Calling all cronies

| 29/11/2013

We all know that just about the only things that prosper in the dark are mushrooms, cockroaches and corruption. Recently, and without any publicity in the press, the present government made changes to the laws governing our civil service. Those changes ought to raise red flags. What our government has now put in place are new rules that make it possible to hire and promote people to permanent positions in our civil service without any fair and transparent open competition. That is a very serious change that reversed long-standing rules.

I can’t understand why this government in particular has done this. Perhaps I am just too young to be cynical.

The previous PPM government introduced laws designed to increase transparency and lessen corruption. So why is this government now doing things that seem to go against those goals?

Why would a government that says that it is in favour of transparency make changes to our laws that allow for secret non-competitive permanent appointments to the civil service? Who sold this to government? Who is going to benefit from the introduction of such a secret process?

Why was there no publicity and no consultation on this? No one I know in government HRM was consulted about the effects that such secret appointments will have on the civil service. There was no circular to the civil service letting people know thatthis was being considered. There was certainly no public consultation that I am aware of.

The recent changes were buried in a piece of complex legislation with nothing to point them out to the average person, and with no reasons being given by Cabinet as to why the changes were made. To be honest, the changes are so insidious that if it had not been for a colleague who has done a lot of reading about how corruption happens and also reads the Cayman Gazette to see what government is doing, I am not sure when I would have noticed what they have done. 

Here are the specifics of what government has done in a nutshell. The selection of people for positions in our civil service is supposed to be done on the basis of a fair and transparent competitive process, and not on the basis of secrecy and cronyism. That is part of how we are supposed to achieve good governance.

Under the set of rules that applied up until October of this year, there was some assurance of transparency, particularly in relation to hiring people for senior civil service positions. The old rules (section 41 of the Public Service Management Law and Regulation 32 of the Personnel Regulations) said that hiring or promotion of people to permanent positions without open competition was not allowed. Period. This requirement for hiring people for permanent positions on the basis of a fair and transparent competitive process made it difficult for corrupt politicians and civil servants to hire or promote their cronies into permanent positions.

A new version of Personnel Regulation 32 was passed into law by Cabinet and came into effect in October 2013. That new version creates exceptions to the old prohibition on hiring to permanent positions without an open and fair competition. The new version changed the wording of Personnel Regulation 32 so that it now refers to a different part of the Public Service Management Law, section 41(13) instead of 41(12).  That change has the effect of allowing for the hiring and promotion of people to permanent civil service positions without any open competition and without transparency. Not only was that change completely unnecessary for any government that actually wants transparency, it is a tool that could be used in the future for corrupt practices, just like every other tool that removes transparency and fair competition from government procurement.

The old version of regulation 32 did allow for temporary appointments to civil service positions but only in rare situations, including when there was an emergency. Let’s face it, running a fair and transparent open recruitment process can take a few weeks. There are times when emergencies happen, like after Hurricane Ivan, when it may be necessary to temporarily appoint someone to do a job that has to be done immediately. The old rules provided for emergencies.

The new rules that came into effect in October turn the concepts of transparency and open competition on their head, allowing for permanent appointments on the basis of an opaque process that does not involve any open competition. There is no conceivable justification for allowing permanent appointments to civil service positions other than on the basis of a fair and transparent open competition that selects the best person for the job. Some may say that the Deputy Governor is supposed to oversee the non-competitive appointment process even under the new rules, but that does not counter the fact that there is no legitimate requirement for any opaque non-competitive permanent appointment process.

No one is saying that the new secret appointment process will be used immediately or all the time. What I am saying is that there is no need for any secret non-competitive permanent appointment process at any time. Why introduce a completely unnecessary tool that could be used in the future for corruption and cronyism?

Perhaps the changes made by Cabinet last month were just a typographic error. There is, after all, only a one digit difference between section 41(13) and section 41(12).  I would like to think that is what happened, rather than something much more sinister.

Whatever happened, if this government wants to have any credibility in relation to ending cronyism and corruption then it will reverse the changes it made last month and once again prohibit opaque non-competitive permanent appointments to the civil service under any circumstances. It will also pass new rules to ensure that civil service selection panels are ‘crony- free’ and that there is a formal and very public vetting process for all persons sitting on civil service selection panels. I believe that it is important to have unbiased private sector and public sector participants involved in selecting people for senior civil service positions in particular. We don’t need selection by the civil service ‘old boys’ club and we don’t need selection by cronies. Unbiased selection will help eliminate the incompetence, cronyism and empire building that is in part responsible for the waste, and worse, in our government. Perhaps the Commission on Standards for Public Life could be asked to publish a set of rules that would help eliminate cronyism and corruption from civil service appointments.

Finally I would like to encourage all civil servants, whether they work in HR or not, to speak up about things like this that you see happening. I also encourage everyone else in our community to do the same. We all need to be vigilant and vocal.  

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