Saturday, December 31, 2016

Can we learn the lessons of 2016?

Thank god it’s over. I wonder how many of us have said that about the just departed 2016. Perhaps as many who can look back at the last 12 months with fondness as the year they got a promotion, had a great holiday or met the love of their life.

I have to place myself in the former category and not because I needed an operation to unblock a deformed nasal passage, mourned the death of my wife’s mother or my involvement in a serious traffic accident.

Because I write about the affairs of the world I can look back at 2016 as an unmitigated disaster, worse than the terrorist attack of 2001 and as bad as anything since World War II.

The event that most depressed me was the United Kingdom’s vote to leave the European Union. I make no apologies for my support for the European experiment which goes back well before I was in the House of Commons for the 1971 EU debate in which Edward Heath, the most honest and bravest politician I have met, stated that without a vote in favour of membership his Government could not reasonably continue.

Even worse, after the June referendum – which with a margin of 3.9 per cent I refuse to accept the Europhobic media’s description as ‘decisive’ – the Government that emerged is probably the most incompetent of modern times, filled with brutal ideologues and show ponies and led by a blatant opportunist who months later still cannot define a clear path to realising her miserable objective.

If Brexit had been the only negative of 2016 it would have been bad enough, but it was also the year in which the people of the United States – with the help of the antiquated relic of its electoral college, chose a man whose idea of policy creation lies in what he tweets next, a sexist bigot who convinced enough people in enough key states that he could turn back history and resurrect jobs that have not only been lost, but simply no longer existed.

Throughout the year the rest of the world looked on helplessly as Russia propped up Bashar al-Assad in Syria with a merciless campaign of destruction that killed and maimed thousands of innocent civilians and sent millions more fleeing into exile, all in the name of the ‘fight against terror’.

We saw the man in the highest office in the Philippines acting like a homicidal maniac, freely admitting he had personally killed people in his so called war on drugs. Even in sport it is now clear that the last few Olympic Games and many other top events have been tainted by drug cheating that is not only condoned by some national Governments, but sponsored and encouraged.   

But most disappointing for this old-fashioned journalist was the rise of terms such as ‘post truth’ and ‘fake news’.

As traditional news outlets are in decline, replaced by lurid rants in support of the prejudices of their billionaire owners, social media has filled the gap, giving full reign to the most outrageous conspiracy theories and fantastic lies. A poll during the year showed that more than 30 per cent of Americans believed a posting that US presidential candidate Hillary Clinton headed a paedophile ring in California.

If truth becomes an optional extra, openly abused and disregarded; if ‘news’ is designed to fit whatever prejudices and hang-ups the individual possesses, then we will surely be treading a rocky road. Let us all resolve to work for better outcomes in 2017 and beyond.       

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Public Service News from around the world

PS pensions rise curtailed

DUBLIN (December 27: A provision whereby Irish Public Service retirees get automatic increases in line with pay rises to the person doing their old job could be scrapped. Under a new plan their pension would rise only in line with inflation.

The measure, which would save the Government billions of euros over the next few decades, will be on the table in talks with unions next year.

A statement from the Department of Public Expenditure said as the Government moved beyond the Financial Emergency Measures in the Public Interest (FEMPI) pay and pension measures, imposed after the Global Financial Crisis, the issue of Public Service pension reductions must be considered.

The link between pensions and inflation already exists for Public Servants hired since 2013 — and the legislation that set it in place also contains a mechanism that would allow a similar link for all other Public Service pensions.


Reforms aimed at greater growth

ABUJA (December 27): Director-General of the Nigerian Bureau of Public Service Reforms has announced plans aimed at a fundamental shake-up of the country’s Federal Public Service.

 Joe Abah said the reforms, which will be introduced in phases over 10 years, would foster growth in Nigeria’s economy.

“In 2017 we will be focusing very heavily on making it easier to do business in Nigeria with studies to look at the bottlenecks to service delivery to the ordinary Nigerian,” Dr Abah said.

“For instance, the processes for getting a passport, the processes for getting a driver’s licence, the process for getting a tax clearance and the process for seeing a doctor in a Government hospital.”


Workers consider Trump options

WASHINGTON (December 28): Further evidence is emerging of a significant exodus from the United States Federal Public Service as the new Administration of President-elect Donald Trump begins to emerge.

A study published earlier this month suggests that senior Public Servants leave in droves during the first year of a new Administration — and they are especially likely to quit when the incoming President’s politics are counter to the Agency’s own ideological leanings.

