Deputy Governor of Montserrat Lyndell Simpson used the occasion of the swearing in of the new governor, Sarah Tucker to levy tough criticism and a wakeup call to the civil service.
Intimating that she had long requested an opportunity to speak to the parliament but had been ignored, the deputy governor gave a 30-minute speech outlining the state of affairs of the service when she took office in December 2016 and how things are today. She also challenged leaders on both sides of the house to take on some outstanding matters which would improve the service and the nation.
The deputy governor said in 2016, the atmosphere was “antagonistic and there were numerous complaints from the political directorate that the members of the service were unresponsive and unwilling to work with the government of the day.” The service, she added, was rife with “mistrust and role confusion.”
With the then governor, Elizabeth Carriere, they began a series of transformational programmes such as the Empowering Excellence Initiative. The programmes were rolled out to all levels of the service to educate everyone on the scope and limits of their authority, the structure and how the public service serves the interests of and implements the policies of the government of the day.
Core management team meetings, departmental and unit meetings, structured leadership and development programmes are now entrenched, Mrs. Simpson said. Adding that they “continue to tackle the organisational cultural challenges around discipline, confidentiality, accountability and service delivery.”
The official said the current organisational culture of the Government of Montserrat is one that “limits an elected government’s ability to implement policy.”
“A functional public service is not a collection of rugged individualists, with each person pursuing his or her separate agenda. The public service exists to deliver public service efficiently the policy of the government of the day whether you vote for it or not,” she stated.
The deputy governor challenged the members of the government on both sides of the house to adopt the ministerial code which had been drafted but has not been passed. She said her office will “continue to seek to strengthen the management and governance system, with the roll out of a new disciplinary procedure” process on the way.
The goal she explained is to empower managers to make decisions at the management level. Before his departure, Governor Pearce had indicated that too many matters were pushed up to the Public Service Commission rather than being dealt with inside of the relevant departments and ministries.
On the issue of service delivery, the DG said government processes must be accessible to the citizens of Montserrat when they want it, not just when it is convenient for the public service. She called many of the processes that customers must navigate “overly burdensome, time consuming and in 2022 wholly unacceptable.”
Work to digitise all of the processes within the Human Resources Management Unit is on the way. These include matters to be handled by PSC and which require the DGs approval. In the coming year, focus will shift to reducing internal processing time to services from HRMU to other ministries and departments. The ministries of communications and agriculture were highlighted as the first two to be tackled.
The deputy governor dealt with the culture of accusations of “vague an unspecified systemic bullying and other ills.” She encouraged anyone aware of issues of bullying and corruption to report the matter with substantiated facts to the DG and governor. These “behaviours are contrary to the values” of the government.
She committed herself to deal with complaints swiftly and comprehensively, as it was not in the island’s interests for them to continue.
She challenged the ministers and members of parliament on their “misuse of parliamentary privilege” to throw around vague mentions of corruption and malfeasance to score political points. “It is in the interest of the leaders to pursue an agenda that advances the island and its people,” she added.
The whistleblowing mechanism developed during COVID-19 is now available to all citizens of Montserrat. Residents can bring the particulars to the complaints commission, auditor general, any permanent secretary or head of commission and the facts will be investigated.
Deputy Governor Simpson said everyone should have a vested interest in ensuring good governance.
She said the current narrative in parliament on the power of the British, the governor and deputy governor begs the question of why the legislative assembly doesn’t address the matter of the laws of the nation by legislating.
She called for the leaders to express their love and concern for the civil service by bringing to the table ideas on meaningful pension reform. While members of the legislature who after six years become eligible for a pension of 25% of their highest earnings, the average civil servant born after 1969 and coming into the service in 2011 must work for 35 years before being eligible for early retirement at 12.5% of their earnings.
If the government is to deal with the matter of retention, then their pension must allow them to retire with dignity and without needing support from social services or to set up gofundme campaigns.
She called for the members of the assembly to positively engage on a revised legal framework, fit for the 21st Century, our current state and future.
She concluded by stating that as the island welcomed a new governor, she called for an end to the “politics of confrontation.”
“The politics of confrontation and entitlement have not delivered for our people over the last 26 years.” Simpson added that Montserrat should consider how much further the other overseas territories who have adopted an approach of collaboration and coordination have gotten them.
After seeing up close two government administrations and two governors, she has seen the “perils of those who work to out compete each other to be most discourteous to governor and the British. We cannot expect to tackle 21st Century issues and challenges with the rhetoric and language of the 1940s. 21st century must be met with 21st century language and approaches.”
To the leaders she said, “your job is not to lead us to repeat the failures of the last 26 years. Give up the almost childlike politics of confrontation and first call. Take us out of the historical cotton fields and truly and firmly on the road to 21st century progress and prosperity.”
The deputy governor said it was time to stop proving “anti-British and anti-governor street creds. It is time to stop the nonsense. It is time to lead and make the best use of a new governor on the ground.”
In recent months, the deputy governor, who was acting governor since the departure of Governor Andy Pearce, has been mired in controversy following a decision to approve increases to her personal allowances. Before his departure, Pearce had indicated it had been done without his awareness. The matter is currently being investigated and the new governor will have to make the final call on the matter.