Sunday, December 17, 2017

Public Service News from around the world

Diplomat in stormy sign-off

WASHINGTON (December 10): A senior diplomat in the United States Department of State has sent a scathing resignation letter to her boss, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, accusing him and President Donald Trump of undercutting the Department and damaging America’s influence in the world.

Elizabeth Shackelford, who most recently served as a political officer based in Nairobi for the US mission to Somalia, wrote that she reluctantly had decided to quit because the Administration had abandoned human rights as a priority and shown disdain for the State Department’s diplomatic work.

“I have deep respect for the career Foreign and Civil Service staff who, despite the stinging disrespect this Administration has shown our profession, continue the struggle to keep our foreign policy on the positive trajectory necessary to avert global disaster in increasingly dangerous times,” Ms Shackelford wrote.

“With each passing day, however, this task grows more futile, driving the Department’s experienced and talented staff away in ever greater numbers.”

Her former colleagues said her departure — and the sentiments expressed in her letter — reflect a wider exodus of mid-career diplomats who have lost confidence in Mr Tillerson’s management and the Trump Administration’s approach toward diplomacy.

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Government rejects PS claims

PRETORIA (December 13): The South African Government and its Public Service are heading for a showdown after State negotiators rejected almost all wage and conditions of employment demands tabled by public sector labour unions.

Government negotiators told unions that it could afford to adjust salaries only in line with the Consumer Price Index (CPI) for employees on Levels One to 10 and CPI minus one per cent for Levels 11 and 12. The CPI is currently at 4.8 per cent.

The unions have demanded an increase of 10 per cent for the highest-paid workers and 12 per cent for the rest. They also want the lowest paid Levels One to Three phased out as they consider people on these levels are on "slave wages".

Independent Labour Caucus spokesperson Basil Manuel said while there would be another meeting in January to discuss the Government’s offer in detail, the initial proposal “failed to set the right tone for negotiations”.

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Online job ads false – commission

ABUJA (December 11): The Nigerian Federal Civil Service Commission (FCSC) has once again been forced to deny an online announcement that it is recruiting for hundreds of positions in the Public Service. It said the announcement was not true and should be disregarded.

Deputy Director, Press and Public Relations Joel Oruche said the commission advertised vacancies only in the newspapers and on its website.

“We wish to advise members of the public to always visit our authentic website for advertisements and any other necessary information from the commission,’ Dr Oruche said.

It is not the first time the false advertisement scam has been tried; people who reply to it are usually requested to hand over a sum of money as a ‘deposit’ for their application, which they never see again.

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PS chief urged to grant pay rise

BELFAST (10 December) A union representing teachers in  Northern Ireland has called on the head of the Province’s Public Service, David Sterling, to use his powers to give teachers a pay award.

The NASUWT union has written to Mr Sterling calling on him to allocate finances to the Department of Education to enable it to make a significant above-inflation pay award for teachers for 2017-18.

The Northern Ireland Public Service has been the de facto Government of the Province since a power-sharing agreement between the two major parties forming the Executive collapsed in February.

“When the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and the Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury both state that all powers over pay now lie with the Northern Ireland Civil Service, they have a duty to use those powers to address the very real concerns that teachers have over pay,” the union stated.

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‘Substantial’ rise in exam hopefuls

BEIJING (December 11): More than 1.1 million candidates have sat for China’s annual National Public Service Examination — a substantial increase on last year’s figure of 984,000.

Some 28,000 positions are expected to be filled, meaning only one out of every 39 candidates is expected to get a government job.

This year's exam saw an increase of 76,000 applicants for grassroots positions in difficult and remote areas, perhaps the result of the lower application thresholds for such posts.

Results will be announced in January, 2018.

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Gender pay gap still a problem

WELLINGTON (December 8): A report on the New Zealand Public Service shows it is better paid and more educated. However, more work needs to be done on the gender pay gap.

In the final year of the previous National Government the Public Service expanded at a rate of more than 100 new employees a month, despite a promise to cap the number of Public Servants at 36,475.

That target was breached in 2013 and in the last year, the State Services Commission stopped reporting on the overall cap data. 

The commission’s report showed the Public Service employed 48,900 people as at 30 June.

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Government appeals gay rights ruling  

HONG KONG (December 12): The Hong Kong Government has launched an appeal against a court’s decision to grant spousal benefits to the husband of a gay Hong Kong Public Servant.

Immigration Officer Angus Leung married his husband, Scott Adams in New Zealand in 2014 and applied to the Civil Service Bureau for a change in his marital status to obtain welfare, such as medical benefits, for Mr Adams.

