Sunday, February 11, 2018

Defamation weapon used against workers

In what is believed to be a first for Thailand, a court in Bangkok is hearing a defamation trial against 14 migrant workers from Myanmar.

Their offence is simply to have claimed they were overworked and underpaid which, given the treatment of migrant labour in the country, almost goes without saying.

Thammakaset, the owner of the Thai chicken farm where they worked, filed a complaint claiming the workers’ actions had cost the company business; that they had defamed the company and given false information to public officials, offences that could land them in jail.

Thammakaset said Betagro, a multinational company to which it supplied meat, had cut its ties as a result of the publicity surrounding the case.

The workers’ defence lawyer said they had been forced to work 20-hour days without overtime, lived in squalid conditions and had their passports confiscated.

“The workers just filed a complaint because they thought their rights were violated and asked for an independent body to investigate," the lawyer said.

A ruling on the case is not expected for several weeks.

Migrant workers are not allowed to belong to trade unions, and often the only avenue open to them is to turn whistle-blower and appeal to human rights activists.

The case is significant because if successful, employers may see the defamation weapon as an effective way of silencing worker complaints.

In Thailand’s corporate culture, judges may well regard damage to companies’ reputations as a more serious offence than labour exploitation – especially if non-Thai citizens are the only ones involved.

Sonja Vartiala, Director of Finnwatch, a Finnish civil rights group that regularly reports on labour issues in Thailand, said the workers were being punished for speaking out about the abuses they had suffered.

“It is simply wrong and points to serious problems in Thailand’s defamation laws,” Ms Vartiala said.

Workers from Myanmar, which borders Thailand, make up the majority of millions of migrant workers in the country, employed in fishing fleets, factories and farms.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Carillion debacle exposes privatisation’s limits

The collapse of the British-based multinational construction and services company, Carillion, has once again raised the issue of the extent to which Governments around the world should pass on their responsibilities to private sector operators.

For decades small government has been the mantra for politicians of the right, repeated so often it has become so engrained in the psyche of political leadership that even when centre-left administrations come to power they choose not to seriously challenge it.

It has become political holy writ — private industry can do the job more efficiently, for less cost that a cumbersome bureaucracy run by closeted Public Servants who have no understanding of the real world.

Yet increasingly the public, the forced consumers of privatisation in an ever-widening field of activity, are beginning to question its worth. Many believe the Carillion debacle is just the tip of the iceberg.

The company’s crash into insolvency has revealed that it had a mind-boggling 450 contracts with the Government. Most knew it was involved in the construction of the United Kingdom’s High Speed-2 rail link, but it also provided thousands of school meals, maintained prisons and military bases.

It was building hospitals and roads; in Canada a subsidiary provided snow clearing and road gritting in areas of Ontario Province. Many of its sub-contractors face bankruptcy over money owed they will never see.

Governments of all levels are scrambling to the rescue. It is likely that all essential services and many less essential will be maintained, but the question remains: Why has this been allowed to happen?

Unless there has been a cover-up of management incompetence on a massive scale, or dirty dealings — neither of which appear to have been the case here — huge companies do not go bad overnight. There must have been warning signs, and these should have been spotted by an alert Government before things got out of hand.

Obviously this did not happen. Instead, contracts continued to fed to Carillion and it continued to eagerly gobble them up without, it seems, any thought that it might be overreaching itself.

Is this the efficiency and cost reduction that politicians of the right so eagerly parrot? And what next? If proper due diligence was not done with Carillion by a sophisticated First World administration — and obviously it was not — what of the other private sector organisations that hold these contracts with Governments, in the United Kingdom and around the world?

Under challenge here is the very notion that Governments run on business models guarantee success – the worldwide chaos wrought by the businessman in the White House should be evidence enough that this is nonsense.

Governments have to take into account a vast range of issues which never come up in the boardrooms. Making money and saving money cannot be the major priorities of administrations that truly wish to serve their peoples. 

This is not an argument for blanket re-nationalisation. There are some things, such as developing and building infrastructure, where the best talent will always lie in the private sector, and it should be fully employed there when required.

Outside that and a few other examples, there is a real need for politicians to question whether the best interests of their people are served by the Friedman concept of the free-market or whether other systems — Keynesian and even Marxist — should be worked into the mix.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Public Service News from around the world

Unkind cut for trainee doctor

PARIS (January 5): A French public hospital’s decision to reject an Egyptian trainee doctor because of his beard has been upheld in court.

