Sunday, January 15, 2017

Public Service news from around the world

One dollar wages threat to PS

WASHINGTON (January 5): American Public Servants are feeling just a little more threatened this week after Congressional Republicans gave themselves the power to slash the annual salary of any individual Federal worker to as low as $US1, and the budget of any individual Federal program right down to zero.

Republicans revived an obscure provision enacted by Congress in 1876 that empowers any Member of Congress to submit an amendment to an Appropriations Bill that targets the funding of a specific Government program or employee.

The rule was devised before the advent of a non-political, career Public Service and has been rarely invoked. The fear is the revived law could be used to cut programs supporting things like the Clean Air Act, which some Republicans may not approve.

The rule appears most disconcerting when viewed in the context of the incoming Administration’s apparent hostility toward the independence of the Public Service.

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PS head sacked — again

BANJUL (January 5): Gambian President Yahya Jammeh has sacked the head of the country’s Public Service — for the second time in six months.

Sulayman Samba was initially dismissed in June last year, seven months after his initial appointment then reappointed two months later. No treasons were given for either sacking.

Mr Samba has held many senior positions under President Jammeh including Deputy Secretary-General and Permanent Secretary for various Government Ministries.

President Jammeh’s mandate is due to end on January 28 after he surprisingly lost the election to Opposition candidate, Adama Barrow. Despite initially conceding defeat, Mr Jammeh is now refusing to hand over power and has vowed to fight off any foreign military intervention.

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Ill wind blowing in public sector

OTTAWA (January 10): Canadian Public Servants took a record number of sick days in 2016 according to annual job market statistics released by Statistics Canada.

The average public sector worker missed 13.5 days of work last year compared with 8.3 days for workers in the private sector.

The gap between public and private sector absenteeism has been widening for years but last year that disparity hit an all-time high, as Government workers took 5.2 more sick days than those in the private sector.

According to a separate study as much as 80 per cent of the sick-leave gap is the result of the make-up of the Government workforce. Workers in the public sector are generally older, there are more females than males, and most are unionised — all three of those groups tend to take more time off. 

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Senior professors shown the door

KUALA LUMPUR (January 8): Malaysian public universities have been stripped of their senior staff with 156 out of 506 professors, aged between 61 and 70, not having their contracts renewed last year due to budget cuts.

Chief Executive of the National Council of Professors, Datuk Raduan Che Rose said the trend might affect Malaysian universities’ ability to compete internationally.

While the official retirement age for professors is 60, those past that age have usually continued to work under contract, subject to the ability of their respective institutions to pay for them. It is this group that has been most affected by funding cuts.

“In order to compete internationally, the country should find ways to retain our professors to at least up to 65 years old and also attract good foreign professors into our system,” Dr Raduan said.

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Former EU envoy to retire

LONDON (January 8): Four days after his shock resignation as the United Kingdom’s Ambassador to the European Union, Sir Ivan Rogers has quit the Public Service with immediate effect.

A spokesperson for the Foreign Office said: "Sir Ivan Rogers did not seek any further Civil Service appointment and has therefore resigned from the Civil Service with immediate effect.”

It is understood Sir Ivan will receive three months’ pay in lieu of notice, in line with standard Foreign Office terms, but no special pay-off was offered or sought.

In a fiery message to staff announcing his resignation from the Brussels post, Sir Ivan had hit out at the "ill-founded arguments and muddled thinking" of politicians and said Public Servants  still did not know the Government's plans for exiting the European Union.

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Workers quit posts to fight poll

NAIROBI (January 8): Kenya’s Public Service could be facing a personnel crisis as hundreds of workers, including Cabinet Secretaries, heads of Government Agencies and national and county employees hand in their resignations to contest this year’s General Election.  

Some county [Local Government] executives have already tendered their resignations even before the February 8 deadline.

The Election Laws (Amendment) Bill 2016 requires Public Servants who want to contest the election to leave office six months beforehand.  

Chair of the Public Service Commission, Margaret Kobia said resignations would be accepted by the Government and those leaving would hand over to the senior-most officers in their Departments “so there will be no vacuum”.

