Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Death by caste a wake-up call for India

The death of Rohith Vemula, found hanged in a hostel room at the University of Hyderabad where he was a PhD student, is a sharp reminder that India’s archaic system of castes is very much alive in the 21st century.

Vemula was a Dalit (once known as an Untouchable) which placed him at the very foot of the social hierarchy. While laws have long been in place that ban discrimination against him, it is the atavistic prejudices and hatreds, still embedded in much of Indian society, which finally drove him to take his own life.   

The fact that he was studying at an advanced level at one of the country’s most prestigious universities might suggest some relaxation in the strict code of the castes, but while legislation can force openings and opportunities for Dalits, it is of limited effect against the bigotry that many Indians still see as simply a predestined way of life.

As journalist Dhrubo Jyoti so eloquently wrote in a recent article, most Indians, at least in the big cities, think of caste oppression as a thing existing in remote rural areas.

“But caste is alive in our homes and streets, simmering just underneath the surface of our glitzy malls, in our schools and colleges, in our glass and steel workplaces and inside our gentrified gated colonies,” Jyoti writes.

“It is alive in who we marry and fall in love with, in who we talk to and befriend, in who we employ and who we mourn.”

Even so Vemula might have survived if he had kept his head down and worked quietly to get his qualification, but he was an activist and a leading member of the Ambedkar Students Association, which promotes the rights of Dalits on campus.

He wrote a sarcastic letter to the Vice Chancellor stating that the university might just as well set up euthanasia facilities for Dalits and he and four others were suspended after allegedly being involved in a punch-up with leading members of the right-wing All India Student Council.

When university authorities stopped paying Vemula his monthly stipend, friends said the student sank into depression. 

Inevitably, the issue has become a political football with a leader of the Opposition Aam Aadmi Party and Chief Minister of Delhi, Arvind Kejriwal, blaming Prime Minister Narendra Modi for failing in his constitutional duty to protect and promote Dalits.

Meanwhile, the initial stunned reaction has developed into violent student protests both in Hyderabad and elsewhere around the nation.

The water has been further muddied by charges that Vemula and his friends were suspended only after the Federal Minister for Labour, Bandaru Dattatreya wrote a letter to a colleague describing the University of Hyderabad as “a den of casteist, extremist and anti-national politics”.

Of course, none of this will have any immediate effect on the situations of Dalits in India. As Joyti writes in his article, a more worthy response would be a national conversation “around the cast discrimination that surrounds us, in the monopolisation of academic spaces and teaching positions by upper-caste scholars”.

Joyti feels that only then would Rohith Vemula’s life — and death — be given some meaning.

Sunday, January 10, 2016


Religion ‘not done’ in public sector

LONDON (January 4): A former senior United Kingdom Public Servant says that Christianity is being subtly squeezed out of the public sector because of a culture which treats speaking about faith as “not the done thing”.

William Nye, now the Church of England’s most senior lay official, said Government Ministers and the general public would be surprised to realise the full extent to which faith was now seen as odd and unusual within the public sector in Britain.

Mr Nye, who spent 20 years in a series of senior Public Service posts before a spell as Principal Private Secretary to the Prince of Wales, recently took over as the Church of England’s Secretary General.

He said Christian Public Servants rarely revealed their beliefs except to close friends for fear of being viewed as biased.


Higher pay to halt brain drain?

BANGKOK (January 4): Faced with a steady flow of talent into the private sector and overseas, the Thai Government is considering raising salaries in the Public Service.

A committee has been set up to look into the possibility of raising the salaries of public officials after 32 Government organisations submitted a petition to Deputy Prime Minister, Wissanu Krea-ngam.

Senior Public Servants currently receive about a five per cent increase in their salaries each year, depending on their level of achievement. However, some public organisations raise wages only every four years.

The committee has been charged with considering all factors, including the state of the national economy, before endorsing an increase.

Complaints against PS revealed

PUTRAJAYA (January 4): The Public Complaints Bureau (PCB) has released a list of the most frequent complaints against the Malaysian Public Service.

A total of 36 per cent of complaints received in the past year concerned late or no action by Government Agencies and Departments, and 13 per cent were about lack of enforcement.

Other complaints filed with PCB included failure to adhere to procedures, unsatisfactory manpower quality, lack of public amenities, unfair action, inadequacies in policy implementation, abuse of power and staff misconduct.

