civil Servants what they could do when accused. We haven’t reached this stage of political witch-hunting in Mauritius but we believe that the procedure adopted in England suggests that any suspect must be given every chance of defending himself. A circular in that sense would be a great relief.

* * *

Bon voyage once more!

The parliamentary delegation is definitely leaving on the 17th instant (Feb 1957)  to meet Mr Lennox-Boyd. Talks will start on the 21st and it is surmised that everything will be over by the 28th. We wished the last parliamentary delegation ‘BON VOYAGE’ in July 1955. It is with pleasure that we say ‘BON VOYAGE’ once more to the delegation because we are confident that it is more than a pleasure-trip that the delegates are undertalking.

Dr Cure came out of the shadows last week to advocate the inclusion of Independents in the delegation. Dr Millien, upon whom the limelight is beating so fiercely, should not remain relegated in the background. Last Wednesday he made his views known on the Constitution. The Labour Party is inviting us at Plaine Verte tomorrow afternoon to give us, presumably, some hopeful message. But the silence in the other camp is overpowering. Why is it that nobody is alluding to the qualities of the Secretary of State, which have so much affinity with the rock of Gibraltar? Are the non-Labourites feeling that Mr Lennox-Boyd is giving way to the Labourites?

At long last the public has had a glimpse of the basis of the London talks. One wonders why matters of even public interest are so much shrouded in mystery in Mauritius. From a communique of the Public Relations Office, published last Monday, we learn that the discussions will be “on the basis of the statement made in the House of Commons on the 12th December, 1956.” On that day, replying to Mr Arthur Skeffington and Mr Fenner Brockway, Mr Lennox-Boyd had said that the was ready to consider the objections to P.R. and to the way of selecting members for the Executive Council in the light of the three principles enunciated by him at the beginning of the year.

The P.R.O. communique does not give much hope, does it? But we don’t know what the Officer Administering the Government has told the elected members to induce some of them to meet Mr Lennox-Boyd once more.

Be it as it may, we like to think that the Secretary of State will not try to press upon his P.R. proposal. If he does, we can be sure that the talks will end in smoke. As a good diplomat, Mr Lennox-Boyd will realize, we hope, that his principle must not be rigid to the point of being immune to any modifications. If he stands his ground, we expect the Labour delegates to stand theirs and say: Not over our dead bodies!


* Published in print edition on 25 October 2019

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