(CNS): The deputy governor, who has responsibility for civil servants, warned MLAs Wednesday not to politicize the service as he engaged in an acrimonious exchange with independent MLA Arden McLean (East End) and tried to address concerns raised by Opposition Leader McKeeva Bush (West Bay) over human resource complaints. As lawmakers asked various questions that strayed into the non-political branch of government, Franz Manderson made it clear he would not be forced into responding.
When McLean quizzed him on the case relating to the controversial “covert video” case at the prison, Manderson revealed that government was talking to the lawyer of the senior officer sacked over the affair, who has filed suit, but he refused to say anymore.
McLean directed Manderson to the Constitution and parts relating to answering committee questions before he asked if the talks related to her being reinstated or getting a pay-off, and asked for more details of what had transpired to lead to her dismissal.
But the deputy governor refused to answer and said matters that may be sub judice should not be discussed in the Legislative Assembly. He said there was nothing in the Constitution that said he was responsible to the member or had to answer his questions relating to human resource issues for civil servants.
”I am not going to manage the civil service down here. There is a clear separation of powers,” he said.
Manderson said he was willing to go out of his way to help MLAs where he could and give them private briefings if necessary when it concerned legal or confidential issues but he refused to get into the details of a case which was before the courts in the open Chamber.
As members pointed out that they were receiving complaints from their constituents who were civil servants about how they were being treated and needed to raise them, the deputy governor said he understood that but the law and regulations and the Constitution were clear.
However, McKeeva Bush said that was part of his concern. MLAs do not go into details about civil service matters, but Bush said he did not think that was right because they get a “tremendous amount of queries and complaints on our doorsteps about every conceivable matter”.
Bush said that where he could help constituents he tried to do so but there was only so much he could do — something he thought that public servants needed to know because members are asked by constituents about these matters but there were few options on how they could help.
Pointing to the limitations of parliamentary questions, the opposition leader wanted to know where politicians should go to get answers for their constituents who expected them to act.
Earlier on he had raised the issue of customs officers who were forced into retirement and how secret staff deals caused concern and impacted morale among government workers.
“I was told to keep out of civil service issues … but as soon as there are problems they come to us,” he added.
However, Deputy Governor Manderson said he should maintain a neutral public service.
“We do not want a political civil service which is tied to particular politicians and that’s the danger of taking this too far,” he said.
Urging MLAs to bring their concerns from constituents directly to him, he said they could hold him accountable, but they should not be trying to deal with human resources disputes in the LA as that could not be right and would not work.
Finance Committee Chair Marco Archer said the committee needed to take legal advice over how far questions could go on these issues and steered members towards speaking to the deputy governor in camera.
But McLean objected, saying that too many things happened “off air”. He said trying to go through official protocols did not work because the questions were not answered and he accused Archer of facilitating officials not to answer to the elected arm.
“I have tried doing private briefings but there were no tangible results,” he said and implied Archer was protecting the deputy governor from answering queries publicly. McLean said that even when he had been told that a matter had been resolved by the DG, the reality for the civil servant in question was that “nothing, absolutely nothing, has happened … nothing at all changed”, as he pressed his right to question government officials publicly.
Describing himself as an advocate for the people with a responsibility to act for them, he claimed that his “responsibilities are being stymied” and said he would make sure people knew that.