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Dec 14 - Sir Joe Bossano Is “Breaking The Civil Service” - Wendy Cumming

By Wendy Cumming, President, GGCA

This opinion piece is in response to a party political broadcast by Sir Joe Bossano shown on 10th December on GBC.

Sir Joe Bossano’s political broadcast was dramatic indeed. Starting out with a fervour of nationalism, it quickly evolved into a civil/public service denigrating exercise which we have heard so many times before, like a broken record stuck on replay. But the seemingly innocuous insistence on creating “efficiencies in the civil and public service” is underpinned by the same demeaning and derogatory attitudes displayed by Sir Joe Bossano in a leaked video in November 2015 where insulting language was used to describe civil servants. Similarly, the 2016 blanket ban on overtime by the current administration on the completely unfounded grounds of “abuse”, implied that civil servants were routinely committing fraud in their day to day work lives.

It is in this context, that the “public efficiencies process”, commenced by Sir Joe Bossano in 2016, must be understood. It is also in this context that the current state of the civil service, in terms of senior appointments from the private sector, the re-engagement of retired senior civil servants as consultants, the proliferation of external supply workers and the implementation of E-Government must be understood. All these matters are important and must be examined independently, but together they help paint the dark depressing picture of our demoralized and despondent civil service.

The Public Efficiencies Process

It is in this context, that the “public efficiencies process”, commenced by Sir Joe Bossano in 2016, must be understood. The GGCA Executive Committee was first introduced to the concept of public efficiencies in relation to the Administrative Assistants recruitment process which was initiated in April 2015 and later suspended. The GGCA was told by the Chief Minister that the Administrative Assistants recruitment process could only be resumed when Minister Bossano’s “public efficiencies process” was completed. So, the GGCA Executive Committee decided involve itself and co-operate in this process, with the aim of expediting it to allow for the recommencement of the AA recruitment process.

Throughout the early months of 2016, the GGCA Executive Committee visited numerous civil service departments, asking staff to describe work flow processes and to pinpoint meaningless tasks, duplication of work and ways in which work flow could be streamlined. The GGCA Executive Committee would then meet with Minister Bossano to pass on this feedback from the membership. The feedback from the membership was received very warmly at first. However, as the months passed, Minister Bossano seemed less and less inclined to meet, until the committee lost its motivation to continue spending time and resources collecting data. The GGCA Executive Committee came to the conclusion that the feedback from the members, the very Officers who manned counters, provide services and manage departments, was not that valuable to the Government of Gibraltar after all.

Indeed, the same conclusion was drawn in 2013, when the departmental reviews were carefully prepared and presented to the Chief Minister by government departments, only to be carefully filed in his “disregard” tray. This is especially tragic when one considers that the Government itself has not put in place any independent or objective mechanisms to measure the efficiency of government departments. When Minister Bossano categorically states that the civil service is inefficient it raises the question; how could he possibly know this? Especially as no job inspections, no workflow analysis, no key performance indicators or other objective mechanisms have ever been utilised to backup these statements. It is clear that such statements are mere assumptions, made with complete disregard as to the resources available to government departments, as well as the complete lack of training offered to employees.

So where does the real laziness lie? Is it in the Civil Servant who is unable to make policy and effect positive change? Or in government ministers who have the opportunity to properly acquaint themselves with the civil service and create policy to make positive changes for both staff and service users, but simply do not have the inclination to do so?

One of the most salient themes that arose in the GGCA public efficiencies data collection is that inefficiencies arose mostly between departments, rather than within departments. More links and stronger ties within departments are necessary to streamline workflows that cross departments (sometimes in long chains that involve multiple departments). The solution to this is obvious and a cost zero exercise - regular Head of Departments meetings, chaired by the Chief Secretary, where heads of departments actually talk to each other and where problems are raised, discussed and solved, where a space for trouble shooting, strategical thinking, resources sharing, and innovation is created. Why was this suggestion never implemented? Surely getting Heads of Departments talking to each other could only be a good thing? Yes, to create a more cohesive efficient and streamlined civil service. But would a cohesive unified civil service, that enjoys public approval, be too powerful? Would such a civil service be threatening to a government in power? Is it easier to manage a collection of departments that operate in isolation, with no long-term goals, strategies and aims to unify them? An organisation which is perceived as lazy and inefficient by the general public? Is it perhaps not in a government’s interest to create an effective, efficient but “threatening” Civil Service, one that cannot serve as a scapegoat? It seems that the government uses the civil service as a smoke screen and a distraction, in the same way the Spanish government uses Gibraltar. When scandals emerge, the Spanish government shouts “Gibraltar Español”! When facing questions and commentary on the economy, Minister Bossano screams, “public inefficiencies”!