The court ruled that the hospital, like other State institutions, must remain secular under France law, and the beard could be seen as indicating a specific religious practice.

The doctor, known only as Mohamed A, was sent from Menoufia University in northern Egypt for a one-year training course at Saint-Denis Hospital in September 2013.

In October, hospital managers told him to trim his beard “so that it could not be seen by staff and users of the public service as an obvious sign of a religious affiliation”. After he failed to comply, his training course was terminated in February 2014.

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Audit spotlight on PS corruption

NICOSIA (January 9): Cyprus’ Auditor General says the impunity once enjoyed by the country’s Public Servants was on the wane due to the work of prosecution authorities and changes in the mindset of the public.

Odysseas Michaelides said that Public Service corruption and mismanagement was no longer tolerated.

Congratulating Mr Michaelides, President Nicos Anastasiades said it was necessary to severely crack down on misconduct.

Citing data from European surveys on the cost of corruption to the taxpayer, Mr Michaelides said that audits and controls in general could only benefit the economy.

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Chad rethink on PS pay cut

N'DJAMENA (January 9): The Government of Chad has suspended a plan to reduce the salaries of its Public Servants.

Prime Minister Albert Pahimi Padacke said the plan, which had aimed to ease the strains on a Budget badly hit by a nearly four-year slump in oil revenues and a rise in borrowing, had been opposed by trade unions.

Public Service salaries in 2017 totalled $US720 million ($A903.6 million), roughly the equivalent of the combined revenue from income tax and customs duties, according to official figures.

Chad is under pressure to cut costs to meet performance targets under an International Monetary Fund (IMF) aid program. The country is one of the poorest in the world.

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Pakistan changes promotion rules

ISLAMABAD (December 2): The Pakistan Government has directed that the criteria for promotion in the Public Service be changed, giving more weight to the completion of training courses and less to the recommendations of superiors.

The Establishment Division within the Ministry for Public Service said the changes were necessary because of inflated performance evaluation reports that the bureaucrats were getting from their superiors despite poor performances.

However, critics said the increased weight on training came while there was still no standardisation of training courses in Pakistan.

They pointed out that the civilian-run National School of Public Policy and the military-run National Defence University (NDU) had different training modules and evaluation criteria, with the NDU criteria regarded as more stringent and robust.

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Concern over Brexit inexperience

LONDON (January 4): Only one in five Public Servants working on the United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union (Brexit) can remember a time when the UK was not in the bloc.

An analysis of Government personnel data reveals that the average age of staff at the Department for Exiting the European Union is 31, with 83 per cent of officials under 40.

The figures from the Institute for Government show that the Department, which was set up after the EU referendum and now employs nearly 600 Public Servants, has relied heavily on young graduates to fill its posts.

Insiders say that the dependence on younger employees has worsened the Department’s high staff turnover, creating internal confusion.

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Another PS death in Nigerian State

LOKOJA (January 5): A senior Public Servant in the Nigerian State of Kogi has died of a heart attack just three days after being told he was sacked.

Alphonsus Ameh had been Director Administration and Finance at the Kogi State Pension Board.

A niece of the deceased said Mr Ameh (61) was among a group of Directors and Permanent Secretaries who were suspended in February 2016. He had not received any salary since then.

Last year two Kogi Public Servants committed suicide after not receiving their salaries for extended periods.

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Police protest over officer’s jailing

HONG KONG (January 7): The union representing junior officers in the Hong Kong Police has warned of a “morale crisis” in its ranks following the recent jailing of now retired Superintendent Frankly Chu for hitting a bystander with a baton during a protest.

Chair of the 20,000-strong Junior Police Offers Association, Joe Chan Cho-kwong, said the incident “lays bare the huge changes that have been imparted on Hong Kong society amid the political disputes of recent years”.

“It highlights the inadequate protection of police officers on duty and how certain requirements of police officers on use of force have become outdated,” Mr Chan said.

Hundreds of police sympathisers took to the streets to show “support for police enforcement”. They demanded an independent commission be set up to monitor how judges handed out jail sentences.

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No money for Uganda PS pay rise

KAMPALA (January 2): Uganda’s Public Servants have been told there will be no pay rise for them this year and that they will have to tighten their belts further.

The Treasury has rejected a proposal from the Ministry of Public Service for phased pay increases over four years, saying there was no money available for the measure.

Instead it recommended a freeze on all new recruitment except when replacements were absolutely necessary and an indefinite halt to a plan for 13 new Districts and 200 Town Councils — measures already approved by Parliament.