The bureau did not allow the change, stating that Hong Kong did not recognise same-sex marriages. Mr Leung filed for a judicial review before Court of First Instance which ruled in his favour.

The Government argues that as it does not recognise same sex marriage and as Public Service benefits are based on whether a marriage is recognised, Mr Leung’s husband cannot obtain such benefits.

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Arbitration pay award accepted

HALIFAX (December 8): The Government of the Canadian Province of Nova Scotia says it will accept an independent arbitrator’s decision to award a seven per cent pay rise to its Public Servants, despite arguing for a much lower figure.

Premier Stephen McNeil said the award, which will be spread over six years “is within the Province’s means”.

The Government has made control of public sector salaries and benefits one of its major political positions in recent years and wanted to limit increases to three per cent over four years.

President of the Nova Scotia Government and General Employees Union Jason MacLean stopped short of calling it a victory, but said he was satisfied with the ruling.

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Minister announces general pay award

KAMPALA (12 December): The Ugandan Minister for Public Service, Muruli Mukasa, says all Government workers will get a pay rise in the next financial year.

He said the first phase would include teachers, health workers and low ranking officers in the armed forces.

“The Government will announce how much each of the Public Servants will be earning before the end of the year,” Mr Mukasa said.

The proposed salary increments come at a time when different public sector workers, including doctors, prosecutors and judicial officers, have gone on strike in the last few months to demand better pay.

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Hospital Chair quits in finding row

LONDON (December 11): A former head of the United Kingdom Public Service, Lord Kerslake, has resigned his post as Chair of Kings College Hospital Trust, citing funding problems with the National Health Service (NHS).

In his resignation announcement he said that while he loved the hospital, the Government had been unrealistic about the scale of the challenge facing the NHS and the Trust.

“King’s, like many other hospitals, is fighting against the inexorable pressures of rising demand, increasing costs of drugs and other medical supplies, and the tightest spending figures in recent times,” Lord Kersalke said.

“Fundamentally, our problems lie in the way that the NHS is funded and organised. We desperately need a fundamental rethink. Until then we are simply ‘kicking the can down the road’.”

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Annual bonus ‘paid next year’

HARARE (December 9): Reinstated Zimbabwean Minister for Finance Patrick Chinamasa has promised the country’s Public Servants they will be paid their 2017 bonus beginning next year, saying he had set aside $US176 million ($A229 million) for what is popularly known as the ‘13th cheque’.

It is something of a turnaround for Mr Chinamasa who tried on two occasions to have the bonus suspended, only to be overruled by former President Robert Mugabe.

His assurance brought relief to anxious Public Servants who had not received any communication from the new Government of President Emmerson Mnangagwa over whether the bonus would be continued.

The good news was tempered by Mr Chinamasa’s announcement that all Public Servants over 65 must take immediate retirement together with an indefinite freeze on recruitment.

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Stern warning to PS partygoers

BELFAST (December 8): While it might be the festive season, workers in the Northern Ireland Public Service have been warned not to overdo the celebrations, and to behave themselves at office parties.

A leaked internal memo sets out guidelines that should be observed when it comes to general behaviour, social media and the consumption of alcohol.

"We would like to take this opportunity to remind you of the need to maintain high standards of behaviour and conduct at Christmas parties and seasonal social events, whether they are held on official premises or outside the workplace," the memo states.


"You should be aware that inappropriate behaviour occurring at social events such as Christmas parties, or gatherings after work, can constitute unlawful discrimination, harassment or bullying in the same way as if it had occurred in the workplace."

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Pay offer a ‘three-card trick’ 

KINGSTON (December 13): A Jamaican Opposition politician has accused the Government of “playing games” in the latest round of pay negotiations with the Public Service, saying its so-called new offer was a “three-card trick”.

Shadow Minister for the Public Service Lambert Brown said the Government's latest offer of four per cent in year one and two per cent in year two in no way changed the fundamental offer of three per cent in year one and three per cent in year two and would not result in any material difference to the take home pay packages of public sector workers.

Speaking after the breakdown of negotiations between the police and teachers and the Government, Mr Brown said Minister of Finance and the Public Service Audley Shaw was “taking the workers for fools with a preposterous proposal, which only provokes a new attitude of entrenched opposition to any settlement offer on the present terms”.

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Concern at role of Ministerial advisers

WELLINGTON (December 12): Government Ministers need to be well-informed to make good decisions for New Zealand — and urgent action is needed to ensure they get the best advice, the Public Service Association (PSA) says.

Research commissioned by the Institute of Public Administration New Zealand (IPANZ) highlights increasing concerns about the role of Ministerial advisers.

