Guyana's Public Service:Loss of innocence

by David A Granger
Stabroek News
March 12, 2000

When he was sworn in as Permanent Secretary, Public Service Management (PSM), on 23 November 1999, Dr Nanda Kissore Gopaul, leader of the Guyana Labour Party (GLP), became the fourth member of a quartet of politicians who now directly administer Guyana's Public Service.

The first, Dr Roger Luncheon, Head of the Presidential Secretariat and the country's most senior public servant, is a People's Progressive Party (PPP) Central Committee member who campaigned as a candidate in the 1992 and 1997 general elections.

The second member of the team, Brindley Benn, appointed in 1997 as Chairman of the Public Service Commission (PSC) - a constitutional post - is a former Chairman of the PPP, serving as minister in the 1957-61 and 1961-64 administrations and eventually forming his own Working People's Vanguard Party (Marxist-Leninist (ML)).

The third member, George Fung-On, Minister of the Public Service, should have been the most 'political' of the group being a candidate on the PPP-Civic's list. Paradoxically, however, he is the only one with a 'professional' background of working in the formal Public Service for over 34 years!

Politics vs administration
Although these four may be men of great personal integrity and ability, the impression created in the public mind, especially among non-PPP members, is not a happy one. The four appointments raise the question which Guyanese must answer simply: Could partisan political appointees properly administer an impartial and professional Public Service?

It used to be the conventional view during colonial times that 'politics' and 'administration' are separate and distinct processes - the one carried on by 'politicians' and the other by 'officials.' The concept of political neutrality of the Public Service is based on this premise and eventually attained the status of an axiom, although it is no longer enshrined in the Public Service Rules.

As originally conceived in E. Mills's Report of Investigation into the Public Service (1953):

"The main purpose of a civil service is to be an organ for the presentation to Ministers of the product of organized thought and collective experience. This purpose cannot be achieved unless the civil service is composed of men and women of complete integrity and able to give advice without fear, favour, partiality or prejudice. A suspicion, even though it be ill-founded, that appointments are made or promotions arranged under political patronage tends to destroy the sense of impartiality that must animate a public service if it is to do its duty with integrity and, what is more, with integrity recognized as such by the whole community, and also shakes public confidence in the government of the day as well as in the public service as a whole."

The goal of neutrality stems from the traditional distinction between 'politics' and 'administration' and is based on the assumption that the public servant does not make value judgements, but merely carries out the politically formulated will of the administration.

This assumption was challenged by the coming of internal self-government to Guyana in 1961 and attempts by the political directorate to intrude into the professional side of public administration. At that time, there were very few university graduates and a relatively small number of highly educated persons in the country at large. Many of those were active in the political movements or held key positions the Public Service. As Independence approached, the variety and complexity of the functions required to be performed in the emergent State enhanced the role of these bureaucrats even as their personal political affiliations blurred the theoretical demarcation between politics and administration. With this fusion of functions, inevitably, public servants were thrust into the realm of politics. Given the unquestionable importance of public administration to the existence of the state, officials had to be involved in the implementation of political policies.

The task of public administration, largely, is to execute political decisions made by the highest organs of the state through the enactment of laws by the National Assembly. But public servants are not expected to be mindless robots, executing policies taken without their involvement. They influence the decision-making process actively and their attitudes affect the ultimate outcome. It is therefore not difficult to establish that the behaviour and role of public servants render their functions somewhat 'political.'

The situation in Guyana suggests that the influence of party politics so penetrates public administration that it pushes the special interests of political parties into the foreground at the expense of the realisation of a unified national policy.

Although in a country as small as Guyana it is expected that the entire Public Service would be exposed to political influences of some sort, the upper levels of the public administrative hierarchy, i.e., the 'top' and 'middle' management, are likely to become strongly 'political.' The reason for this, according to Joseph La Palombara, is that the "the managerial group in the bureaucracy is more likely to have a direct bearing on political and other kinds of national development," rather than the lower levels. It is these senior public servants who are most likely to be called upon to provide advice, make plans and direct activities and must enjoy the confidence of the political Administration. The question arises, therefore, whether it is necessary or desirable for senior public servants to be neutral or impartial in their duties.

Concept of neutrality
'Political neutrality' normally implies the absence of political activity or bias on the part of a career official. It also means that "the career official will always respond to the will" of the administration. 'Administrative neutrality' goes a little further in that it means 'acceptance of the discipline of working without reservation, indeed with devotion,' for the success of every lawfully-elected administration.

