Disappointing service by the public service

Enough has not been said about the yeoman’s effort of a select segment of the public service during this time of pandemic. Hardy souls labor, sometimes without adequate protection, doing what is required and needed. These are our frontline workers in the health and medical fields, the uniformed branches and sanitation workers.

These dedicated officers do not make up the majority of civil servants, however.

The nation owes them, as it does others including food store and pharmacy cashiers and attendants and bank tellers, a debt of gratitude which is likely to remain unpaid.

The majority of public officers have reduced workloads; work part-time on rotation or remotely from home; or, for far too many, do no work at all.

Notwithstanding, all public officers continued to receive full salary and benefits for the past six months.

They number among the few special segments in our community who continued to receive their full pay throughout the novel coronavirus pandemic.

On the other hand, private sector workers, very particularly those engaged in the tourism and hotel sector, but also many independent entrepreneurs and small business persons, have suffered reduced incomes, been furloughed, or made redundant because of the COVID-19 emergency.

Public service salaries and benefits are paid from the public purse; that is, from revenues collected by the government from the public through taxes and fees for services. And, also from hefty borrowings, the repayment of which will burden our children and grandchildren over the next 20 to 30 years.

A letter writer this week reminded us that notwithstanding the privileged position of public service workers in receiving their full salaries, their service standards, in the main, are poor.

We are especially disappointed in the quality of public services nowadays.

The persistence and deterioration of public services are especially irksome, inexcusable and painful.

One would expect that public officers, benefitting from no interruption in their incomes, would be grateful and hence happy to provide the most efficient service possible to the public.

This is unhappily, not the case. Instead, too many public officers assume postures of superiority. By their surliness they imply that their service is a favor as opposed to a service for which we pay handsomely.

The list of turn arounds and delays experienced by those seeking a public service is long.

They include delays in obtaining marriage licences, death certificates or renewing a vehicle’s licences; delays at our courts, post office and in obtaining building permits, police certificates and utility services.

It includes delays at the Office of the Registrar General or the Department of Immigration. These require appointments to submit documents for registration or applications for immigration status.

Surely, public servants not working at their usual stations, could have been redeployed to assist colleagues in especially burdened areas of the service.

We do not understand why immigration officers, not required to work full work weeks because of the reduction in traffic at the country’s international marine and air ports, were not reassigned to the COVID-19 tracking unit or to the Road Traffic Department to permit longer work days. The same applies to other clerical staff not required in office.

Clearly, the number of individuals assigned to find and monitor contacts of COVID-19-positive patients and to further monitor quarantined positive cases, would benefit from a significant increase in manpower. The backlog in contact tracing has been a lament of both medical teams and the public since the onset of the first surge of COVID-19 infections in March.

We would all feel better paying the hefty bill for borrowed money to pay salaries to civil servants and politicians if we were receiving worthwhile services.

Sadly, we are not.

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