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More work needed on PS reform

WASHINGTON (January 5): The United States Office of Personnel Management (OPM) says it has made significant strides towards a more modern Government personnel system, but has urged future Administrations to allow it to continue with the work.

Acting Director of the OPM, Beth Cobert said there was a need for more comprehensive reforms that addressed structural challenges to improved Government-wide performance.

She suggested Congress bring together lawmakers, representatives from the President’s National Council on Federal Labor-Management Relations, members from industry and academic experts to develop new recommendations to modernise personnel policies.

She also suggested Congress consider targeted legislation to help Agencies more quickly bring in students, recent graduates and young talent with mission-critical skills.

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Call to whip PS into shape

KUALA LUMPUR (January 11): An organisation representing former Malaysian Public Servants has urged heavier punishment, including whipping, be imposed on officials found abusing power and involved in corruption.

The Alumni Association of the Administrative and Diplomatic Officers said corruption involving large sums of money among Public Service officials was disturbing and damaging to the reputation of the service and the country.

It said public officials should not abuse the positions and power they had been entrusted with to betray and commit criminal breach of trust.

"It should be noted that there are countries that impose the death penalty on Public Servants found guilty of corruption, especially those in senior positions," it said.

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Chief gets free hand to fight corruption

LILONGWE (January 7): Malawi President Arthur Mutharika has sworn in a new head of the country’s Public Service, challenging him to “root out corruption wherever he finds it”.

Naming Lloyd Muhara as the Chief Secretary to the Government, President Mutharika said he had a lot of confidence in Mr Muhara and Malawians had high expectations of him.

 “I want you to root out corruption from the Civil Service. Your office is mandated to discipline, to suspend and to fire people, President Mutharika said.

“I want wrong-doers to be fired and prosecuted. We are better off parting with people who bring performance down than keeping them in the system. The time for playing games is over.”

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Government workers on the rise

OTTAWA (January 9): The number of Canadian Federal Public Servants employed in and around the national capital of Ottawa is now at its highest since 2010, when the previous Conservative Government began cutting jobs.

Statistics Canada said the total number of Federal employees working in the National Capital Region in 2016 jumped by 14,000 to 145,000, representing a 10.5 per cent increase over the previous year.

Experts said the growth was directly tied to the Liberal Government carrying out election promises to create new programs for Canadians.  

Describing the current Government as “hyperactive”, President of the Canadian Association of Professional Employees, Emmanuelle Tremblay said that after deep cuts into services there had been a realisation that Departments “cannot function below the bare bones".

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Restive workers want promotion

ABUJA (January 10): There is mounting concern in the Nigerian Federal Public Service over a failure to promote qualified employees, some of whom have been stuck in their current posts for more than a decade.

Now the workers say they are tired of waiting for head of the Public Service, Winifred Oyo-Ita to take action on their behalf and may take their case directly to President Muhammadu Buhari.

Most of the affected Public Servants are due for promotion from Assistant to Deputy Directors and from Deputy to Directors. Many of them do not have many more years to spend in the Public Service either on account of age or years of service.

It is believed the stagnation stems from the suspension of the tenured policy by the Government whereby all Directors who had served up to eight years on one post had to give way to new candidates.

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PS troubleshooters to be expanded

LONDON (January 5): A team of young United Kingdom Public Servants is set to double in size in 2017, after Whitehall's operational delivery chief, Ruth Owen said Departmental leaders had been won over by the new model.

The Surge and Rapid Response Team was set up in 2014 after the Passport Office and HM Revenue and Customs, which have both reduced frontline staff numbers in recent years, drew flak for customer service failures.

Problems at the two Agencies prompted Ministers to order the creation of a flexible team of Public Servants able to quickly support frontline or back office staff anywhere in Government, either in response to an immediate crisis or to help with anticipated surges in demand.

The team began with around 200 newly-recruited apprentices, whose contracts require them to be available at 24 hours' notice.  So far the team has worked to support organisations including the Foreign Office, UK Visas and Immigration and the Rural Payments Agency. 

