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Editorial: Auditor-General’s Report Issues Show Civil Service Reforms Long Overdue

Editorial: Auditor-General’s Report Issues Show Civil Service Reforms Long Overdue
July 20
11:00 2017

The Auditor-General’s Report highlights serious issues related to our civil service.

It has noted how an oversight by one employee cost a Ministry thousands of dollars. And, that is just one instance.

There are numerous other incidences noted. They have provoked discussions on whether we should have a meritorious civil service or not. This is all the more reason why the entire issue of open merit recruitment system is very important.

The report also highlights how policies made on the top level do not always get implemented by the lower ranks.

Furthermore, simple set procedures such as travel allowance acquittals to be filed within seven days by officers out on field have not been followed.

In some cases, there have been genuine reasons for the delay such as in cases where officers were out in the field after Tropical Cyclone Winston to assess  damage to agriculture.

But, in other cases there is no justification.

Having said that, it is important to differentiate between the issues highlighted over the role of Government Ministers and their relationship with civil servants. It is a question of accountability and transparency. No Government minister personally reconciles bank records. That’s the job of civil servants who work in that ministry.

Operational matters should be the responsibility of civil servants. They are hired to do the job. Policies and the enabling laws are the responsibility of the ministers. This raises another issue of whether civil servants should be put on contracts or not.

Individual employment contracts are an integral part of peaceful industrial relations today. Many countries like our neighbour New Zealand have gone in that direction. It has cut back on ugly and sometimes unnecessary industrial disputes that only produce negative outcomes all round.

But some of our trade unionists, who are still stuck in a time warp, resist contracts. They claim that financial institutions will not lend money to civil servants because they are employed on contractual basis. This statement is preposterous.

What about the thousands of people in the private sector who are employed on contractual basis? We have not heard that their loan applications were rejected because they are on contracts. If they meet the normal lending requirements of the financial institutions, they will no doubt get loans.

We all know why trade unionists are opposed to individual contracts. The contracts weaken  their position to bargain for the workers.

Contracts and a merit-based employment system go hand in hand. They get our civil servants out of the nice little comfort zones they have made for themselves.

The current civil service reforms are addressing these issues. They are designed to throw away the old culture of lax and irresponsible habits and practices that contribute to inefficient and poor service delivery.

The new system that ensures transparency and accountability is merit-based. So there is no room for the shenanigans we read in the Auditor-General’s Report.

Civil servants will know that they can no longer take their jobs for granted. If they fail to perform, they will not be entitled to pay increases. Worse still, they may have to look for another job.

That’s what a merit-based system is all about. It is about providing a service where the interest of the people is paramount.

The issues in the 2016 Auditor-General’s Report  show that the current civil service review was long overdue.

JYOTI PRATIBHA

Feedback: jyotip@fijisun.com.fj

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