Focus | Civil service bashing yields no gains
The Bahamas is a country of order, for the most part. A big reason for this is the country’s civil service. It is what ensures, in many ways, that we have safe buildings in which to dwell, reasonably safe roads on which to drive, safe – maybe not so reliable these days – electricity to use, good water to drink, reasonably good schools to attend and generally protected communities in which to live.
I could go on. It is staffed by our police officers, teachers, sanitation workers, food inspectors, engineers, prosecutors, social workers, customs officers, immigration officers, prison guards, defense force officers, magistrates, permanent secretaries, deputy permanent secretaries, first assistant secretary, etc., etc. Numbering more than twenty thousand, no one would want to live in The Bahamas without them or with them being woefully incompetent. As a general rule, they contribute greatly to making our nation not only livable but enviably livable as compared to many.
To be sure, in instances, maybe too many, the civil service does not get it right. There are bad apples in the bunch who are slack, sloppy and sassy. There are those who work for the government merely for pay rather than pride. However, there is a much greater number of them who are productive, professional and pleasant. They contribute to the general wellbeing of this place we call home. As elected officials come and go, and they come and go more frequently these days, these mostly permanent staff members of the government remain, providing continuity, context and competence for the running of the Bahamian state. Regardless of the administration, most of them do their jobs well and help us all to live peacefully and prosperously in these Bahama islands.
It must be off-limits for anyone, in particular, political appointees, to take liberty in publicly bashing and/or accusing these servants unjustifiably. They must not be allowed to come into disrepute simply because someone calls into the question their political loyalty. They must never have their jobs threatened out of political expedience. In the day this happens, we will see the removal of “civil” from the civil service. That will be a sad day for us all.
I am not naïve; there are civil servants with political preferences and biases. Yes, there are those who allow their bias to influence their work. In the more than fifteen years, however, I dealt with civil servants as one of them or as a cabinet minister, the vast majority did not act that way. Most civil servants do their best to conceal their political allegiance, preferring to serve, without prejudice, whichever party is elected. I like to remind people that when Hubert Ingraham became prime minister in 1992, every single person who worked for the government prior was hired by Sir Lynden Pindling and the Progressive Liberal Party. This notwithstanding, he easily won a second term and largely with the help of those same civil servants, many of whom supported him and the Free National Movement. This shows that they did their jobs despite who hired them and supported policies and an administration that worked in the country’s interest.
If a political appointee has a difficulty with a civil servant, he or she should take it up with those who appointed them. It should then be left to the political directorate to address the matter with professionalism and prudence. This and this alone will ensure the level of morale in the service is what it needs to be for its proper functioning. Public bashing and castigating of civil servants will gain nothing and lose too much. A word to the wise is sufficient, I hope.
• Zhivargo Laing is a Bahamian economic consultant and former Cabinet minister who represented the Marco City constituency in the House of Assembly.