Mr Trump has already nominated a climate change denier to head the Environmental Protection Agency, and he wants to hand control of the Department of Energy to a man who would prefer to abolish it.

On the other hand, the model expects to see stable employment at more conservative branches, including the military. Mr Trump was endorsed by unions representing workers in the Border Patrol and Immigration, Customs and Enforcement Agencies, whose ranks are expected to swell.


May ‘ignoring Brexit problems’

LONDON (December 28): The head of the union that covers senior United Kingdom Public Servants has slammed Prime Minister, Theresa May for failing to talk openly about the complexity of the process for leaving the European Union [Brexit].

General Secretary of the FDA union, Dave Penman said the Prime Minister’s reluctance to consider the issue could lead to a breaking point in Whitehall as staff struggle with an immense workload on limited resources.

Mr Penman said Ms May appeared to be leading a Government that could not cope with any discussion about problems of implementation, as it was interpreted as criticism.

“When anyone pops their head above the parapet — former Permanent Secretaries, ex-Cabinet Secretaries, the Institute for Government — and says this is going to take a long time and it’s complex, they are immediately shot down and accused of betraying the will of the people,” Mr Penman said.  


Rule breakers will be sniffed out

HANOI (December 24): Public Servants working for the Hanoi City Council have been told they must not have tattoos or wear “improper” fragrances.

It was not immediately clear how these rules would be policed and there were no definitions of “improper” perfumes or colognes that should be avoided. There was also confusion over whether only visible tattoos were to be prohibited.

The new etiquette code also requires Public Servants to dress well and be polite when communicating with the public, which might appear as basic requirements but somehow still need to be written into rules.

The code stated that it should be viewed more as a guide than a legal document and that the guidelines for expected behaviour will help improve the image of the Public Service.


“Quarantine leave’ for workers

KUALA LUMPUR (December 24): Malaysian Public Servants are to be granted up to five days unrecorded leave if their children are afflicted with communicable diseases such as dengue haemorrhagic fever or measles and need to be quarantined, the head of the Public Service says.

A directive from Tan Sri Mohamad Zabidi Zainal said workers would also be allowed to stay at home to care for their children if they come down with hand, foot and mouth disease, chicken pox, diphtheria and malaria.

“The parents will be allowed to go on leave for up to five days as long as the child is below 18 years of age; or below 21 if they are still pursuing tertiary education,” Tan Sri Mohamad Zabidi said.

However, the age limit would not apply if the sick child was physically handicapped or mentally challenged.


Technical delay in festive pay-out

NAIROBI (December 26): Christmas was not so jolly for tens of thousands of Kenyan Public Servants after a technical hitch with the Integrated Financial Management Information System (Ifmis) delayed salaries.

All county [Local Government] workers and thousands of teachers across the country did not receive their December pay following the breakdown of the much-hyped Government financial management system. Ifmis is used in processing all financial transactions at the national and county levels.

Council of Governors Chair, Peter Munya said while National Government staff had been paid, those in counties spent Christmas without money. “We are helpless,” he said.

The country has 230,000 Public Servants, the bulk employed at the county level, with 290,000 teachers on the Government payroll.


Phoenix still fails to rise

OTTAWA (December 23): Canada’s seemingly endless problems over Public Service pay appear destined to head into the New Year after further glitches were revealed in the troubled Phoenix system.

Phoenix, a new computerised pay system rolled out in February, led to complaints by thousands of Federal Government employees. Some were underpaid, others were overpaid and some were not paid at all. 

The Government confirmed that 82,000 Public Servants were affected in some way between February and the end of June. Since July, Federal unions have said even more workers have come forward with pay problems, but the Government has yet to release that figure, saying it can't be calculated.

After months of requests, the Department in charge of Phoenix revealed that more than 13,000 people have come forward since July 1 to report they were not getting paid or were paid incorrectly because they went on leave or left the Public Service.


Promotions promised at last

ADO EKITI (December 26): Public Servants in the Nigerian State of Ekiti can look forward to a more prosperous New Year after 15,772 of them were granted promotions by Governor Ayo Fayose.

A statement from the Governor’s office said the promotions involved workers in Local Governments and the teaching service as well as core Public Servants.

It said the beneficiaries consisted mainly of those whose promotions were due since 2012, 2013 and 2014.

However, some of the gilt was taken off the lily as the statement went on to say there would be no money to pay for the promotions until March 2017.