The work, by Chris Eichbaum and Richard Shaw, shows growing concern that Ministerial advisers intervene in the relationship between senior Public Servants and Ministers — and that Ministers have been reluctant to accept free and frank advice.

National Secretary of the Public Service Association Glenn Barclay said the report indicated some Ministerial advisers had been acting as gatekeepers, and Public Servants were self-censoring as a result.

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Permanency for long-serving contractors

MANILIA (10 December): A Bill granting permanency to Public Service contractors with 12 years of service has been introduced into the Philippines House of Representatives.

Introducing the legislation, lawmaker Joel Mayo Almario said the measure sought to recognise the valuable input of the temporary workforce in the Government.

 “It is hoped the passage of this measure will promote efficient Government service and dedication by providing Public Servants with the opportunity of acquiring security of tenure and other benefits,” Mr Almario said.

“It shall have both retroactive and prospective application, allowing all those who have reached 12 continuous years of service prior to and after the passage of this Bill to apply for this privilege.”

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



Thursday, December 14, 2017

Trump drives India into Moscow’s embrace

One of the less reported impacts of United States President Donald Trump’s mercurial romp across the world stage (at least in the Western media) is the confusion it has sown amongst Indian policymakers.

Until this year, New Delhi had been moving steadily away from its old ally, Russia and towards closer ties with Washington. Now, after months of wild inconsistency and policy-on-the-run from the White House there is a reluctant re-think.

There were many good reasons for the original diplomatic shift. While the Soviet Union had been the main supplier of defence material through much of India’s early history, its Russian successor had become an increasingly unreliable partner.

The most significant example of this was the purchase of the aircraft carrier Vikramaditya from Russia, originally negotiated in the mid-1990s.  The vessel was not delivered until 2012, then its planes, also purchased from Russia, were found to be plagued with defects.

With China’s increasingly aggressive stance on its borders, the penetration of the PLA Navy into the Indian Ocean, and Beijing’s increasing cosiness with traditional Indian foe Pakistan, New Delhi needed a more reliable friend.

With the 2014 election of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, unencumbered with Russian baggage, Washington, and to a lesser extent the European Union, were seen as the answer.

In a detailed survey of the Indo-US relationship for Future Directions International, Researcher Lindsay Hughes said the Administration of then US President Barack Obama was receptive to these overtures, to the point that the Pentagon set up an India-centric cell aimed at speeding defence ties and the co-production of military equipment.

“Between 2011 and 2014 the United States overtook Russia as India’s largest supplier of weapons systems,” Hughes notes.  

“It was expected that Obama’s presumed successor, Hillary Clinton, would continue to nurture US-India ties. The election of Donald Trump as President has, however, upset that calculous.”  

While Trump appears to have no love of Pakistan, which he has accused of harbouring terrorists, he has also made claims that India was trying to suck billions of dollars in foreign aid as its price of participation in the Paris Climate Change Agreement — a charge that New Delhi has angrily denied.

While arms deals will continue with American companies such as Lockheed Martin and Boeing — something the America First President will certainly not interfere with, it appears that any favourable sales terms at a government level are on the back burner.

All of which has pushed India back towards Moscow’s orbit, with a number of agreements signed in Modi’s recent visit to St Petersburg, during which Russian President Vladimir Putin declared that his country “would always support India in its fight against terrorism” — a not too veiled reference to New Delhi’s problems with Pakistan.

As Hughes sees it: “The present Indo-Russian relationship will continue for the foreseeable future.”

Simply because Washington under Trump is not the reliable partner India needs as it confronts the increasing activities of China in its own backyard. 

Thursday, November 30, 2017

A tale of two plebiscites

A couple of weeks ago Australia held a plebiscite on whether the laws of the country should be changed to allow same sex couples to be legally married.

It was a venture into the unknown for two reasons: Voting papers were delivered by mail, rather than people turning up at a polling station, and there was no compulsion to return the papers (voting in general elections and referendums has been compulsory in Australia since 1924).

Even so, almost 80 per cent of the electorate duly returned their ballots with the result being 61.6 per cent in favour of the marriage law change and 38.4 per cent against.

By any description this was a landslide, and ‘Yes’ supporters were celebrating well into the night.

But at that point, the vote had changed nothing.

The result was advisory. It is up to Parliament to pass the legislation that enables the will of the people. This it has set about doing.

However, the emphasis has now switched to how far the views and rights of the more than one third of people who voted ‘No’ should be respected and protected.