"Relatedly, the policy of one secondary school per sub-County and a technical school per constituency will be reconsidered. In addition, Government should stop grant aiding of private schools and hospitals,” the Treasury said.

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 Recruitment drive comes up short

LUXEMBOURG CITY (January 6): Of the 2,459 vacancies in the Luxembourg Public Service over the past four years, only 1,989 have been able to be filled, Minister for the Public Service, Dan Kersch has announced.

Most vacancies occurred in the areas of education, tax administration and police, despite an intensive recruiting drive, the Minister said.

“One of the criteria for entering the Civil Service is good knowledge of the three working languages, French German and Luxembourgish, which has been a problem,” Mr Kersch said.

He again floated the idea of allowing more foreign residents to enter the Public Service, something which has been a sensitive issue in the past.

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Phone jammers to counter exam cheats

MUMBAI (January 5): Mobile phone jammers are to be used in centres where candidates are taking the examination for the Indian State of Maharashtra’s Public Service.

The State’s Public Service Commission said the move was necessary to prevent cheating.

Deputy Secretary of the Commission, Sunil Awatade said the jammers would prevent the use of cell-phones and related electronic devices.

Public Service candidate and a member of the group demanding reforms in the examination system, Mahesh Bade said jammers should be used in all Government recruitment exams in order to make sure that genuine candidates did not suffer.

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Crackdown on PS extravagance

HARARE (January 3): Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s promised crackdown on the Public Service extravagances of his predecessor has begun with the dismissal of more than 3,000 youth officers and 500 unqualified officials.

The Treasury has also begun turning down vehicle purchase requests from senior officials and trimming their fuel and mobile phone airtime allocations.

Landline telephone use is being closely monitored across all Government Departments while fiscally-supported foreign travel has been curtailed, with recruitment for non-critical posts frozen.

The Civil Service Commission is also calculating packages for all its 65-year-old and older employees and will retire them by the end of the month.

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PS development model adopted

ASTANA (January 5): The Kazakhstan’s Agency for Civil Service Affairs and Anti-Corruption has announced that neighbouring Uzbekistan will adopt the Kazakh model for developing its Public Service.

The decision follows a meeting between high-level officials of both countries during which methods for promoting efficiencies, including one-stop-shop service centres and e-government systems, were discussed.

Director of Kazakhstan’s State Services Department, Adilbek Mukashev said his country’s achievements in this sphere were presented to the Uzbek side.

Kazakh representatives briefed their counterparts on the Digital Kazakhstan State Program that was designed to reduce corruption and inefficiencies, ensure transparency in Governmental bodies and better protect the rights and freedoms of citizens.

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Up your commitment, officers told

ABUJA (January 5): Nigeria’s Federal Public Servants have been urged to show more commitment and dedication towards performing their duties in 2018.

Head of Civil Service of the Federation, Winifred Oyo-Ita made the call in Abuja while addressing Public Servants in her office after the return from the New Year holiday.

“However, I must also congratulate you Civil Servants that stood with this administration through thick and thin even in the face of the fuel crisis that ended before the New Year,” Mrs Oyo-Ita said.

She commended President Muhammadu Buhari for keeping his promise of paying salaries and promotion arrears despite the challenges faced by the country in the previous year.

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State’s public education ‘in crisis’

KARACHI (January 8): The Chief Minister of the Pakistani Province of Sindh has declared a “public education emergency” in the face of falling standards.

Murad Ali Shah said the problems in the Department of Education were serious and complicated.

He announced a 10-year education reform program “to overhaul the entire system”.

Proposed reforms would include improvement of textbooks, proper and professional training of teachers, more efficient and transparent mechanism of teachers’ recruitment, performance-based promotions, increments and incentives for the best teachers, and improvements to the classroom environment.

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‘No confidence’ in Department head

EDINBURGH (January 8): A Scottish Government Department is reported to be suffering a crisis in morale that is undermining the ability of solicitors to challenge Ministers over their policies.

An internal Public Service survey covering lawyers in the Directorate for Legal Services found only 47 per cent of staff had confidence in the long-serving Director, Murray Sinclair.

This was significantly lower than the average confidence rating (57 per cent) for Directors in the Civil Service People Survey, which was carried out last October.

The survey’s findings were catastrophic among staff covering children, education, health and social care. Of the 17 solicitors in this area, only one said they had confidence in the decisions made by Mr Sinclair, who has been at the helm for 11 years.

