TP Saran

Scheme of duties: Unnecessary, frustrating delay

 

This Acting PS is so fed up signing as Acting that he dropped the Acting bit altogether and started signing straight PS. After all, he said in exasperation, what the hell, I am performing all the duties of the substantive post and assuming all the responsibilities, why should I continue to sign as Acting? He has been Acting for nearly 4 years now, and there are countless other officers who have been languishing in what is cynically referred to as ‘actors’ for as many years.

 

 

 

And they are all the more peeved because their chance of moving higher up has been blocked by the appointment of retirees devoid of any special competencies and for purely base considerations of ethnicity or whatever. Some round pegs have been kept in square holes, and that doesn’t advance the cause of the country an iota. If anything, the opposite takes place, because these round pegs perpetuate fossilized, rigid ways of doing things. They have created a myth of indispensability about them, and have been able to fool their political masters into swallowing that. But everybody knows that the cemetery is full of people who believed they were indispensable.

The dilly-dallying on such a sensitive issue inevitably begs the question as to whether there is a will to bring about the transformational ‘changes in those (given) resources and system structures that effective governments (need to) make a real departure,’ as the editorial in last week’s issue of the MT noted with great pertinence.

Add to that the fact that schemes of service are only now being finalized – and that also on an overtime basis at weekend – after several years of delay, and one can understand that this frustration goes all the way up and down across the grades of the Civil Service, and is the reason for the malaise that is widely prevalent. Because if those above do not move out or get promoted, the ones lower down are stuck too. And this despite the PRB, and the moneys in the coffers brought in by the MRA, which could have allowed those with family responsibilities at a crucial stage of their lives to plan for a better future for their children at the same time as they perform their duties in their respective posts. And, despite the adverse perception of civil servants, there are some very dedicated ones across all ministries who hold the fort, many at AS, PAS and PS levels, and who do not receive any gratitude from higher up.

Appointments of officers in all the ministries have been held up for all these years, and there is loud rhetoric about reform of the Civil Service. What irony! And it’s not as if the powers that be are unaware of the frustration and bitterness that are the direct result of this disregard of some of the very best and honest officers alluded to above who serve with genuine commitment in spite of all the constraints that they have to face.

After these years of inaction, it is to be expected that justice will be meted to the deserving ones who are rightly so impatient to obtain their due. Can one imagine the risk this continuing frustration means for the outcome of the forthcoming general elections? Has this element been factored into the calculations of those who are at the helm of the affairs of this country? Or is it that they think that the bulk of civil servants are a fixed vote bank? Before shouting advance victory, it would be best to take an in-depth look at the real situation in the civil service.

 

The real situation

 

It is reflected in what former Soviet leader Gorbachev has observed recently about his own country: ‘We have the institutions. We have a Parliament though I don’t know whether you can call it a Parliament. We have courts. We seem to have everything, but we don’t. It’s like decorations.’

Imagine now if the country gets another 60-0, as it seems to be heading for. Are we also to have decorations instead of true institutions? Won’t we have a sham Parliament? Perhaps that could explain the indifference to real reform in the Civil Service, because the status quo appears to be very convenient some quarters. Who is caring about correct institutional functioning, drawing the lines at and respecting specified roles and boundaries, attempting to understand that there is something called ‘preserving the dignity of office’ as LEX wrote about in an earlier issue of this paper.

When even self-dignity has been thrown out of the window, where then is the question of the ‘dignity of office’!

 

More reason for frustration

 

An example of disrespect of the dignity of office can be cited, which added fuel to the fire of frustration and irritation already existing amongst staff. It relates to the interference of ministers who are called to replace their colleagues for brief periods. The established practice is that the replacee minister comes in a couple of hours a day or on alternate days, and attends to urgent matters of day-to-day running. He is not supposed to intervene, let alone interfere, in policy issues.

 

Imagine a replacee minister trying to score points over the substantive minister by ordering about the latter’s high cadre at the headquarters, forcing them to go scurry about in the field when there are already staff at the peripheral level to perform assigned tasks. To add insult to injury, he disturbs a large number of them and gets them to come to his own ministry, then cancels the meeting and goes to where he is replacing without any advance notice, such is his level of courtesy.

But worse, he harangues them as if they are dimwits, in a loud and patronizing manner, leaving them totally aghast. Mature officers with long careers and respected householders, they are disgusted by the tone and the language directed at them, a sharp contrast to what they are used to from their own minister – whom they look up to for his culture and humane approach, his experience and a maturity that matches theirs, allied to a shared sense of mutual respect and trust.

The above scenario is not fiction. It is an episode that actually took place not too long ago.

Alas, LEX may never have occasion to be witness to the dignity of office that, unfortunately, belongs to days gone by. But, as LEX has done, that does not prevent responsible citizens from performing their patriotic duty and remind the country that there are other ways of doing things, and that moral expediency is totally unacceptable. This is the least that one owes to posterity.

 

TP SARAN

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