Under debate are exemptions for religious bodies that to not want to vary from their long-held rituals and traditions; whether marriage celebrants should be able to refuse a same sex couple if they feel it compromises their beliefs.

Even whether businesses can legally refuse to provide services (such as making a wedding cake) for a same sex ceremony.  

These and other questions are before the House of Representatives, with legislation expected before Christmas, but the point is the minority is being considered and where possible, accommodated.

Contrast this with last year’s United Kingdom referendum to leave the European Union, which got up by a margin of 51.9 per cent to 48.1 per cent on a 72.2 per cent turnout.

This was no landslide. The margin for Brexit was paper thin, and yet what attempt has there been to even consider the concerns of this substantial minority, some of whom fear losing the right to do business, or pursue careers, to live or travel freely within Europe that they once took for granted?

What has occurred since has been an endless round of triumphalism on the part of the victors, urged on by jingoistic declarations in the largely foreign-owned press.

People who expressed their concerns or who dared to suggest the vote was close enough to warrant a second referendum when the full consequences of leaving the EU where known, have been labelled unpatriotic, even traitors.

The prevailing attitude has been – you lost get used to it. Civilised debate, even over issues which have surfaced since the referendum, is simply shouted down.

When an attempt to railroad Brexit through without Parliamentary oversight was overturned in the High Court, the judges were labelled “enemies of the people” in one especially rabid pro-Brexit newspaper.

The fact that two areas of the United Kingdom — Scotland and Northern Ireland (and let’s not forget little Gibraltar) — voted solidly to remain in the EU have been ignored, even reviled.

In the Britain of Theresa May and David Davis the voters of Boston and Castle Point are what matter. Bathgate and Ballymena can go hang.

The prevailing wisdom in Australia is that we inherited our traditions of fairness and equality from the Mother Country and for that we should be grateful.

If it was ever the case then in the 21st century the pupil has far outstripped the master.       

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Crisis moves in Ganges clean-up

One of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s core promises when he swept to power in 2014 was a clean-up of the Ganges.

India’s main river, sacred to Hindus and therefore to the heartland of Modi’s support, is in places little more than an open sewer, polluted with human and industrial waste — and often with the half-burnt bodies from some of the least efficient ghats, or crematoriums, that line its banks.

The problem has been too tough for many past Governments, but Modi, with a can-do reputation as the former Chief Minister of Gujarat, claimed he would succeed where others had failed.  

After deciding that the previous National Ganga River Basin Authority was not up to the task, he replaced it with a new high-powered agency, the National Mission for Clean Ganga (NMGC).

But there it has seemed to rest and before long critics were describing the NMGC as just another ineffective bureaucracy. Now, with Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) just 18 months away from the next General Election action is sorely needed.

In fact work has been progressing, and sewage treatment plants at Haridwar and Varanasi have been approved and are under way, but these large-scale projects take time and will probably not come on line until 2020.

Work has progressed at a painfully slow pace as officials found land for the plants and then negotiated with local constructors.

The same problems have arisen with the ghats on the banks of the river where the bodies of the faithful are burned and their ashes delivered to the holy river. So far only a fraction have been converted into modern crematoria.  

For the casual observer raw sewage continues to flow into the Ganges and its tributaries, and the stink is as bad as ever.

Earlier this year Modi was reportedly outraged when told that more than three quarters of the sewage dumped into the river was still untreated.

Which is why the NMGC has turned to a new project which it hopes will produce short term results — bacterial bioremediation, or to put it simply, sewage-eating microbes.

In pilot projects in India and other places around the globe this method has attacked raw sewage in watercourses and significantly reduced stench.      

The NMGC says bioremediation is significantly less costly and shows clear results six to eight months after the microbes are released into polluted water.

“Implementing these techniques prevents degraded quality of water from flowing directly into the Ganga and its tributaries,” the agency said.

Maybe, but at best this is a face-saving exercise that may give the BJP some breathing space on the issue as it ramps up its re-election campaign in 2019. Modi’s much vaunted declaration that the Ganges will “flow pristine from the mountains to the sea” is still a long way from reality.

For the moment large stretches of the river still run a sullen black, interspersed with bobbing plastic and other waste that make it a rich breeding ground for millions of mosquitoes

Should Modi get another five years in which to fulfil his pledge a great deal more will have to be done.



Sunday, November 5, 2017

Beware globalisation’s new champion

When United States President Donald Trump lands in Beijing during his marathon Asian tour we can expect (as much as we can expect anything from this mercurial leader) for his talks to centre around North Korea, terrorism in general and attempts to win back jobs to the US.