These concepts are complementary, each being impossible to achieve without the other. But, Fritz Moorstein Marx has argued, career officials "should not allow themselves so intimate an identification with a particular policy or programme as to create for them an emotional disability when it comes to turning in the opposite direction under a different government." That is to say, the principle of 'administrative neutrality' precludes political partisanship and, equally, political partisanship negates administrative neutrality.

Especially if officials are faced with a distasteful policy or one to which they object, they cannot be expected to work with devotion to ensure its success. Similarly, it can be argued that officials cannot be truly politically neutral if they oppose the policy of the administration consistently or do not work "without reservation" for the execution of that policy.

Hence, the absence of administrative neutrality may indicate the presence of bias, whether or not it is in favour of a political party. If it is the case that officials feel that their moral or religious principles are offended by a certain policy, they "should have the option to be given employment in some other capacity or resign."

The concepts of political and administrative neutrality, in turn, complement the principle of the merit system upon which the typical career service should be based. It guarantees and maintains two unassailable features of public administration.

Firstly, that career officials would not have been selected and promoted on the basis of political (or other non-merit) criteria: they would have competed for their posts and advanced by merit to the higher ranks. They should therefore possess expert knowledge based upon a high standard of academic education in combination with long and tested administrative experience to enable them to provide objective, impartial advice, criticism and assistance to their ministers who, most likely, may not be so well qualified.

Secondly, ministers should be assured that, whether they have accepted the advice of their officials or not, or, whether their officials had agreed to the final decisions or not, those decisions will be executed with equal enthusiasm.

Concept of partisanship
In light of the ideal separation of 'politics' from 'administration' and the apparent benefits for good administration which flow therefrom, it is of interest to examine why the principle of political neutrality has not been accepted or enforced in Guyana's post-colonial Public Service.

The appointments by the PPP-C administration referred to at the start of this article are a case in point. The two principal examples, and sources, of partisanship (i.e., the opposite of neutrality) are political appointments (patronage) and political party affiliation or bias, of public servants.

The purpose of political appointments is to reward party workers or supporters or to place persons in posts in the administrative hierarchy with the assumption that they will continue to participate actively in party work. Similarly, officials who have obtained their posts with the support of a certain political party are expected to show gratitude and be disposed to work for that party, not only as private citizens but also through their offices. In this way, the influence of the party is perpetuated and strengthened.

The second source of partisanship - political affiliation or bias - has the same purpose. As free citizens, officials should be able to express their own opinions and act however they wish; but, as office holders, they may require another attitude to the matter. Political party affiliation or bias merely seeks to advance the interests of that party into the affairs of the state by imposing its influence on the attitude and behaviour of public servants. But, given the principal task of the Public Service, it is logically inconsistent to prohibit all political actions and impossible to eradicate all traces of political ideas and bias among public servants.

Prominent in his very long catalogue of weaknesses in the Public Service of Guyana was the complaint by Dr Bertram Collins that:

"... political leaders since 1961 seem to have taken more than a normal interest in the careers and opportunities of individual public servants and public servants have too often shown themselves not to be politically impartial... The worst consequence, however, of this political uncertainty has been a distrust in many minds about the application of the merit system. Many individual public servants no longer feel that their careers depend on merit alone but fear that they can be the victims, or hope that they will be the beneficiaries, of political favour. This strikes at the heart of the ideal of an efficient public servant serving loyally the Government of the day and all the people of the country."

Neatly counter-balancing these findings and probably intended to assuage Dr Collins's fears and those of his colleagues in the Commission of Inquiry into the Public Service (1968), was a statement at Appendix 9 to the same Report attributed to Prime Minister Forbes Burnham. Paragraph 12 of that Appendix offers:

"... the assurance of an efficient Public Service, independent of political patronage and free to serve the Government of the day, whatever its political complexion, with equal enthusiasm and loyalty. Public Officers in turn have restraints. Those in responsible positions are required to keep aloof from political activity and will be disciplined for infringement of this requirement. All public employees are required to serve all sections of the community without regard to political affiliation or inclination... "

But this was soon to change. By December 1974, Prime Minister Burnham, this time as leader of the People's National Congress (PNC) party, formally announced the decision "that the party should assume unapologetically its paramountcy over the government which is merely one of its executive arms" and revealed that public servants, including permanent secretaries, were already undergoing a series of courses in the ideology of the party and government.

