Shadow Minister of Labour Senator Fred Mitchell said yesterday that comments attributed to Secretary to the Cabinet Camille Johnson that deputy permanent secretaries in the country are “extraordinarily weak” is a “damning and shocking” statement that cannot be the view of the government.
During debate in the Senate, Mitchell noted that Minister of Labour Dion Foulkes did not address Johnson’s comments in his presentation.
“I was hoping, however, that he would give some words of comfort to the public servants who heard that the chief of the public service this morning is quoted as saying that they are extraordinarily weak in the public service,” Mitchell said.
“This is a rather shocking statement. The IDB reports that the secretary to the Cabinet, quotes the secretary to the Cabinet according to the press this morning, as saying that the public service in The Bahamas is extraordinarily weak.
“This is quite a damning statement to make and as you would expect, there has been a number of things pushed back on this. So, I am sure that this kind of language was not intended to have this kind of impact.
“We all appreciate what the difficulties are with public administration. But when you make these kinds of blanket statements you condemn everybody with these words.”
Johnson’s comments are contained in a recently published report by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) entitled “Building Capacity in The Caribbean: The state of the civil service in The Bahamas”.
The report was prepared by Joan H. Underwood and is linked on the IDB’s website.
According to the report, “The PS [permanent] in the MPS [Ministry of Public Service and National Insurance] indicated that, while the staff numbers were high, the civil service had a hollow middle and lacked essential skills.
“The Cabinet secretary and several permanent secretaries as well as external stakeholders reaffirmed this assessment of the lack of essential skills. In fact, the Cabinet secretary described the cadre of deputy permanent secretaries (DPS) as ‘extraordinarily weak.’”
Attorney General Carl Bethel got to his feet and indicated that he was unsure of the veracity of the newspaper article regarding the IDB report, or whether “it was ever intended to be a public document”.
“I am not certain that whatever is reported in the newspaper is, first of all, accurate, and, second of all, whether it was ever intended to be a public document,” Bethel said.
He added, “It behooves us all well to look critically at everything we do in public administration because that is the only way we are ever going to improve it.”
Mitchell said, “This obviously cannot be the view of the government.”
Bethel retorted, “I am not aware of the veracity of that which you are speaking of.
“I would like to have the facts before I form an opinion, save we have great confidence in our public service and we love our public servants and we want them to do an even better job.”