PSC: Government Should Promptly Fill Substantive Posts

By TP Saran

The delegation of authority by the PSC to ministries is still generating concern, along with an apprehension of bias and unfairness in the minds of several interested parties. Unions have drawn attention to the possibility of ministerial/political interference, and in his address in the National Assembly the Prime Minister has stated that the idea behind this delegation is to fast-track the appointments of certain grades of employees so that work gets done more quickly and efficiently.

Until proved otherwise, we have no choice but to accept this assurance given by the head of government, but we will also have to wait and see what happens in practice when this cuts across the whole of the Civil Service and not only a few sectors as is the case now.

On the other hand, one may justifiably wonder whether there is an unstated strategy behind this move, though at first glance all appears to be in order. As the cliché goes, perhaps only time will tell – but we hope that it will not be too late to rectify any wrong(s) that may by then have been perpetrated.

It is not easy to govern this country, we have heard that and all of us know it too. All the more reason for being completely transparent about recruitments of any kind, and we must acknowledge that by and large the PSC has given satisfaction. We have also heard about bane fonctionnaires ki pas faire narien – and while conceding that there may indeed be brebis galeuses as in any other sector, those who have toiled hard (amongst other equally urgent tasks) to prepare the budgets of their respective ministries and the many detailed and complicated documents that were needed subsequently, including the appropriate briefs, confessed to us that they felt this remark is rather unfair.

Indeed, and by way of example say these same high-level civil servants, there has been a lot of hard work behind the recent exercise, and the long hours also meant the vigil when the Committee of Supplies was debating, stretching as far as the early hours of the morning. So the charge of do-nothings sticks to them a tag of ingratitude besides delighting their usual bashers.

On the other hand, the powers that be are fully aware that there are many officers who have been impatiently waiting to be appointed in substantive posts that they feel they amply and legitimately deserve. Instead, others have been assigned duties to these posts. This is felt very badly, because it assumes – especially in the case of retirees without any special quality save to be ‘yes-persons’ – that those in the line cannot do a better job, and find their career path obstructed by others who have completed their journey and have jumped on the bandwagon through the lobbied backdoors to serve themselves.

And that is why government would be well advised to have such posts currently occupied by people who are passé advertised and filled by others who may, who knows, be more intelligent and hardworking, besides being forward looking. They will definitely bring fresh blood and alternative thinking which may make the difference for the better in some vital government departments.

Really, the PSC should be returned its mandate, and given the wherewithal to fulfill its responsibilities. This will surely spare the Prime Minister of undue criticism, and up the image of the government which is often perceived to yield to occult interests. More important, though, is to render justice and instil confidence to officers who have been let down and are demotivated.

It is not a state of affairs that should be allowed to last any longer. The long overdue promotion exercise must be completed with the utmost urgency – those in authority must not forget that, whatever be their personal opinion, the backbone of government’s functioning is a robust civil service where every officer feels that he is adding value. Giving them their due is the least that could be done to boost their sagging morale.

Water shortage: Decisional Failure at Policy Level?

The central question being asked is: which head of the CWA can get rain to fall on order?

An observation by former British High Commissioner David Snoxell in last week’s issue of this paper is pertinent here. He said, ‘The position of officials in any government is to advise their ministers, they do not make policy, it is ministers who do so on the recommendations of officials.’

What do the government records say about the advice that has been tendered over the years to the minister(s) concerned? It would be interesting to have a statement in the National Assembly. Incidentally, isn’t it high time we passed a Freedom of Information Act?

It has been clear to those who do not wear blinkers that the continuing and recurrent problem of water shortage in the country is fundamentally due to:

– Failure to take strategic decisions at policy level and,
– Inadequate financing.

Scapegoating will not address the several issues underlying this problem: growing population and therefore increasing water needs; water-intensive industrial activity; failure to replace the nearly 100-year old leaking pipes in the distribution network; wasteful habits of people; poor coordination between departments — pipes damaged during road repairs are not promptly attended to; climatic factors – long periods of dryness and lack of rain.

What we need at the CWA is a magician who can wield a magic wand or a sorcerer to perform rain dances periodically so as to make up for the absence of policy decisions and centrally allocated funds. A scheme of duties needs to be worked out for the post, seriously, then only can we hope that in spite of the leaks at least there will be enough rain to keep filling up the pipes and reservoirs.

What with Tianli and all there IRS villas and malls and highways and… being built, we will certainly need the skills of a magician.  

* Published in print edition on 17 December 2010

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