The full Public Service News international news service resumes on January 23 at psnews.com.au/aps/world



Thursday, January 4, 2018

Public Service News from around the world

Door-to-door service rejected

NEW DELHI (29 December): A row has broken out between the Government of the Indian National Capital Territory of Delhi and its Deputy Governor over a plan to deliver 40 public services, including driving licences and water connection permits, to citizens’ doorsteps.

Deputy Governor Anil Baijal sent back the proposal for reconsideration, saying it would only further clog New Delhi’s already crowded streets and that with increasing digitisation it was unnecessary.

Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia described the Mr Baijal’s actions as a “huge setback for graft-free governance” and said the Deputy Governor should not be interfering with the will of an elected Government.

However, Mr Baijal said he had not rejected the legislation, simply urging an alternative model.

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Prisons-pensions link challenged

ALBANY (December 27): Legislation that would require the New York Public Service pension fund to divest from companies with ties to privately run prisons, has been tabled in the State Senate.

Its sponsor, Brian Benjamin said there was no reason a progressive American State like New York should be benefiting from mass incarceration.

“Passing this Bill would not only be the right thing to do morally, it would benefit society economically,” Senator Benjamin said.

However, Director of the Empire Centre, a State fiscal watchdog, Edward McMahon opposed the Bill describing it as “a recipe for endless meddling that would actually undermine the integrity of the pension investments”.

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Private sector ‘needs redundant officers’ Bottom of Form

PRAGUE (December 29): The Czech President has called for a “major streamlining” of the country’s Public Service in his end of year message to the nation.

President Milos Zeman said the move would strengthen the national Budget as well as benefitting the private sector which could take up the redundant talent.

"Fifteen years ago, we had 80,000 Civil Servants, now we have 150,000 of them," Mr Zeman said.

He said the private sector would gladly accept redundant Public Servant, solving a growing shortage of manpower.

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Absentees result of holiday binge

DUTSE (December 29): Many Federal Public Servants working in the northern Nigerian State of Jigawa have been unable to return to work after the Christmas holidays because they had spent all their money on the festivities, observers said.

The News Agency of Nigeria reported that activities at the Federal Secretariat in the State capital of Dutse were low, with only a handful of workers present.

Some Public Servants, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said workers had returned to their homes in various parts of the country over Christmas and now could not afford the fares to return.

“Most of them will need to borrow in order to come back to work. It has always been like this. I assure you that activities at the Secretariat will pick up from next week,” one officer said.

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No holiday let-up in Turkey’s PS purge

ANKARA (December 25): A new wave of purges has hit the Turkish Public Service with the Government Gazette reporting that 637 military personnel, 360 gendarmerie force members and 150 academics or other university personnel had been dismissed.

At the same time at least 115 people who were previously dismissed were reinstated to public sector jobs.

The Government also closed down two local newspapers, 14 associations and one health clinic.

A state of emergency has been in force since the failed July 2016 coup. In that time more than 110,000 Public Servants have been sacked for alleged links to the plotters.

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PS Board members stood down

MIGORI CITY (December 27): All six Commissioners of a Kenyan Country Public Service Board have been put on three months forced leave after allegations of corruption surfaced.

Migori County Governor Okoth Obado said he had sent the commissioners on leave to pave the way for investigations following claims of corruption and unethical practices during recruitment of staff.

The board, chaired by Peterlis Nyatuga, has been in office since 2013.  It has  responsibility for recruiting County Government staff.

However, sources who sought anonymity doubted the charges could be proved, claiming at least some of the complaints were politically motivated.

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Public TV channel to rival Netflix

COPENHAGEN (January 1): The Danish Government has proposed a new 24-hour public television channel which aims to be a rival to the internet streaming site, Netflix.

‘Danflix’, which can also be accessed via an app, will feature only Danish-produced content and will be funded through television licences.

Government spokesperson Britt Bager said calling the new channel Danflix obviously came from Netflix, but highlighted the Government’s view that Danish content should be accessible in one place in future.

The proposal comes as part of negotiations for a new media deal to take effect on January 1, 2019.

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Card fees ended for public payments 

TAIPEI (December 30): Taiwanese citizens who use their credit cards to pay Government fees or public hospital bills will no longer have to pay transaction fees.

The Financial Supervisory Commission (FSC) said the announcement, from eight State-owned banks and five private banks, was expected to benefit up to 19.61 million card holders.

Currently, some hospitals charge transaction fees when payment is made with a credit card, while others do not.

Transaction-free credit card payments for medical bills will not include plastic surgery, postnatal care or health examinations.