Senior Appointments from the Private Sector

In the last three years, we have seen two appointments to the civil service from the private sector - that of Financial Secretary, and the Attorney General. Just this week, the appointment of the Director of Public Prosecutions was announced. Interestingly, there was no initial internal recruitment for this post, contrary to usual practice. Needless to say, the GGCA stance on this matter is that civil service posts should be offered first to civil servants. This is also good for the taxpayer, as professionals from the private sector usually negotiate far higher salaries - it is obvious that senior partners from top tier law firms such as Hassans and Isolas will only be tempted into the civil service by rather large and attractive salaries.

But again, this begs the question, why couldn’t these roles be undertaken by civil servants at a far lower cost to the taxpayer? Isn’t this a far more efficient practice? In the case of the Financial Secretary post, all officers/post holders prior to 2015 had been Civil Servants. When this appointment was made from the private sector in 2015, the Chief Minister explained to the GGCA Executive Committee that no senior civil servant from government financial departments had been willing to take on the role (the GGCA Committee later verified this as true).

However, at that point it was agreed that qualified accountants from the civil service would be given the opportunity to shadow the Financial Secretary, to gain experience. They would also be offered any relevant training for succession planning purposes, so that at the end of the incumbents’ tenure, there would be at least two qualified civil servants suitable for the role. To date, in spite of repeated and consistent representations from the GGCA Executive Committee, this has not been put in place.

No explanation for the appointments of the Attorney General from the private sector, have ever been given to the GGCA. Indeed, the creation of the Director of Public Prosecutions has been undertaken without having notified or consulted the GGCA in any capacity. The first question one would ask is: are there no qualified lawyers in the civil service to fill this post?

Indeed, the answer is that the lawyers most experienced in prosecution are civil service Crown Counsels, who undertake the vast majority of prosecutions in Gibraltar (only the most complex cases are exceptionally outsourced to barristers from U.K.). Private practice criminal lawyers are defense lawyers, they represent those charged with a criminal offense, they do not undertake prosecutions. In view of this, it is not clear (and certainly inefficient) to not have chosen a civil service candidate before recruiting externally. Also, given that this post has been in the pipeline since 2015 (as reported by GBC on the 27th January 2015), what possible justification could there be for not commencing a succession planning process within the complement of prosecutors already employed by the Civil Service? Is the saving to the taxpayer not relevant in this situation? Where is the focus on efficiencies?

Furthermore, does this not put into question the Government’s role as an employer that offers training, and opportunity for advancement & development to its own employee’s before looking to out-source?

Re-engagement of retired Senior Civil Servants

Indeed, it is the lack of succession planning that leads to another bottleneck in the provision of opportunities in training and for advancement for civil servants – the re-engagement of retired senior civil servants (already enjoying a final salary pension) on a consultancy basis to undertake roles that existing civil servants could undertake, given adequate training and experience where necessary. This practice is extremely inefficient in that it doubly remunerates those who have chosen to retire, whilst stagnating the growth and development of officers in that promotional chain. There have been at least three such consultancy arrangements in the last 2 years – yet it is the civil servants (who have absolutely no input into these decisions) who are tarnished as inefficient by Minister Bossano. Perhaps he should redirect his gaze to fellow cabinet ministers.