Pension concessions to end

TAIPEI (December 25): A special 18 per cent preferential pension interest rate for Taiwan’s Public Servants and educators is to be phased out over six years, the Government has announced.

Deputy Convener of the National Pension Reform Committee, Lin Wan-I said the armed forces pension would be handled separately and given its own set of rules.

The phase-out is part of a draft of pension amendments is to be reviewed by the Legislative Yuan [Parliament] before the first session next year.

The 18 per cent preferential interest rate policy was introduced in the 1960s when the average income of teachers, Public Servants and military personnel was lower than that of other professions.


Gender gap beginning to close

THIMPHU (December 26): A new report has found that the gender gap in the Bhutanese Public Service is closing, albeit slowly.

In 2008 women comprised 29.5 per cent of the total public workforce — in 2015 this had risen to 34.5 per cent.

The annual report of the Royal Civil Service Commission noted that in 1996 the female total had been just 16 per cent.

However, the report states that there was a “clear gender gap” in the executives and specialists groups with women making up just 10 per cent of this part of the workforce.


PS to have say on reforms

KINGSTON (December 27): The newly created Public Sector Transformation Oversight Committee (PSTOC), charged with overseeing major reforms to the Jamaican Public Service, wants workers to have a say in the process.

In a statement, the committee said all efforts would be made to ensure public sector employees had a sense of ownership of the transformation process.

Co-Chair of PSTOC, trade unionist Danny Roberts, said that there would be a high level of engagement with public sector workers in order to get their suggestions and feedback on helping the exercise achieve its objectives.

“This position was given full support by the members of the committee representing the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica, the Jamaica Confederation of Trade Unions, the Jamaica Employers Federation, the Government and academia,” Mr Roberts said.


Digital upgrade for tax office

COLOMBO (December 27): The Sri Lankan Public Service is to get a digital boost in the country’s 2017 Budget, the Government has announced.

Minister for Finance, Ravi Karunanayake said digitalisation would help mid-income level countries such as Sri Lanka to lay a firm foundation to improving efficiency in public service by developing human resources and ensuring transparency in State administration.

“It will also help end old practices of making illegal economic gains in the sector,” Mr Kaunanayake said.

“The Inland Revenue Department will be able to expand its tax administration and tax foundation under this project. At the same time, a separate office will be established to prepare e-files and an e-payment system for tax payers.”


Anger over reform ‘dumping’

PESHAWAR (December 27): Public Servants working for the Provincial Government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in Pakistan have accused the Department of Establishment of dumping the Chief Minister’s orders for the implementation of reforms.

The Peshawar Officers Association has warned it would call a strike if necessary action wasn’t taken on the matter by January 20.

In a letter sent to the Chief Minister, Governor, Chief Secretary and other functionaries the union said the delay in the implementation of the Chief Minister’s directives had caused resentment among all officers “as they had become hopeless and did not see any future of for the Public Service in the Province”.

“It seems either the Government is incapable of implementing its own decisions or Provincial Officers have been tricked,” the union said.


Good start to PS ‘modernisation’

GEORGE TOWN (December 28): Cayman Islands Premier, Alden McLaughlin says the first year of implementing Public Service reform under the umbrella of Project Future has been a success.

The project has been described as a response to immediate economic pressures on the public purse while laying foundations for future economic prosperity. It aims to modernise the culture and practice, as well as improve the efficiency and effectiveness, of public services.

“We are seeing more and more reports coming through setting out proposals for change. The work undertaken in this first year of implementation demonstrates clearly that this Government is committed to seeing through the ambitious agenda for change that it has established,” Mr McLaughlin said.

He said that at the end of the year there were 53 individual projects being monitored, and 44 were either preparing for or already delivering changes.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Public Service News from around the world

Trump wants names of climate team

WASHINGTON (December 9): The transition team working for United States President-elected, Donald Trump has asked the Department of Energy for the names of Federal employees who have worked on climate policy, raising fears that they will be the first targeted for sackings by the new Administration.

Over the past eight years, Public Servants at the Department have been working, among other things, on a ‘social cost of carbon’ metric to justify various climate policies. This has been opposed by various right wing groups as can be used to justify robust climate policies.

It is these workers who the transition team specifically want named — a move described by some observers as unprecedented and dangerous.