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New crackdown on PS offenders

MANILA (December 31): Philippines Public Servants have been informed of a whole new series of offences that will result in dismissal and perpetual disqualification from Government service.

Among the violations are refusal to accept an application and/or a request within a prescribed period; failure to act on an application and/or request; failure to attend to clients who were within the office or Agency prior to the end of official working hours, and failure to render frontline services within the prescribed period on any application and/or request without due cause.

In a statement outlining the offences and their penalties, the Civil Service Commission said they “ensure consistency, predictability and stability — values which are integral in upholding the rule of law”.

“It also affords Government workers fair treatment and protects them from being victimised by political biases, persecution and personal whims,” the statement said.

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Zimbabwe union alleges spying on PS

HARARE (January 1): A Zimbabwe teachers union has accused the Government of wanting to spy on the Public Service with the announcement that the Civil Service Commission will be placed under the Office of President and Cabinet.

In a statement, The Amalgamated Rural Teachers Union of Zimbabwe said the move undermined the principles of good public administration as set out in the constitution.

"It is our submission that the process is designed to capture and militarise the Public Service as part of a broad and calculated move to control public sector workers,” the statement said.

It said that through the move the Government was effectively seeking ways to directly spy on public sector unions and thus undermining collective bargaining principles.

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Deadline for PS asset declaration

NEW DELHI (December 29): The Indian Government has given all its Public Servants until January 31 to declare their assets or risk losing access to promotions, foreign tours and postings.

The Department of Personnel and Training said the move was is aimed at curbing corruption among tainted Public Servants, a part of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Corruption-Free Country initiative.

The initiative is expected to have most effect on the more than 5,000 members of the elite Indian Administrative Service whose officers are posted across the country.

This includes the Cabinet Secretary, who reports directly to the Prime Minister as India's highest ranking Public Servant.

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“Psychological implication’ of PS decisions

LAGOS (December 28): Public Servants working for the Lagos State Government in Nigeria have been urged to be more meticulous in the discharge of their duties “considering the emotional and psychological implication which their actions and inactions are capable of.”

State Head of Service, Folasade Adesoye said officers should be aware of the effect they could have on the advancement of Lagos residents.

“We must be aware of the confidentiality required in the discharge of our duties and responsibilities, given the nature of our mandate,” Mrs Adesoye said.

“I wish to re-emphasise the importance of team work and the value of timeliness. By sharing knowledge, ideas and experience, we not only enhance the quality of work, we enrich the Public Service process and procedures.”

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PS pension bill soars 

NAIROBI (December 28):  With an estimated 20,000 Kenyan Public Servants projected to retire every year, the Government’s pension bill has surged to Sh100 billion ($A1.24 billion).  
According to the Treasury, the burden of taking care of aged former Public Servants will result in this figure doubling in the next three years. Just 15 years ago, the bill was just Sh15 billion ($A19 million).

Pension managers have over time raised the red flag on the feasibility of the unfunded pension scheme for Public Servants, saying a funded scheme where workers contributed towards their retirement during their working life would be more sustainable.

Since independence, Public Servants have enjoyed a defined benefit scheme that is fully paid for by taxpayers through the Consolidated Fund.

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Drug test failures rejected for PS

THIMPHU (December 28): Two candidates for the Bhutan Public Service who failed a drug test after passing the entry examination will have their applications cancelled, the Royal Civil Service Commission (RCSC) has ruled.

The two candidates have the right to appeal to the RCSC, which will verify if they were under any kind of prescribed medication.

“Otherwise, the candidates will be disqualified for employment in the particular year and theirs places will be offered to the next candidates in line,” an RCSC official said.

The official said the test was conducted to support the national effort to deter drug use and maintain a drug-free Public Service.  

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Unfit not fit for promotion

KUALA LUMPUR (December 28): Malaysian Public Servants are objecting to new rules which would make their physical condition a benchmark for opportunities to be promoted.

President of the Congress of the Union of Employees in the Public and Civil Service (Cuepacs) Datuk Azih Muda said the Ministry of Health should not interfere with promotion and performance evaluation.

“Any performance evaluation or factors determining promotions should not be based on someone's health. We don't know when we are going to fall ill, it's unpredictable,” Datuk Azih said.

“We have proposed Civil Servants be given two hours a week to exercise. The Government should also organise monthly get-togethers where we can all do physical work outs. Being healthy is a shared responsibility.”


The full Public Service News international news service resumes on January 23 at psnews.com.au/aps/world