External Supply Workers within Government Departments

A consequence of the suspended Administrative Assistant recruitment process is that a large number of entry grade vacancies now exist in the civil service. The refusal to advertise these permanent posts, and to instead cover them with external supply workers on far inferior terms and conditions, seems to be the current administrative answer to cutting back on expenditure. But does this practice truly create savings? Or does it just create a profit-making opportunity for the supply company, the private employer, who earns their profits off the back of offering cheap labour to a supposedly socialist Government? The scale of this problem is difficult to comprehend. For example, just last year, more than 20% of the financial departments (Income Tax Office, Treasury Department and Department of Social security) had more than 20% of their complement covered by supply workers. In a GGCA Poll undertaken this August, 98% of the GGCA members polled said that the Administrative Assistant recruitment process should be undertaken immediately. Does the policy on supply workers create any type of efficiency? Given the existence of a 3rd party employer, it is highly dubious that any real economic efficiencies are achieved.

In terms of human resources, an unfair unequal workplace is created, with a sub-sector of employees who find it difficult to access mortgages, proper maternity/paternity leave and other terms and conditions that will allow them to progress in their personal and or professional lives. And still, the Administrative Assistant vacancies remain to be advertised, in spite of the Government’s public commitment to do so in May this year.

E-Government

The Government initiative announced by this administration in 2015 was warmly received by the GGCA Executive Committee. It is an opportunity to create real efficiencies, to eliminate unnecessary clerical tasks, to provide enhanced streamlined services to the general public and a more effective and economic method of work for staff, an ultimate win/win scenario for all stakeholders. However, the success of this initiative depends on the E-Services Team rolling out services in co-operation with government departments. Positive and harmonious working relationships are integral to this process, which entails a sea change in how departments will operate and offer services.

This was the GGCA Executive Committee message to Minister Isola in 2017, where the GGCA Executive Committee’s offer of co-operation, involvement and assistance in the E-Government Project was not welcomed. Indeed, GGCA members were made to feel threatened and intimidated rather than valued for their contribution to E-Services. To a large extent, this led to a declaration of a dispute in July 2018, a conflict which was time consuming and inefficient for all concerned and which could have been avoided with an element of reasonableness, good will and positive engagement with the GGCA at the start of the implementation of E-Government Services.

As the E-Government project progresses, let’s hope that there is proper consultation with the civil service workforce and their views are heard and respected to avoid further inefficiencies and time delays in having to deal with conflict resolution.

Conclusion

Any commentary on civil and public service needs to take into account the importance of public services to an ordered, healthy and functioning society. It is civil and public servants who nurse the sick, teach the young, keep law and order and administrate our taxation system, our justice system, our roads, highways and public spaces…… the list is endless. Where would Gibraltar be without its civil and public service?

It is also important to assess Minister Bossano’s opinions of the ‘unsustainable’ size of the civil and public service with proper statistical evidence. In his analysis of the 2018 budget in a Viewpoint programme of the 4th July 2018, Jonathan Sacramento compared the employment in government as a percentage of general employment and concluded that Gibraltar had, as a percentage, less civil and public servants than the UK, Spain and even Indonesia.

As a final commentary, any examination of efficiencies, or the cost of Public Services, can only truly be subject to a cost/benefit analysis when the real state of our economy is known. In short, we can only evaluate how much we should reasonably be spending on public services when we know how much money we actually have. This has been a source of contention in local politics for a number of years now, having the net effect of the taxpayer being completely in the dark as to where his/her money is going and as to the true state of our economy. There is insufficient transparency and clarity and an independent assessment of all government finances (including that of the controversial Credit Finance Company Limited) is sorely needed and well overdue.

It is the right of every taxpayer to know the absolute truth about our economic status, rather than the mixed messages and confused political narratives on this issue. One very relevant example – a GDP increase of 86% in 2018, followed by a completely unnecessary pay cap for civil & public servants   earning over £46,000 (the first ever pay cap of its nature). Either the economy is performing very well and no pay caps are needed, or the economy is in dire straits and pay caps are necessary. It cannot be both, unless the GSLP Government is targeting civil servants for no discernible reason (surely not!).

As a very short conclusion to a very long analysis, Sir Joe Bossano should stop focusing on public service inefficiencies and start concentrating on economic transparency.

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