Democrat Senator, Edward Markey said he had written to the transition team warning that it would be violating the law if it used this information to retaliate against Federal employees. "Civil Servants should never be punished for having executed policies with which a new Administration disagrees," Senator Markey wrote.


Nine tenths of revenue for PS pay

HARARE (December 9): Zimbabwe’s Public Service wage bill is expected to be $US3 billion ($A4 billion) next year, leaving just $US400 million ($A534 million) for everything else.

0Minister for Finance, Patrick Chinamasa said falling revenues and a failure to cut the country’s bloated bureaucracy meant that wages were now costing something close to 90 per cent of all revenues.

Ever hopeful, the Minister said restrictions on hiring, continuous monitoring and audits for flushing out ghost workers, as well as the restructuring of the Public Service, were essential measures for the coming year.

However, President Robert Mugabe has continually overruled him, saying the Public Service, which includes the armed forces, must be maintained at current levels.


Government lets scientists off leash

OTTAWA (December 11): A tentative deal has been reached which will allow Canadian scientists who work for the Government to share their research with the media without first being designated official spokespeople.

The Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada (PIPSC) says it has reached the agreement, which will affect more than 18,000 Public Servants. This reverses a ruling by the previous Conservative Government which scientists said muzzled them at the same time as they were subjected to extensive funding cuts.

The union, which represents 55,000 scientists, IT experts, auditors and other Public Servants, made the breakthrough during new contract agreement on behalf of the scientists which includes a five per cent wage increase over four years.

Negotiations are continuing for more than 32,000 other PIPSC members.


Parliaments says no to PS reform

NICOSIA (December 9): The Cypriot Parliament has rejected five of six Government Bills on Public Service reform.

Under Secretary to the President and Reform Commissioner, Constantinos Petrides said he deeply regretted Parliament’s decision.

“Without so much as an amendment from parties, the Civil Service reform was rejected in its entirety. It is really saddening that the current rotten system is perpetuated,” Mr Petrides tweeted.

MPs who supported the Bills stressed the importance of cutting back on public expenditure, while those against the legislation claimed it did not go far enough.


 May’s attack on PS ‘irresponsible’

 LONDON (December 9): The union representing senior United Kingdom Public Servants has criticised Prime Minister, Theresa May’s attack on the country’s public workers, saying it was a classic case of “irresponsible Civil Service bashing”.

General Secretary of the FDA, Dave Penman said Ms May had joined an unedifying list of Prime Ministers who have publicly criticised underpaid and overworked Public Servants instead of voicing any concerns in private.

It follows a magazine interview in which the Prime Minister questioned the way staff in Whitehall failed to speak their minds and expressed exasperation at their fondness for acronyms.

Mr Penman said Public Servants “like politicians”, were not infallible “but true leadership is dealing with those issues in private and not resorting to the sort of Civil-Service bashing that certain sections of the media appear to crave”.


Netanyahu favours political appointments

JERUSALEM (December 11): Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sent shivers down the backs of the country’s Public Servants when he said he would like to emulate the United States system where thousands of appointments can be made by the incoming Government.

“President-elect, Donald Trump can make 4,000 appointments. We should be able to make a few hundred appointments that don’t need a tender,” Mr Netanyahu said, according to reports from his weekly Cabinet meeting.

Mr Netanyahu has set up a committee that will explore ways to remove some of the checks and balances currently in place regarding public appointments.

Most Public Service posts in Israel are filled through a tender process that is supposed to ensure that appointees have the professional qualifications to take on the job. It is also meant to weed out instances of nepotism and cronyism.


Pensions ‘should be pay factor’

DUBLIN (December 8): Ireland’s Minister for Public Expenditure, Paschal Donohoe says the value of the country’s Public Service pensions has increased in recent years and the fact should be taken into account in determining future pay rates.

Mr Donohoe said the country could not afford to return to the previous benchmarking system for determining rates or to social partnership-style wage awards.

“What I want to ensure is that in the engagement that we have in the future with trade unions in relation to the setting of public pay, we take account of the value of future pensions in determining rates of remuneration,” Mr Donohoe said.

“I want the Public Service Pay Commission to provide an input into how we will do this. What is crucial is that all of this work is fact based and evidence based.”


Spike in early retirements

KUALA LUMPUR (December 10): A report to Malaysia’s Senate states that some 72,000 Public Servants have opted for early retirement in the past decade.

While the figure is not large in a Public Service numbering more than a million, it has affected Treasury estimates of the money needed to be set aside for pension payments.