Director-General of the PCB, Datuk Raihan Sharif said the bureau received an average of between 500 and 600 complaints every month which was a significant decrease on the previous four years.


Turkish workers get mosque time

ANKARA (January 5): Turkish Public Servants are to be given time off to attend Friday prayers in mosques, the Government has announced.

Most Middle Eastern Muslim countries have the holy day of Friday as a day off, but Turkey uses the standard Monday-to-Friday working week employed in the West.

The move comes amid criticisms that the Government is imposing a creeping Islamisation on the country, eroding the secular values laid by modern Turkey's founder, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.

In recent years the Government has lifted bans on women and girls wearing headscarves in schools and the Public Service, has limited alcohol sales and made efforts to ban mixed-sex dormitories at State universities.


Texting trial for services

LONDON (January 5): The United Kingdom Government plans to reduce the need for call centres, face-to-face meetings and other public-facing operations by launching a text message alert service about its public services.

The automated system, called Notify, is similar to that used by online retailers and is designed to save almost £600 million ($A1.2 billion).

Members of the public will receive a text message, email or letter when their car registration is up for renewal, or when student finance applications are being processed.

Other likely uses are for updates on claims for Universal Credit, the Government’s new welfare system, and voter registration applications. Notify is due to be trialled by certain Government services from February.


Union rejects further job cuts

KINGSTON (January 4): Jamaica’s public sector union has rejected claims by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) that further job cuts are needed to meet agreed IMF requirements.

President of the Jamaica Civil Service Association (JCSA), O'Neil Grant said job cuts should not be the approach taken to lower the wage bill.

“The Jamaican public sector is less than 10 per cent of the labour force — the average size of the public sector globally ranges between 13 and 15 per cent,” Mr Grant said.

"If we were to cut the public sector by 15,000 jobs come 1 April, what is going to happen? First and foremost, most of the persons that you are going to be removing are going to go on some sort of welfare, because you are now going to be increasing unemployment."


Ghost pensioners costing millions

KAMPALA (January 6): The Ugandan Auditor General is questioning Public Service Ministry payouts worth Shs11 billion ($A4.5 million) to pensioners who may not exist.

Auditor General, John Muwanga said the payments covered the previous 12 months and were in addition to multiple payments to some pensioners who had already received their monthly dues. He wants the Ministry to investigate the matter.

This comes after repeated complaints from genuine pensioners who said they had not been paid at all. At the time Minister for Finance, Matia Kasaija said the delay in payments was the result of a technical hitch.

Later, the Treasury issued another statement saying the problem was the result of confusion over the number of actual pensioners at the various Ministries.


Concern over multiple miscreants

ATHENS (January 7): More than 450 Greek Public Servants are waiting for disciplinary panels to hear charges of offences against them, the Inspectors-Controllers for Public Administration Authority, has announced.

The authority has launched a new effort to push through dozens of disciplinary cases, which have been piling up despite the Government’s efforts to speed up the process a few months ago.

It has ordered each disciplinary panel to list the cases it is scheduled to hear, as well as the verdicts once they have been issued.

The fear is that Public Servants who had been accused of serious offenses may be allowed to return to work, pending their hearings.


‘Bank holiday’ claim denied

DUBLIN (January 7): The union representing lower-paid Irish Public Servants has lost its claim for extra holidays to compensate for the loss of ‘bank time’ to cash their pay cheques.

The Civil Service Arbitration Board (CSAB) has ruled that there is no basis for acceding to the request. The bank time allowance, which granted most Public Servants 30 minutes on a Friday to enable them to lodge their pay cheques at a bank, was abolished in 2011.

The Civil Public and Services Union, which represents 13,000 Public Servants, had been criticised for seeking compensation for its members on the basis that most staff now have their wages paid electronically into their bank accounts.

The existence of the allowance had previously been criticised by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform which branded it an “outdated work practice”.


Taxis on taxes worker suspended

PARIS (January 7): A high-level French Public Servant has been suspended by President François Hollande for misusing public funds, which included running up a €40,000 ($A60,800) taxi bill.

Former President of the French National Audiovisual Institute (INA), Agnès Saal received notice of a six-month discharge from the Public Service followed by a two-year probation period after she and her son racked up the bill during her 10-month tenure as the public institution’s head.

Aggravating the charge against her, Ms Saal had access to a private chauffeur during her tenure at the INA. She acknowledged that up to a third of her taxi trips had been for private reasons, and made a €15,900 ($24,200) reimbursement.