Although the legal implications of this declaration and action have never been spelt out clearly, the administrative consequences were not difficult to discern. For, addressing his staff conference (at that time, the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM)) this time as Prime Minister, in May 1975, Forbes Burnham stated that:

"... today, there is no place for the neutral civil servants in this establishment... Because, if you do not understand, and you are not committed to the achievement of the goals of your employers, you are no good... Neutrality in our circumstances, is an excuse for opposition or laziness both of which is our context, are social crimes."

During the struggle for Independence, say between 1946 and 1966, the bureaucracy came to be looked upon by soi-disant socialist parties as the representative of particular class interests and for the greater part of our colonial history, it was perceived as 'the faithful servant and agent,' of the planter class. Harold Lutchman found that the bureaucracy and state machinery were "... conceived as instruments for the preservation and promotion of the interests of particular groups in keeping with their historical role... "

As such, the state apparatus became the object of competition between the major political groups and, consequently, there were strong pressures to seek the installation or advancement of loyal party supporters (i.e., patronage) or to win the support of those already in service. Lutchman found further that, as a result of this competition, there developed a feeling that "those who receive appointments to senior positions in the public bureaucracy are, for the most part, adherents of the ruling party or are chosen for their sympathy."

A start in reform
The PNC-UF (United Force) coalition administration which replaced the PPP in 1964 continued to undermine Public Service neutrality. By 1990, the PNC Administration acknowledged the damage done and sought the assistance of the UK's Overseas Development Administration (ODA - as it was then called) to undertake a review of the Guyana Public Service. The aim was to embark on serious reforms in order to support the Economic Recovery Programme (ERP) launched by President Desmond Hoyte in his March 1989 budget.

To succeed, the ERP would require highly competent public servants, particularly at the top managerial, professional and technical levels. Foreign donor agencies and states also recognized the need for an efficient, qualified and stable Public Service to implement projects and administer programmes connected to the ERP. By this time, there were about 16,000 public servants on the payroll but pay was poor, morale was low, many posts were vacant and it was difficult to recruit and retain professionally qualified staff. Under these circumstances, the Public Sector Reform Programme (PSRP) was launched.

The accounting and consulting firm KPMG Peat Marwick McLintock was engaged to conduct the Public Service Review. In addition to its recommendations for changes in pay, grading, training and personnel management, the Government of Guyana Public Service Review Report (1990) proposed the reduction of the 18 Government Ministries to 10 in order to rationalize the employment of the Service's limited human resources which were stretched thinly through the country. In fact, this much was achieved under Desmond Hoyte's presidency and, by July 1991, the number of ministries was slashed and a batch of new qualified permanent secretaries was in place.

When the PPP-C entered office in October 1992, it halted the reform process which the PNC had already started and, in certain ways, reversed some of the important recommendations. The most outstanding reversal was in the number of ministries which, as a source of patronage, provided rewards for party supporters. The result is that, a decade after the reforms started, the Government again has 18 ministries, appointing ministers for Amerindian Affairs; Culture, Youth & Sports; Housing & Water; Information; Livestock, Crops & Fisheries; Local Government; Public Service Management, and Public Works & Communication in addition to the 10 - Agriculture; Education; Finance; Foreign Affairs; Health; Home Affairs; Legal Affairs; Physical & Regional Development; Social Welfare, and Trade & Industry - recommended in the KPMG Peat Marwick McLintock Review. Of equal importance, was the removal of the team of permanent secretaries which had been installed only in 1991 by the PNC.

Forward to the past
Since taking office in October 1992, the PPP-C administration has made no secret of its discomfort with the Public Service. The principle of a neutral Public Service, it was contended, could not be taken for granted in Guyana since it was felt that there was abundant evidence that, during its tenure, the PNC had packed the Service with its own supporters.

The PPP-C administration moved decisively to establish direct political control of the top Public Service office of Head of the Presidential Secretariat (the most senior public servant) by removing a bona fide career public servant Dr Tyrone Ferguson and placing the post in the hands of PPP Central Committee member Dr Roger Luncheon. Even the PNC, in its zeal to enforce its doctrine of political paramountcy over public administration had ensured that the most senior appointments were filled only by genuine public servants.

By a series of tactical transfers and astonishing appointments, the Presidential Secretariat, which is part of the Office of the President, came to exert direct influence over the entire Public Service, sidelining the quasi-professional Public Service Management and its Civic Minister, George Fung-On.

Senior officials such as the former Comptroller of Customs and Chief Medical Officer were suspended from office and were obliged to resort to the courts for redress. Others were forced into resignation or were transfixed in office resulting from the administration's refusal to promote them. Efforts to remove a greater number of officials, however, were frustrated in part by the vigilance of the Guyana Public Service Union (GPSU) and the enforcement of the Public Service Rules which prohibit the arbitrary removal of public officers except by due process.