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Union opposes pension reforms

KINGSTON (January 6): The main union representing Jamaican Public Service workers says it is unhappy with a proposed reform of workers’ pensions.

President of the Jamaica Civil Service Association, O'Neil Grant said the Pensions (Public Service) Bill, which the Government hopes to pass into law by April, would have the effect of reducing the value of the pension.

"It is going to go down from an accrual rate of 66.66 per cent to about 60 per cent in terms of the last salary," Mr Grant said.

The Government wants to pass the Bill as part of a $US1.7 billion ($A2.2 billion) standby arrangement with the International Monetary Fund.  

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Workers told to be wary of gifts

JERUSALEM (January 10): Senior Israeli Public Servants have been reminded of the rules forbidding public officials from accepting gifts and other benefits, the Civil Service Commission saying it could be considered a criminal offense. 

The warning follows investigations being conducted against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on suspicions that he accepted such gifts and other benefits from private businesspeople.

The person in charge of disciplinary matters at the Commission, Assaf Rosenberg said he decided to clarify the rules after receiving requests to do so from a number of people in recent days.

"Public officials are forbidden to accept gifts, except according to the conditions set in law and the Civil Service regulations," Mr Rosenberg said.

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Poor quality PS ‘threatens reforms’

ACCRA (January 11): The head of a leading Ghanaian think tank says the poor quality of the country’s Public Service could thwart the plans of the new Government to introduce reforms.

Executive Director of the Institute of Democratic Governance, Emmanuel Akwetey said President Nana Akufo-Addo would need to decide if he would just take the machinery that existed within the public sector or change it.

“The Civil Service is broken in many ways and if we want to fix it, we have to look seriously, first of all, at the political relationship and bureaucratic relations… the relationship between politicians and the bureaucrats, Dr Akwetey said. 

“The human factor and the political situation within the Public Service could be a very significant constraint to its achievement and I think we might have to look at that carefully.”

The full Public Service News international news service resumes on January 24 at psnews.com.au/aps/world


Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Putin apologist has got it wrong

It may be just the time of the year, but it seems that a lot of what I call ‘revisionist’ articles have been running in newspapers and online in recent days.

These go against the prevailing flow of opinion, thus United States President-elect Donald Trump is really a good guy who will be a steadying influence once in office; Philippines leader Rodrigo Duterte should be nominated for a human rights award, and despite record high temperatures in the Southern Hemisphere and freezing conditions in the north, climate change is nothing to worry about.

Among the number of these attention grabbers was an article in defence of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

While admitting Putin is a thuggish bully who has crushed political dissent at home, Senior Fellow at the United States Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, Tom Switzer defends the Russian leader’s seizure of Crimea from Ukraine and its indiscriminate bombing of Aleppo in Syria as “protecting legitimate security interests”, even hinting that this might extend to intimidating the Baltic republics of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, part of the European Union.

Rehashing the myth that the West was behind the 2013 overthrow of pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych in Ukraine, Switzer claims that years of EU and NATO expansion into what historically has been Russia’s sphere of influence, forced Putin’s hand because “he could not tolerate a Western bulwark on his border”.

What the Russian President fails to understand (and Switzer ignores) is that history has no reverse gear. The Soviet Union has gone for good and Putin can no more reconstitute it than the Prime Minister of Italy can reclaim the Roman Empire.

Russia’s adventures in Ukraine, Georgia and Moldovia and its propping up of the dictator, Bashar al-Assad, in Syria is costly folly for a country with a shrunken economy and an ageing, vodka-sodden population. There has been much speculation over Putin’s decision to wind down his forces supporting Assad, not least that he is simply running out of money to fund them.

There should also be concerns about the way the Russian leader conducts himself personally. Leaving aside the persistent rumours about plastic surgery, why does the 64-year-old have to appear in pictures shirtless and riding a horse? What is the point of his participation in rigged ice-hockey games where he is made to look like the star performer?

These episodes can be seen as the actions of an insecure man desperately seeking to demonstrate his masculinity in the face of advancing age, attitudes that can be translated into aggressive actions on the world stage.

