Armstrong award aimed to prod public service reform - Thomas

By Andrew Richards
Stabroek News
October 9, 1999

The Armstrong Tribunal award sought to implement initial steps aimed at securing the transformation of the public service to a modern public management organisation capable of leading Guyana into the new millennium.

These were the words of Professor Clive Thomas who delivered the feature address at the opening of the Guyana Trades Union Congress' (GTUC) Third Biennial Delegates conference at the National Cultural Centre on Wednesday.

Dr Thomas was the unions' representative on the tribunal chaired by Dr Aubrey Armstrong and also comprising Dr Gobind Ganga, the government's representative.

Controversy erupted over the award which recommended across-the-board salary increases for public servants of 31.6% for 1999, based on the December 31, 1998 salary structure and 26.67% for 2000, based on the December 31, 1999 salary structure. Ganga claimed that he was excluded from the final deliberations on the matter held by Armstrong and Thomas and the government subsequently ordered an investigation into the tribunal's procedures.

"The principle behind this transformation (the tribunal award) is to give the public service and their unions some ownership of the process. The pay award was an investment in securing their support to share in the design of the new public service and so benefit from its improvements in a fair and transparent manner," the professor stated.

He opined that unless the public service was converted into a performance management body and a culture of communication was promoted the country would remain in its current deplorable state.

Touching on the comments made by Labour Minister, Dr Henry Jeffrey and the report by Chief Labour Officer (CLO), Mohamed Akeel, who was ordered to carry out the investigation of the tribunal procedures, Thomas said the move was an attempt to save face and to cover-up for individual incompetence and venality.

He said the "orchestrated assault on the Armstrong Tribunal report is not simply an attempt to defame the majority members but also to force a wedge between the pay award and the broader strategic objectives of the report."

He noted that a government functionary was appointed to investigate the judicial body "as a result of a ruling which is deemed to have gone against his employers."

The terms of reference of the investigator were not made known to the majority tribunal members who were being investigated, he said.

Thomas pointed out that a report of the investigation was published and analysed in the state media but the persons who were investigated were yet to see the report.

"As a person serving on the statutory adjudicatory body I was not even given the courtesy of a direct communication from the state functionary undertaking the investigation," he stated.

"To date the only communication I have received from the investigator or indeed the Ministry of Labour since handing over the arbitration tribunal majority report is a copy of a letter Akeel wrote to Dr Armstrong, delivered to my home several hours after he had already announced on television that he was investigating."

Thomas noted that both majority members of the tribunal had reported to the Ministry of Labour that Ganga had stated he had not obtained "political clearance" for any position other than that agreed to in the teachers tribunal award which was at the time yet to be announced.

Delivering the president's address at the opening of the conference, outgoing President Patrick Yarde said that he was calling on all Guyanese of whatever persuasion to rally behind the August 30, award.

He said that notwithstanding the "questionable behaviour" of Dr Jeffrey, President Bharrat Jagdeo had publicly stated that his government would honour the award and the GTUC expected it to do so.

He noted it was unfortunate that the tribunal did not arrive at a unanimous award and that the government's nominee submitted a minority report alleging irregularities in arriving at the majority award. This has since been an issue of frequent debate on the state-owned television station, the Guyana Television and Broadcasting Company (GTV).

What he said was of most concern to the GTUC was the "shameful attempt by some elements of the PPP/Civic" to besmirch the character and integrity of Armstrong and Thomas, the Guyana Public Service Union and the Federation of Unions of Government Employees.

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