By shifting authority from the Public Service Commission (PSC) to the Presidential Secretariat, the administration effectively blocked the path of legitimate protest by aggrieved public officers.

Even the Public Service Appellate Tribunal (PSAT) has been left to languish without a chairman for years, thereby closing another channel for redress. The PSAT was established by an Act of Parliament in 1984 to consider appeals against unfair dismissal or promotion from the permanent staff in the Public Service only. The Tribunal came into operation formally in 1988 but its case load has been extremely low.

The low volume of cases and the Tribunal's present moribund state, however, should not suggest that there are no grievances. Other factors such as a loss of confidence in the Tribunal's capacity to secure redress, fear of victimization or, simply, ignorance of the procedure for appeals, may be responsible for the neglect of this institution and its services.

The administration's response to the inevitable consequences of its own attempts to wrest control of the Public Service has been to bypass the PSC in making appointments to posts which it regards as 'key and critical.' In one case, an appointment was made following sole tendering procedure, a unique expedient which undermines the well-established Public Service principle of competitive tendering (applications) for jobs. In this regard, the PPP seems to have learnt little from the PNC's years of public administration. As Georg Wilhelm Hegel wrote: "What experience and history teach is this - that people and governments never have learnt anything from history, or acted on principles deduced from it."

Paramountcy of politics
The PPP's present approach to the principle of Public Service neutrality has its origins in the policy of Dr Cheddi Jagan, its founder-leader. In the Report on Public Administration in Guyana (1966) by G Burgess and J K Hunn, Dr Jagan, then leader of the Opposition, is reported as proposing that the Public Service Commission (PSC) should be made up of an equal number of representatives from the Government and Opposition sides (of the Parliament).

The authors of the Report felt that the suggestion was "... tantamount to arguing that the representative basis of the Commission should be political instead of industrial... " and, although they declined to contradict Dr Jagan's suggestion, did add:

"For the good of the Public Service, however, to say nothing of the good of the country, it is essential that the Public Service Commission enjoy public confidence in its integrity. Where political opinions and feelings run deep some suspicion and distrust are inevitable, but they could be minimized by opening up the Commission's proceedings for review on appeal if it ever became constitutionally possible to do so... Article 15 of the Constitution prohibits discrimination on grounds of race, origin, politics, colour or creed. Naturally the respect shown for this policy will be closely watched by all sections of the community and transgressions will be alleged and motives imputed all too freely. In this situation it is better to let justice seem to be done, by creating a right of appeal, than to try and convince people ex parte that it has in fact been done."

Although there is a general realization both in Guyana and in foreign agencies that a demoralized and inefficient Public Service is a major obstacle to economic reform, recommendations for change which have been made more recently by the UK's ODA and the World Bank's International Development Agency's (IDA) Public Administration Project (PAP) have foundered on the rock of overbearing political intrusion into the professional aspects of the management of the Service.

The source of resistance to change lies in the paternalistic policies of the political administration which emanate from the Office of President (OP) and influence the behaviour of the political appointees in the PSM and PSC, the two agencies which share responsibility for the mainly human resource functions of the Service.

Rewards and rivals
The boundaries of authority between the PSC and PSM, and the OP, have been blurred by decades of abuse and administrative incest, brought about largely by the appointment of politicos to positions which demand persons with professional experience or personal independence and impartiality, rather than those who show sympathy for the ruling party.

On the one hand, under the Constitution of the Co-operative Republic of Guyana (1980), the PSC has "the power to make appointments to public offices and to remove and to exercise disciplinary control over persons holding or acting in such offices..." On the other hand, the PSM has executive responsibility for the management of personnel. It has become the practice, however, for basic procedural matters, much less those touching senior public servants or sensitive issues, to be referred to the OP where the HPS wields awesome power unequalled to that of either the PSC or PSM. Thus, the focus of public administration in Guyana is largely on 'discipline and compliance' rather than on development and improvement, ignoring the evaluation of long-term strategy and, instead, micro-managing individual cases and short-term crises.

In such a situation where special contracts, allowances and salary enhancements have to be made without transparent and objective criteria, the importance of the principle of political partiality above that of 'political neutrality' becomes apparent. The temptation to give those resources as rewards to compliant, or deny them as punishment to recalcitrant, employees cannot always be resisted.

It is not to be forgotten that these weighty matters are determined, ultimately, by men who at one time or the other stood on the hustings and campaigned actively for political parties.