There are plenty of opportunities for Russia to play a constructive international role but not if it continues to bully the former Soviet clients, now independent nations, on its borders.

That fact seems to be beyond the comprehension of the vain egotist who currently occupies the Kremlin.  

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Every nation for itself in the new world order

In the midst of one of those long review-of-2016-preview-of-2017 interviews that fill space in the supposedly silly season, Nigerian Minister for Finance, Kemi Adeosun made a statement which should disturb us all.

Asked which development paradigm would work best for her country and Africa in the future, British-born economist Adeosun replied:

“I think every country has to work out its own model because the old global consensus is over. Every nation is looking out for itself. The election of Donald Trump and Brexit are clear examples of that. So the question must be what works for Nigeria given its demography, endowments and needs.”

Words that would delight the likes of Nigel Farage and Marine Le Pen and send shivers down the spines of those who believe that today, more than ever, there are global issues which have to be tackled by the international community acting in concert.

Yet who can blame Adeosun for taking this stand when the great powers are increasingly seeing the problems besetting the planet through the prism of their narrow national interests?

A United States President who tried to work through international bodies to promote sustainable economic growth and mitigate the effects of climate change is about to be replaced by one who says that in every case ‘America’s interests will be first’.

In celebrating the referendum vote to leave the European Union, Farage said he would continue to work to dismantle the EU altogether and to “return to the days of sovereign nations trading among themselves”. 

That 1914 view of the world was a disaster then and would potentially be an even greater one today. There has never been a more pressing need for strong international leadership — and never a greater shortage of it among those who hold power.

A quarter of a century ago, French philosopher Antoine Cournot’s concept of the “the end of history” was in vogue as commentators began to talk of nations, if not united then working towards a common world purpose. Now a recent survey of 9000 people across nine countries found that most believe a harmonious future has never been further away and even a Third World War is possible.

It is no wonder that officials in developing countries, like Adeosun in Nigeria, believe they must look out for themselves in a world where nations are increasingly turning inwards and leaders are more intent on placating strident populism and sectional interests than seeking the greater good of all.          



Thursday, January 5, 2017

Public Service news from around the world


PS purchasers go back to school

LONDON (January 4): A major shake-up in the way the United Kingdom buys goods and service will result in hundreds of Public Servants responsible for the purchases being assessed and graded for their abilities to secure contracts.

Every official with responsibility for procurement is to go on a training day at an assessment centre. Those scoring an A grade will be rewarded with improved terms and conditions, including better pay, as part of efforts to make salaries more competitive with the private sector.

They will also be transferred to the Government Commercial Organisation, which is being set up as a single body for procurement professionals who will be sent out to Government Departments to lead complex projects.

The decision follows a series of blunders that came to light in 2016 including the highly publicised commission by the Department for International Development of a £286 million ($A482 million) airport on the island of St Helena that is unusable because wind conditions mean aircraft cannot land safely.

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Advance of the robots

BELFAST (January 2):International business adviser Deloitte has warned that one in six Public Service jobs in Northern Ireland could be replaced by automation by 2030.

Deloitte’s report said that those in administrative and operative positions were in the most danger of having their roles replaced by new systems, software or apps.

The report stated that across all sectors of the economy, technological advances meant that repetitive and predictable tasks would be increasingly undertaken by robotics, either in the form of software or devices.

However, the report added that the high number of public-facing roles, particularly those in areas such as education and caring, would be relatively safe from automation.

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Minister warns on pay restoration

DUBLIN (December 31): A Junior Minister in the Irish Government has said that any immediate attempts to restore Public Service pay to the levels that existed before the Global Financial Crisis would be “dragging the country back to the bad old days”.

The remarks by Minister for the Office of Public Works, Seán Canney are sure to enrage unions who are pushing for the speedy restoration of pay cuts implemented at the height of the financial crisis.

Mr Canney said giving in to calls to speed up the restoration of pre-crash pay rates was not an option and the existing plan to restore salaries over the next four years should be respected.