However, she defended her use of the taxis, arguing that her taxpayer-funded chauffeur could not be expected to keep up with a work schedule that included many 15-hour days, as well as weekend commitments. She does not hold a driver’s licence.


Loans crackdown ‘successful’

KUALA LUMPUR (January 5): The Malaysian National Higher Education Fund Corporation (PTPTN) has reported success with its recent crackdown on Public Servants who were behind with their payments on student loans.

Marketing and Strategic Communications Chief Officer at PTPTN, Mastura Mohd Khalid said loan repayments made by its borrowers among Public Servants had increased by 20 per cent after the recent implementation of a mandatory salary deduction.

“We hope this can be a new starting point for borrowers to repay their loans in a consistent manner,” Ms Mastura said.  

“The mandatory salary deduction is only imposed on those who have never made a repayment. They had been given a repayment period of between 10 to 15 years, but they never paid.”


New deal for project managers

LONDON (January 7): A proposal by The Chief Executive of the United Kingdom Public Service to introduce a separate senior pay-scale for commercial project managers within the Public Service, has found favour with the Government.

John Manzoni said a priority for the Government was to build the Public Service’s base of specialist commercial skills. Existing pay arrangements were perceived to be a barrier to this.

Senior Public Service pay typically tops out at around £200,000 ($408,000) but heads of large-scale commercial projects can earn three times as much in the private sector.

A Cabinet Office spokesman said there was a need to build clear career paths, high-quality learning and development products, and reward packages that allowed the Public Service to improve specialist capability.


PS pay crisis rocks Government

HARARE (January 8): Zimbabwe’s Public Service pay crisis is dragging on with regular pay finally delivered in some cases more than two weeks late, and no sign of the promised end-of-2015 bonus.

The situation has many social implications for workers with parents not able to pay January school fees for their children and dependents. Some Public Servants are unable to afford life-preserving drugs, while others are receiving eviction orders for non-payment of rents.

The cash-strapped Government is broke. Part of the money that was supposed to pay Public Servants was ring fenced towards paying off installments on loans to the World Bank, International Monetary Fund and the African Development Bank.

It is now likely that the Government will not be able to pay January 2016 salaries unless there is some special intervention outside the normal tax collection.


UK ideas culture outstrips US

LONDON (January 7): Analysis by the United Kingdom think tank, Institute for Government (IfG), has found a  "strong and improving" culture for the fostering of ideas within the Public Service.

The IfG said the United Kingdom was outshining its American counterpart, increasing levels of respondents feeling they and their colleagues worked in an environment where they were “encouraged to come up with new and better ways of doing things”.

IfG report authors, Jo Casebourne and Ollie Hirst said that the improving picture of innovation within the Public Service was in contrast with the US, where the innovation picture was seen as having broadly deteriorated since 2010.

They said that while 91 per cent of American Federal employees reported they were constantly looking for ways to do their jobs better, just 57 per cent felt encouraged to come up with new and better ways of doing their jobs, while only 37 per cent felt they worked in an environment where creativity and innovation were rewarded.


‘Entitlement culture’ slammed

BASSETERRE (January 5): The Prime Minister of St Kitts and Nevis has called for improved service delivery within the nation’s Public Service.

Timothy Harris said that while the historic Public Service model was one based on the award of increments, employees should not partake in a culture of entitlement.

“Simply put, top-quality service is required both in the public and the private sectors. By extension, salaries and increments must be tied to productivity and performance with promotions being based on merit,” Dr Harris said.

“In 2016, there will be heightened efforts to advance our public sector reform program, beginning with the completion of job descriptions where none currently exist and the development of matching performance appraisals to accurately determine execution of assigned duties.”

The full Public Service News international news service resumes on January 18 at psnews.com.au/aps/world

Sunday, January 3, 2016


Same sex case goes to court

HONG KONG (December 29): A senior Hong Kong Public Servant has filed a writ in the High Court challenging the Government’s refusal to recognise his same-sex marriage and grant him the same rights and benefits as heterosexual couples.

Senior Immigration Officer, Angus Leung Chun-kwong complained that his marriage status was not recognised by the Civil Service Bureau (CSB) and the Inland Revenue Department.

Mr Leung applied to the Civil Service Bureau for a change of his marital status before he got married in New Zealand last year. He acquired a marriage certificate in that country. 

