Analysis

Nemani Delaibatiki: Burchell Resigned Because Her Position Became Untenable

Her management style had become unpopular with many education stakeholders who look at her as an impediment to the progress of the civil service reforms.
11 Jan 2020 13:27
Nemani Delaibatiki: Burchell Resigned Because Her Position Became Untenable
Alison Burchell.

The resignation of Alison Burchell as Permanent Secretary for Education raises questions about the hiring of expatriates and their role in key positions in the civil service.

While she resigned for personal reasons it is understood that she had little choice, but to step down because her position had become untenable.

Her management style had become unpopular with many education stakeholders who look at her as an impediment to the progress of the civil service reforms.

The teachers’ unions, the Fiji Teachers Union and the Fijian Teachers Association, had previously expressed their disillusionment with her style.

As a result, dialogue between them and the ministry had stalled and communication was limited to written correspondence.

The unions found this unacceptable and raised the tension between them.

It was counterproductive to the efforts by the Government to promote its policies. New systems on teacher appointments, promotions and transfers had created the tension and the animosity between the unions and the ministry.

When the Attorney-General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum held the ministerial role temporarily after the Mahendra Reddy’s exit, the unions were happier because they found it easy to talk to him and discuss their grievances with him.

This continued when Rosy Akbar was moved from Health to Education. An open-door policy made the unions feel better and confident that relations would continue to improve. The unions were happy with Ms Akbar’s initial response and thought the future looked promising.

Instead, the door began to gradually close. Ms Akbar became quieter.

It coincided with Mr Burchell’s position that she would prefer written submissions on issues than face to face meetings. Even the media had a similar experience while chasing a story on education. Was it her call or the minister’s to limit discussions to written communications?

Everyone who knows Ms Akbar will testify that it’s not her nature to keep quiet. She loves to engage people in conversation. As a former school teacher, she has no problems talking to teachers and their union representatives.

She understands the issues they are talking about.

It has been alleged that the PS had asked her to tone down what she says.

Whatever the truth is, there is a fundamental reality that the minister is the boss, not the PS. The buck stops with her. The role of the PS is to advise the minister who decides whether to follow the advice or go with another option. Generally speaking the role of civil servants is to implement the policies of the Government of the day. The Government will be judged on these policies in the 2022 General Election.

Ms Burchell joins a number of expat PS who have quit before the expiry of their contracts for a variety of reasons.

Clearly, some expectations have not been met on both sides. That is why candidates need to be briefed clearly on what the role entails before any future appointees sign on the dotted line. When they sign they know what they are in for. There is no misunderstanding.

Feedback: nemani.delaibatiki@fijisun.com.fj

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