The report said that while many workers said their main reasons for early retirement was the desire to do voluntary work or spend more time with family, others were starting careers in the private sector, getting the benefit of both the pension and another income.  

It suggests that better career paths and opportunities for promotion might tempt more experienced personnel to continue their careers in the Public Service.


Government quizzed on PS vacancies

GIBRALTAR (December 12): The Opposition Gibraltar Social Democrat Party (GSD) is continuing to question the Government on its plans to fill 177 vacancies in the British Overseas Territory’s Public Service.

In a statement, the GSD said the vacancies were advertised before the 2015 General Election but have still not been filled.

“Not filling those vacancies will be an effective cut in the Public Service complement. The Government continues to dodge the issue and refuses to come clean on its intentions,” the Opposition party said in a statement.

The Opposition said the Government had failed to deal with the use of contract workers from recruitment consultants on the minimum wage occupying Public Service posts on a long term basis, and had also failed to justify why the Chief Secretary and the Principal Auditor had received 28 per cent pay rises.


Election hopefuls must quit PS

NAIROBI (December 10): Public Servants who want to run for Parliament in next year’s Kenyan national elections have until February 7 to declare their intentions and resign.

Head of Public Service, Joseph Kinyua said this was in accordance with the country’s Election Act 2011.

It does not apply to Governors of Counties, their deputies or members of County Assemblies.

Public Servants who have declared they will seek elective posts in 2017 include the Chief Secretary of the Department of Water, Kenya’s Ambassador to Tanzania and the Chief Executive of the Export Promotion Council.


End for hated quota system

LONDON (December 9): The much-loathed ‘rank and yank’ performance management system by which United Kingdom Public Service managers were forced to identify the bottom 10 per cent of performers in their workforces has been junked.

The system was introduced to help target poor performance, something the Public Service has acknowledged has been a problem, but the ranking system was criticised for targeting the wrong people as well as being hugely expensive to run.

Public Service unions have been told that a new Cabinet Office framework will be introduced in 2017 with new, more flexible arrangements based on some core principles that all Departments will need to meet.

Crucially, the principles do not require Departments to operate quotas and relative assessment, where staff are judged against the performance of others and placed in categories, including ‘must improve’, which ultimately puts them at risk of losing their jobs.


PNG province restructures PS

KAVIENG (December 11); The Papua New Guinea Province of New Ireland has launched a restructure of its Public Service, under the leadership of its Governor and former PNG Prime Minister, Sir Julius Chan.

Sir Julius said high incentives and allowances over the national scale would be offered to attract the right officials to the island. This would be followed with the revamping of middle management positions.

He said five new appointees for Departmental Chief Executive positions and 16 director positions, would take up their new roles in mid-January.

“There has been a very visible lack of discipline, initiative, ownership and pride at all levels of the Public Service, leading to mismanagement and corruption, misuse of power and position, and the cynical disregard for ethics — this must stop,” Sir Julius said.


Public Service training centre launched

BAKU (December 10): A new training centre for Azerbaijani Public Servants has been opened in the capital, Baku.

The centre has been established under a joint project funded by the European Union and implemented under the United Nations Development Program with local input from the Azerbaijan Academy of Public Administration.

It is expected to set internal procedures and training modules that abide by European standards. While the main thrust will be the improvement of the local public sector, there will be capacity for officials in other countries in the region to attend.

Head of the EU Delegation to Azerbaijan, Malena Mard said the centre was part of the EU’s commitment to Public Service capacity building in the country.


Jobs boost for Northern Ireland

BELFAST (December 13): The Northern Ireland Department for Communities says that about 150 new jobs will be created to handle changes in social security benefits across Britain.
The contract will see most of the jobs provided in Ballymena, with about 20 in Londonderry.

While a number of posts will be filled in the first instance through internal redeployment within the Public Service, it is expected the vast majority will be filled through external recruitment.

Posts will be in mainly administrative in nature, and will pay an average annual salary of £19,000 ($A32.200)


Union hits back at PS attacks

HALIFAX (December 10): A leading Public Service union says it has been forced to take out radio advertisements defending public sector workers from incessant attacks by the Canadian Provincial Government of Nova Scotia.

In a statement, the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) said Premier

Stephen McNeil was putting the interests of corporations ahead of families and cutting and privatising the services Nova Scotians relied on.

The advertisements will run from until December 25 on radio stations across the province.

The full Public Service News international news service resumes in mid-January at