The comments came days after the Government announced that the Public Pay Commission which is examining the issue, and is due to report by early northern summer, will also be tasked with reviewing public worker pension rates amid concerns they are proving too costly.

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Not such a good look

PUDUCHERRY (December 31): A senior Puducherry Public Servant has been suspended for posting obscene videos on an official WhatsApp messaging group that included the Indian State’s Lieutenant Governor, Kiran Bedi.

Registrar of Cooperative Societies, A. S. Sivakumar was sanctioned after the administrator of the group reported the video to Mr Bedi, who ordered that he be detained by police.

This has upset Chief Minister, V. Narayanasamy who called the action high-handed and demanded to know why Mr Sivakumar was being detained if there was no charge against him.

“The law should be followed in all Government procedures and should not be bypassed by anyone, including the Lieutenant Governor,” Mr Narayanasamy said.

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Temptations on the fairway  

KUALA LUMPUR (January 1): The head of Malaysia’s Anti-Corruption Commission has urged the country’s top Public servants to stop going overseas to play golf in case they were tempted by “vested interests” on the courses.

Dzulkifli Ahmad said there were plenty of golf courses in Malaysia were the dangers of corruption were less.

“I want to advise Civil Servants to stop such activities and that there is no need to go overseas to play golf, especially in Indonesia and Thailand,” Mr Ahmad said.

“While the individuals may be paying for their own travel expenses, interested parties may be footing other bills, including shopping — stop all these activities immediately before it is too late.”

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‘Do nothing’ advice on Troubles

BELFAST (December 30): Former secret files automatically released after 30 years reveal Northern Ireland's top Public Servant suggested doing nothing to tackle loyalist violence to teach unionists that it "does not pay".

Sir Kenneth Bloomfield told Irish officials during a confidential meeting in April 1986 that a "completely logical line of action" amid increasing unrest would be no action at all.

There had been a ferocious Unionist backlash to the Anglo-Irish Agreement at the time with violence escalating.

"One alternative would be to look to a long campaign of violence and attrition — doing nothing and bringing home to the Unionists that this sort of action just does not pay,” Sir Kenneth is quoted as saying.

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EU envoy’s Brexit warning

LONDON January 4): The resignation of Britain’s Ambassador to the European Union, Sir Ivan Rogers is being seen as the last straw for Public Servants grappling with the United Kingdom’s exit from the body [Brexit].

In his farewell email, Sir Ivan hinted at the difficulties for Public Servants of not knowing the Government’s Brexit objectives and warned that “serious multilateral negotiating experience is in short supply in Whitehall”.

The FDA, the union that represents senior Public Servants, said that officials were working “more hours for falling real-terms pay” as the forthcoming Brexit negotiations were piled on top of existing priorities.

Senior Public Servants “are undertaking unsustainable workloads for pay that doesn’t remotely compare with the wider marketplace”, the FDA said.

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‘No direction’ on negotiations

LONDON (December 31): A survey by the United Kingdom’s Institute for Government says that the country’s senior Public Servants are still without direction on how to prepare for the negotiations on withdrawal from the European Union [Brexit] and life outside the EU.

The new report, Whitehall’s Preparation for the UK’s Exit from the EU says the absence of a clear plan for Brexit and the Government’s desire for secrecy are hindering preparations for the triggering of Article 50 that formally states the country’s intention to leave and the negotiations that will immediately follow. 

“Departments are not working consistently across the board to ensure we have the policies and implementation plans in place to avoid a ‘cliff edge’ at the point of exit,” the report states.

It also argues that, for many Departments, Brexit may create a severe Budget squeeze on top of significant spending cuts already in train.

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Utility silent on internet connection

WESTBROOK (December 30): There will be red faces at the headquarters of United States internet provider Time Warner Cable after the City of Westbrook in Maine went public with complaints it had been waiting two months for a new Public Service building to be connected.

The “two-hour” job to finish hooking up an internet service remains undone even though the $US8.9 million ($A12.2 million) project was completed at the end of October. Meanwhile, the city’s Public Servants are continuing to work at the old building next door.