However, he was told by the CSB that his marriage in New Zealand was not consistent with Hong Kong’s Marriage Ordinance, while the Inland Revenue Department has denied him the benefits and subsidies offered to married Public Servants and their spouses.


Unpaid workers told to pay
MAKURDI (December 29): Some Public Servants in the Nigerian State of Benue have been told they must pay a fee of N6,000  ($A42) for induction into the Public Service as long as three years ago — even though their salaries have been unpaid for months.

The workers had participated in the three-day induction course organised by the Office of the Benue State Head of Service but said non-payment of salaries had left them too poor to pay.

Permanent Secretary in-charge of Establishment, Office of the Benue State Head of Service, Iorhii Dooga defended the N6,000 collection fee.

"The payment is to enable the Public Service to hold the induction program, as the Government has no money to fund the course,” Mr Dooga said.


Commission pushes for tribal equity

NAIROBI (December 29): The Kenyan Public Service Commission says there is a need for affirmative action to ensure all Kenyan communities, or tribes, are represented in the country’s Public Service.

The Commission said just four communities made up 58 per cent of the workforce in Government Ministries, Departments and Agencies. There are more than 40 different tribes in Kenya.

The report said five communities are not represented at all, while three had less than 20 employees.

A draft policy from the Commission stated that every Public Service institution must ensure fair and equitable representation of the diverse Kenyan ethnic communities and groups, including minorities and marginalised groups and communities, proportionate to their national population size.


Wait for promised bonus continues

HARARE (December 31): Most Zimbabwean Public Servants are still waiting for their promised Christmas bonus as the country heads into the New Year.

Teachers have threatened unspecified action in if the salary issues are not resolved.

Secretary-General of the Zimbabwe Teachers’ Association, John Mlilo decried the continuing uncertainty over the bonus and pay dates generally while the Zimbabwe Hospital Doctors’ Association described the situation as “a circus”.

Opposition spokesman, David Coltart decried the fact that President Robert Mugabe had gone on an overseas holiday “while Zimbabwe was burning, with Public Servants destitute”.


Extra funds for Malaysian PS

KUALA LUMPUR (January 3): A special one-off bonus is being made to 2.6 million current Malaysian Public Servants and pensioners.

The payment will cost RM645 million ($A205.7 million) which will result in 1.6 million Public Servants receiving RM500 ($A 159) each and one million Government pensioners RM250 ($A80) each.

Also announced was an upgrading of some incentive schemes, which will benefit 406,000 Public Servants. In addition, almost 50,000 pensioners who have 25 years of service will enjoy a fixed minimum pension of RM950 ($A 303) a month.

Officers on contract who have served at least 15 years will be absorbed into the permanent Service. This will benefit around 10,000 contract staff.


Gnawing fear leads to digitisation

ABUJA (December 31): Fear of depredations by rodents has led the Nigerian Federation Government to launch a digitisation program for its records.

Acting Head of the Civil Service of the Federation, Winifred Oyo-Ita, paying an end-of-year unscheduled visit to Ministries and other Agencies, said it was regrettable that staff records and other important information were still being kept in paper files, which could be eaten by rodents.

“During my tenure, the records and document management of the Federal Civil Service will be fully automated,” Ms Oyo-Ita said.

“We already have a program for an electronic management system, which will be rolled out in 2016 and an archive system and related software will be developed, too.”


Pakistan PS to get an overhaul

ISLAMABAD (December 30): The Pakistan Government is instituting a package of reforms aimed at overhauling the Public Service.

Minister for Planning, Development and Reforms, Ahsan Iqbal said he wanted a more citizen-focused service, with increased opportunities for training.

Plans included an exchange program with several countries and an online training system building the capacity of officers.

“Renowned educationists have been hired to formulate a model curriculum after reviewing the present education system from primary level to higher education, turning Islamabad into a model city of governance and reforms,” Mr Iqbal said.


Watchdog to paw down bureaucracy

ALGIERS (December 30): A new body, to act as a national watchdog for the Algerian Public Service is to be established, President Abdelaziz Bouteflika has decreed.

"This body will contribute to the elimination of bureaucratic obstacles and the improvement of public services; it will have a consultation framework which will include representatives of Ministerial Departments, elected assemblies, civil society and the press,” President Bouteflika said.

“The watchdog's task is to assess the development of the Public Service. It is also authorised to suggest measures in terms of equity in the access to public services and protection of users' rights."