It is unlikely there will be much reference to Chinese President Xi Jinping’s signature project, the so called One Belt One Road (OBOR) — a plan to put a 21st century slant on the medieval Silk Road trading network that once connected East Asia with Europe. Protectionist Trump simply won’t be interested.

In promoting the OBOR, Xi has styled himself as a sterling supporter of globalisation at the same time as the US seems to sinking back into it its pre-war isolationism under Trump’s America First slogan.

Earlier this year Xi became the first Chinese leader to speak at the summit of capitalism, the World Economic Forum in Davos Switzerland, where he attacked protectionism as “locking oneself in a dark room in order to defend oneself, but in doing so cutting off all light and air”.

All this sounds like manna from heaven for supporters of globalisation who in recent years have taken a great deal of flak from a variety of pressure groups who argue it is creating wealth for the already rich West at the expense of the poor — but on closer inspection, the devil is very much in the details.

The OBOR Belt consists of three overland routes, or economic cooperation corridors, through 25 countries. The Road is actually a trade route connecting China to Europe through the South China Sea (which China claims as an integral part of its territory) to the Indian Ocean in one direction and from China though the South China Sea to the South Pacific in another.

In all, the initiative will involve 64 countries and 15 Chinese Provinces.

However, as Lindsay Hughes, of the Indian Ocean Research Program, points out in his analysis, the infrastructure required to support these routes is going to come at great cost and Beijing will take steps to ensure to bears as little of the burden as possible.

He says the OBOR will require massive investment in transport and port facilities along its length.

“One of the criticisms of the Silk Road plan is that host countries may struggle to pay back loans for huge infrastructure projects being carried out and funded by Chinese companies and banks,” Hughes says.

In fact the initial enthusiasm from countries such as Pakistan and Bangladesh is beginning to wear thin as they count the cost of picking up much of the tab.

The feeling was summed up in a report in the Asia Times which stated the $56 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor had yet to translate into a game-changer for its sponsors.

“Worse than that, the unparalleled tax breaks and mounting security costs involved have already saddled Islamabad’s Exchequer with a hole in its finances of more than $2.5 billion,” the report states.

China is offering loans to cover the amount, which is great business for its banks at six per cent interest, while all but the most menial tasks involved in building these corridors is going to be done by Chinese workers, keeping the jobless rate down at home.

One country that is staying aloof is India, long suspicious that the whole project is part of a plan to encircle and neutralise it as China’s main rival in Asia.

That aside, New Delhi believes it is simply a bad deal for everyone except China, a point made by Minister for External Affairs, Sushma Swaraj when she emphasised the need to first build trust in the region.

In this she was echoing Prime Minister, Narendra Modi who said economic growth in the region could occur “only when there is a climate of mutual trust and confidence, respect for each other’s sensitivities and concerns, and peace and stability in our relations along our borders.”

A warning to all that President Xi’s new status as the champion of globalisation should be treated with the utmost caution.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Modi courts the Italian connection

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is at his best on the world stage — and the visit to New Delhi of his Italian opposite number, Paolo Gentiloni — the first by an Italian leader in a decade — has been a welcome chance to shine at home.

In this case, the event has been more than a friendship exercise. Relations between the countries were strained by an incident off the Kerala coast five years ago in which two marines on board the oil tanker, Enrica Lexie, were arrested for killing two Indian fishermen.

Following the shooting the Indian coastguard chased down the vessel and the marines were taken into custody.

At a time when piracy and ship hijackings were prevalent, it was claimed the two men, Latorre Massimiliano and Salvatore Girone, had mistaken the fishermen’s vessel for a terrorist boat.

The situation was complicated by the Italian claim that as the incident occurred on the high seas, the marines could be judged only by the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea and that as the marines were on official duty they held diplomatic immunity.

India disputes both positions but after a protracted wrangle allowed the men to return to Italy pending a ruling from the Court of Arbitration at The Hague which both countries are still awaiting.

However, that was then and this is now, and both leaders have good reasons to put the past behind them, at least for this visit. Italy is India’s fifth largest trading partner in the European Union with bilateral trade totalling in excess of $US8.5 billion.

In addition more than 600 Italian companies have a presence in India, while Italy’s Indian community totals about 180,000, the third largest behind that of the United Kingdom and the Netherlands.

Both countries believe these ties can be strengthened to their mutual benefit and during the visit a number of agreements have been signed on a range of issues including railways, security, energy and investment.

As one senior Indian official said, there is a realisation that past differences had resulted in missed opportunities.

“The relationship should not be held hostage…there is a strong desire on the part of the Government that while [the issue of the marines] needs to be resolved, it can be dealt with separately,” the official said.