City Director of Public Services and Engineering, Eric Dudley said all that was required was a connection to a utility pole across the street.

Despite his best efforts to contact the internet service provider, Mr Dudley hasn’t heard from the company since the building was completed. “The Time Warner representative I am working with doesn’t answer the phone and although I leave voicemail messages, no one at the company returns them,” he said.

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Union alleges job discrimination

KINGSTON (December 30): Jamaica’s top Public Service union official has attacked what he calls the discriminatory treatment of officers in the country’s Fiscal Management Group (FMG) who are often required to reapply for their jobs when there is a reclassification of positions.

President of the Jamaica Civil Service Association (JCSA), O'Neil Grant said nearly 1000 accountants and auditors who comprise the FMG are the ones most affected whenever there is an upgrade or re-titling of positions.

Mr Grant said the JCSA was currently seeking legal advice to determine the legality of the Government requirement.

He said the process applied only to the FMG and was a clear case of discrimination.

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High flyers’ pay rise cause storm

GIBRALTAR (December 31): A 28 per cent pay rise for Gibraltar’s top two Public Servants has caused a political storm in the British Overseas Territory.

An MP for the Opposition Gibraltar Social Democratic Party, Roy Clinton said the increases for the Chief Secretary and Principal Auditor stood in stark contrast to a 2.75 per cent increase across the rest of the Public Service.

However, Chief Minister, Fabian Picardo accused Mr Clinton of being “an enemy of the Civil Service”.

He claimed the rise stemmed from the GSD, when in office, bumping up the pay of the Chief Executive, David McCutcheon, despite an agreement that the Chief Secretary would be Gibraltar’s highest paid Public Servant.

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Court seeks answers on appointments

PESHAWAR: The Public Service Commission of the Pakistani Province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has been barred from appointing 3,000 doctors to Government hospitals across the Province.

The Peshawar High Court took the decision in ruling on a writ petition by some doctors who claimed there was a policy of discrimination against the candidates who had got Doctor of Medicine degrees from abroad.

The Court allowed the Commission to continue the interview process, but restrained it from issuing final results regarding appointment of the doctors until the Court considered the case further.

The Commission was ordered to submit its reply to the ruling before the next hearing which would be held promptly.

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Bribes essential for service

KATHMANDU (January 2): The Nepalese Public Service has been beset with complaints from the public, most claiming that timely service can be obtained only by bribing officials.

A report from the National Vigilance Centre painted a bleak picture of the Government’s service delivery mechanism, with many complainants saying that even when they greased the palms of officials, the service was below standard.

As well as being uncooperative, most of the service seekers found the behaviour of Public Servants was rude and irritating.

“People’s displeasure at the behaviour and service delivery of the Government employees suggests that there is something wrong in the existing system of bureaucracy,” the report stated.

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 Disagreement on PS pay gap

HARTFORD (January 2): Two American think tanks are at odds over the gap between Public Service and private sector pay rates in the American State of Connecticut.

The conservative Yankee Institute for Public Policy claimed in a report issued late last year that compensation for public-sector workers was up to 46 per cent higher than their private-sector counterparts.

However, the Economic Policy Institute, (EPI) funded by labour unions, has released a report claiming the Yankee Institute cherry-picked its sample of workers and inflated the cost of retiree benefits, skewing results.

“Public sector workers are a punching bag for activists who want to shrink the size of Government and weaken unions. Connecticut lawmakers should ignore false claims that their public employees are overpaid,” the EPI report states.

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Government gets tough on ‘slander’

KUALA LUMPUR January 4): The Malaysian Government says it will take action against Public Servants, or those who have left the service for making “slanderous” remarks that could give a bad perception of the Government.

Minister in the Prime Minister's Department, Datuk Seri Azalina Othman Said said rules already in place penalised those who revealed official secrets they had gathered from the Public Service.

Retirees were also bound under the Official Secrets Act 1972 that states it is wrong to divulge any information that is related to official secrets.

The full Public Service News international news service resumes on January 24 at psnews.com.au/aps/world