He said the watchdog would monitor the improvement of society's adherence to changes that must be pursued by the Public Service.


Modi wants PS to raise game

NEW DELHI (January 1): Indian Public Service chiefs have been ordered to submit their plans for the coming year to Prime Minister Narendra Modi in a clear sign the Prime Minister is not satisfied with their performance since he came to office more than 18 months ago.

Mr Modi spent the last two days of 2015 brainstorming with the top bureaucrats on a range of subjects, reportedly seeking transformation and breakthrough on a number of subjects from the Ganga regeneration program to energy optimisation.

Sources said of particular concern was the Hyderabad metro rail project which is behind schedule and suffering cost-overruns.

The sources stated that with Mr Modi’s legislative program held up in Parliament, he may be looking to the Public Service to squeeze out results in areas that don’t need legislation.


Taiwan driving force for workers

BASSETERRE (December 31): St Kitts and Nevis, one of the few countries to have diplomatic relations with Taiwan, has been rewarded with the donation of a fleet of vehicles for its Public Service.

Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of National Security, Osmond Petty said the vehicles were critical to the work of the Ministries and Departments on the two-island West Indian nation.

“Vehicles are critical to the work of Foreign Affairs and National Security and we have made many requests to the Taiwanese Government for vehicles, some of which are still pending,” Mr Petty said.

The vehicles have been assigned to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of National Security and the Kids Office of the Prime Minister.


PNG kicks out expat bureaucrats

PORT MORESBY (January 3): Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea, Peter O’Neill has announced that all contracts for foreigners working in the country’s Public Service will be cancelled.

Most of the foreigners are Australians working in Departments such as the Tax Office, Customs, the Auditor-General, the Ombudsman, Treasury and Finance.

Mr O’Neill said the foreign advisers had made local workers lazy while in some cases decisions were being made not in the interest of the country.

He used his New Year’s Message to focus on how his Government was improving conditions in Papua New Guinea with a heavy focus on ridding the national police force of corruption.


Support for illiterate workers

PORT-AU-PRINCE (December 31): A major literacy campaign is to be launched among junior members of the Haitian Public Service after a survey found that around 5,000 officers were unable to read or write.

Secretary of State for Literacy, Jean Wilberson Timothée said that 3,600 instructors and 350 supervisors would be hired to conduct the campaign.

“They will be paid 6,000 gourdes ($A144) for instructors and 8,000 gourdes ($A192) for supervisors and we will provide a hot meal at the end of each session for the various beneficiaries of the program," Mr Timothée said.

He said the total budget for the program, which is being supported by Cuba and UNESCO, was 50 million gourdes ($A1.2 million) over four months.


Public Servants eke out on eggs

ABUJA (January 1): Nigerian Public Servants are turning to farming to make ends meet as falling oil prices and a stumbling economy raises the specter of mass sackings in 2016.

Some States are already behind on salary payments despite a bailout by the Federal Government.

Sources said many workers had used the Christmas and New Year holiday to invest in poultry for raising chickens and producing eggs to sell to the public.

One Public Servant in the Ondo State Ministry of Education said salaries for October had been paid just a few days before Christmas. “What do you think I would have used to feed my immediate and extended families if I have not engaged in poultry farming, especially egg production?” The worker said.


Retirements solving downsizing

ATHENS (January 3): Greek Public Servants have been retiring in their thousands ahead of less generous social security pay-outs, which is solving one headache for the Government.

The departures mean the Public Service has met its downsizing target of 12,000 with hardly any layoffs.

Virtually all the departures were employees taking retirement on the current level of pensions.  Within one month, October to November 2015, 737 Public Servants departed, reducing the total number of State employees to 567,195.

The biggest share of departing employees in this period was from the Ministry of Internal Affairs (151), followed by local authorities (136), the Ministry of Health (119) and the Ministry of Education Ministry (113).


Two-job workers still stay at home

NAIMEY (January 3): It has been revealed that some Public Servants in Niger have two jobs in different Ministries, but are still staying at home or coming in late.

Commissioner for Information, Culture and Tourism, Jonathan Vatsa said the practice of double-dipping in Public Service employment must cease and workers must report at the stated starting times or face the sack.

“The era of coming to work late is over and will not be tolerated by the present administration,” Mr Vatsa said.

“The idea of coming to work any time you feel like is gone. Workers in the State must wake up for their responsibility or face the wrath of the law.”

PS News resumes in mid-January