Express Editorial : Daily

THE public is at the helpless end of the problem raised by Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley on Saturday when he disclosed the high level of absenteeism among public servants who are reportedly abusing the Covid-19 work rotation system.

Members of the public are the ones who are braving coronavirus to go out and conduct business with the government only to be turned away. Some ministries require appointments for routine services under a rather mysterious system.

At the Ministry of Legal Affairs, for example, bereaved relatives seeking death certificates are being given appointment dates more than three months from the day of filing the request.

Yet, they can pay a funeral home $300 for the same service and get the certificate the next day. That is a 600 per cent mark-up on the Government’s $50 fee for a death certificate. Legal Affairs Minister Faris Al-Rawi must explain this preferential treatment for funeral agencies.

In this case, people are forking out the extra money to middle-men because a death certificate is required for a variety of transactions, including filing NIS claims for funeral grants within a 90-day deadline.

As with everything else, the public expected some measure of dislocation but the situation appears to be getting worse. In addressing the media on Saturday, Dr Rowley described work attendance in the public service as a “general free-for-all” and cited examples of eight workers out of a rostered 30 turning up for work in one department and of the precipitous decline in output which, in one department had dropped by 97.5 percent, from 2,500 monthly transactions to 62. No workplace could be experiencing this level of absenteeism and unproductivity with good management and we are therefore inclined to accept the Prime Minister’s explanation of the problem as one of “poor management”.

For this reason, we would hope that the Government has properly examined the problem and has also availed itself of good legal counsel in deciding to dock the salaries and take other actions against public servants who fail to report for duty when rostered.

In enforcing a roster system with punitive measures, the onus will be on the government to ensure that certain conditions are in place. In the first case, it was the Prime Minister who, in one of his Saturday media conferences, announced the introduction of a 50 per cent rotation system in the Public Service effective the following Monday. It would appear that the system went into effect without preparation creating a level of confusion from Day One.

An effective roster would take into account not only employee numbers but a variety of factors such as the numbers of persons with access to online facilities that would allow them to work from home, employees with significant co-morbidities that place them at the highest level of Covid-19 risk, employee entitlements, a working monitoring system and so on.

Before rushing into punitive action, the Head of the Public and the Minister of Public Administration should put their heads together, review and analyse the problem in order to develop practical and fair solutions. Management responsibility starts at the top.

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