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“Are civil servants leaving a paper trail”? Letter to Editors 18 Dec. 2013 (not published)

22/12/2013

(not published)

Dear Sir

It is good that Fiji’s Public Service seem to be receiving awards for service excellence etc. but I would like the Chairman of the PSC to throw light on a matter that receives little public attention until it is too late for the civil servants.

Some senior civil servants go through difficult situations where ministers make decisions which are contrary to what civil servants would recommend on professional grounds.

Two obvious areas are marine environment protection (where decisions have been made to cut down precious mangroves for reclamation and “development”) and public sector borrowing (where decisions were made to raise loans through overseas bonds costing 9% interest when an equivalent IMF loan was available at 2% interest rate).

One can imagine that some professional civil servants would have given contrary advice, but not done it in writing which could protect them in the future, for example in courts of law or scrutiny by Auditor General’s Office or even public scrutiny.

The Fiji public will recollect the recent case where a Permanent Secretary was convicted for an alleged “crime” committed, when he may have been merely following orders from a minister.

A “paper trail” indicating that he had given professional advice contrary to the decision  may have saved him in court.

Can the Chairman of the PSC inform the public whether Permanent Secretaries and other senior civil servants have been given specific training to leave a proper “paper trail of the professional advice they give”, especially when they are over-ruled by ministerial decision?

Such training is even more important where a constitution has decentralized more powers to the Permanent Secretary than before.

Professor Wadan Narsey

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