In the words of the Report of the IDB Pilot Mission on Socio-Economic Reform in the Cooperative Republic of Guyana - Building Consensus for Social and Economic Reconstruction (1994):

"... if human resources are to be used most effectively, there is no place for any continuation of the type of political and ethnic discrimination which denies able Guyanese from making their contribution to the country's development. Qualification, experience and need must remain the best test of whether and where people are employed."

But in Guyana, where political rivalry is not based purely on ideological issues, there may also be distinguishable ethnic, religious, occupational and even residential factors which can influence officials' behaviour and move them to favour one group in preference to another. Although neutrality and impartiality are not synonymous, they are inter-related and, in practice, politically partisan officials would find no moral hindrance to bestowing the state's goods on their party comrades. In fact, it might be seen as a 'duty' to be partial.

The failure of the administration to publish its own plan for Public Service reform, or to accept the recommendations of previous reviews and studies, perpetuates uncertainty and keeps open the opportunity for political interference in the professional and administrative side of the Service.

Indeed, a clear statement of the administration's intent is to be found only in the draft National Development Strategy for Guyana (1996) which, admitting that "much remains to be done to improve public service performance," proposes eight specific measures. These are so fundamental to good administration that, in their emphasis on clarity, transparency and due process, it is amazing that they should still be 'under consideration' rather than being enforced. They should already have been incorporated as standing operating procedures. Briefly, the 'new' measures are to be:

* The standardization of recruitment and evaluation procedures. * The introduction of a clear and complete system of information regarding vacancies. * The introduction of transparent procedures for the evaluation of performance and for linking of incentives to performance. * The development of a transparent pay policy. * A review of the actual needs of the civil service as they relate to establishment levels to fulfil Government policies and priorities. * Initiating programmes to retain lower level staff as the recruitment of higher level staff progresses. * Develop a comprehensive recruitment policy, so as to attract technical and professional staff. * Given the fundamental nature of many of [the] changes being considered, managers need to be trained to manage the change effectively.

Far from being routine practice, the adoption of transparent procedures and standard practice seems to have become a strategy for the future and their presentation in the NDS suggests that, along with the concepts of neutrality and impartiality, transparency and due regularity have also disappeared from the Public Service.

Lost cause
The question in Guyana is no longer whether there can be neutrality in the Public Service; by now, that should be a lost cause. The main concern is whether it is possible for public servants to carry out their duties in an impartial manner.

Impartiality can be regarded as a code which regulates the officials' behaviour or attitude towards the populace and which prescribes a standard of fair distribution or service to all citizens requiring it.

The fear that the Public Service has lost this faculty derives from the forms of political control exercised first by the PPP (1957-64), then the PNC (1964-92), and by the PPP again (since 1992).

Finally, it may be useful to consider whether the absence of neutrality has affected the attainment of the goals of public administration in Guyana and whether the interests of the state would have been better served by a politically and administratively neutral Service.

Kempe Hope found one of the greatest weaknesses of Guyana's Public Service to be that the bureaucracy "emphasised the sovereignty of politics rather than the supremacy of administration." This, he felt, had two unfortunate consequences: first, that personal survival in terms of longevity of service depended on political affiliation and, second, that politics became the preoccupation of the minister and his permanent secretary who monopolized decision-making.

Both trends tended to create an excessive centralization of authority which, ultimately, led to the lack of coordination of policies, a lack of dissemination of information, the destruction of the channels of communication and the immobilization of development administration. Simply, for Hope, politics in administration produced inefficiency.

Lutchman's conclusion on the neutrality of the Public Service, though written several years ago, still appropriately describes the functioning of the concept of neutrality in Guyana:

"... the concept of civil service neutrality now enjoys the status of a myth in the Guyanese society, though few persons in positions of authority willingly state the issue in such unambiguous terms. As happens ever so often, there is a great divorce between theory and practice, between rhetoric and reality but because it has always been a feature of Guyanese society to stress and emphasise constitutional niceties in public, many persons still pretend and behave as though 'civil service neutrality' is a fact though in private, they willingly admit otherwise... "

Guyana's present straitened circumstances and the continuing complexities of ethnic and political relationships provide cogent arguments for the dismantling of structures and arrangements based solely on patronage and party affiliation. Simply, the administration must aim at creating an administrative apparatus in which ability, integrity and intelligence are rated higher than political loyalty and affiliation if the Public Service is to function as an efficient, professional entity and contribute fully to the development of the country.