An Improved Public Service On The Cards, Part 1

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Chief Personnel Officer, Ms.Gail Atkins??

With the increased world attention now focused on high productivity, it is comforting to note that Barbados’ public sector is in the vanguard of redefining bureaucracy, with individuals exhibiting competence, business savvy and dedication to national development; in short, it will not be business as usual in the public service.

Thanks largely to the public service act and recent amendments in February of this year, there is greater attention to performance, promotion based on merit, transparency, and handling matters with fairness and due process.

In offering some background to the functioning of the public service, Chief Personnel Officer (CPO), Gail Atkins stated: "I think that if you look at the original act that you would see in the long title that it is an act to achieve greater efficiency and effectiveness in the management of the service and for matters related thereto. Therefore, I think that not only these amendments would lead to a better managed and more improved service, but I think that if you consider all the provisions in the act, that the aim is really to improve efficiency and effectiveness in the public service."

??As Ms. Atkins acknowledged, there will now be more emphasis on attaining higher performance levels for national development and having persons adhere to the rules and regulations that foster better functioning of the public sector.

First of all, the public service is managed by the Services Commissions, so that it will be modern and efficient, as outlined in the Constitution, along with the Head of the Civil Service, and a Committee of Permanent Secretaries, who advise the Prime Minister accordingly.

There are also various codes that provide guidelines for recruitment and employment; discipline, conduct and ethics; as well as settling grievance procedures.

Notwithstanding these efforts, over the years, some persons have been critical of the performance of some public officers. In response, Ms. Atkins said: "I’m aware of the criticisms, but I believe that some attention needs to be paid to that group of workers who are indeed dedicated and go beyond the call of duty in order to provide goods and services to Barbadians."

She maintained that in any organisation "there are going to be those who do not at all times follow the standards set out by the organisation". The CPO added that there were procedures set down to deal with such situations. However, she emphasised "by and large, I believe that public officers are dedicated workers and I consider that these are qualities which will set us in good stead for the future."

In short, there is an attempt to create a working environment that is conducive to increased productivity and greater job satisfaction in the public service. One of the most notable changes pertains to employment.

Previously, for short term vacancies, temporary officers would be employed in three-month stints; and this often caused a backlog of paperwork in the Personnel Administration Division, resulting in delays in payment in many cases. Now, the new amendment has stipulated that persons will be employed in 12-month periods, "where the Commission considers, in the interest of the public service, that the appointment is necessary for the effective functioning or good administration of the relevant ministry or department".

In terms of permanent positions, or what are referred to as established posts, there will be an emphasis on appointments based primarily on merit as opposed to seniority. The CPO stressed that to emphasise fairness and transparency, persons will not be appointed unless "they are competent to perform the duties of those offices". Furthermore, she noted that in circumstances where more than one individual satisfied the criteria for appointment, the post would be offered to the person who was considered to be best capable of performing the duties.

And, the Chief Personnel Officer pointed out that the employment relationship was a two-way process. "The employee has certain rights, and of course with rights come responsibilities. So while in any employment relationship, the employer has a responsibility to provide safe working conditions, provide you with a fair wage etc., officers have a responsibility to observe the various standards set out for them to follow within any organisation- for example?? punctuality, " she underlined.

In turn, vacancies in the public service now have to be advertised internally and externally, and all relevant information with respect to the vacant post must be made accessible to prospective applicants.

Additionally, the new act states, "no established office in the public service shall be allowed to remain vacant for a period of more than one year". Exceptions to this can only occur if permission is granted by the Governor-General, who must be so advised by the Services Commission; or if the office has been frozen by the Minister of the Civil Service.

Moreover, the changes to the Public Service Act are designed to create a more professional and effective organisational culture that will serve this country in good stead by rewarding employees for good work and making them more accountable for their actions.??clashley@barbados.gov.bb

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