20 August, 2007

Public Service Head

Constitutional Discussions 21: Deputy Governor to be the Head of the Public Service. In a colonial setting, it is traditional for the FCO-appointed Governor of an Overseas Territory to be expressly stated in the Constitution to be the head of the public service. The ostensible reason usually provided is that this is a highly effective strategy for keeping civil servants out of the political fray. It is said to exist for the protection of the public service. In general, most public servants would echo that sentiment. One of the less often mentioned negatives, is that this strategy keeps local institutions from maturing. It forces a child-like dependence on the colonial power. It is destructive of growth in self-confidence and independent thinking. It is retrogressive. Some other strategy has to be found. We need to keep the service out of the hands of manipulating politicians. We also need to ensure that we can rely on our own people and institutions to do the right thing. One strategy that the Constitutional and Electoral Reform Commission looked at was localising the head of the public service.

At present, section 66 of the Anguilla Constitution makes it clear that it is the Governor who is the head of the public service. In practice, the Governor has little or no time to devote to mastering all the needs of the various government departments. He is kept busy pressing Foreign Office priorities on the local government, and reporting back to London on the latest developments in his territory. He delegates the running of the public service to his Deputy. Anguilla now has its own indigenous Deputy Governor. In the Turks and Caicos Islands and in the Virgin Islands, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office has had no difficulty in writing into their new Constitutions an assurance that in future the Deputy Governor will always be a local person. We in Anguilla can expect no less. By formally transferring responsibility for the public service to the Deputy Governor, the desirable end of localizing control of the public service will be encouraged. This is a step towards self-reliance and increased self-government. It is a relaxing of the apron-strings. This was a suggestion that found extensive favour wherever it was discussed in the public consultations that led up to the August 2006 Report of the Constitutional and Electoral Reform Commission. In paragraph 148 of its August 2006 Report, the Commission recommended that section 66 of the Constitution be amended to make it clear that in future the head of the public service is the Deputy Governor.

Members of the House of Assembly meeting in caucus at the Limestone Bay Café were generally in agreement with the recommendation. They have reservations about the present holder of the office of Deputy Governor. He has been appointing Permanent Secretaries who did not meet the approval of the Chief Minister or his Cabinet colleagues. Not that they have any official say. It is just that they did not approve. Some of the appointees are said to be too young. Others are said to be too junior in the service. One might surmise that there is no real substance to the objections. The appointees may well have been the most qualified and those most entitled. The dispute has probably arisen only because there is no transparency in the appointment system. The Deputy Governor makes his decisions not on the recommendation of any review board. Appointments, like dismissals, lie in the arbitrary and unsupervised disposal of this one man. No matter how well-meaning and full of integrity the individual may be, that is a system that begs out for distrust and suspicion.

The Commission had bolstered the element of transparency and oversight in its Report by recommending at paragraph 151 of its Report that in future the Deputy Governor should be required to act on the advice of a much-strengthened, independent Public Service Commission. Members of the Assembly would dilute this by providing that the Premier and Leader of the Opposition both have a say in the appointment of members of the PSC.

My sense is that this variation does not find favour in the community.

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