PERMANENT secretary (PS) in the Office of the Prime Minister and the Ministry of Economic Growth and Job Creation Audrey Sewell has urged her colleagues holding similar positions to insulate themselves, given that they are ultimately the accountable officers in ministries.
Speaking at a Ministry of Finance and the Public Service Civil Service’s Public Forum in honour of Civil Service Week on Tuesday, Sewell said permanent secretaries should not be cowered into not asking the necessary probing questions when performing their duties.
“You have to ensure that you satisfy yourself that whatever you are putting your signature to, you are not signing away your freedom. So all of us who are in leadership, that’s my recommendation Make sure that you are in [the know] and if you don’t know, seek the information,” Sewell said.
Sewell, who has also served as permanent secretary in the Ministry of Education as well as the Ministry of Transport, Works and Housing in 2011, noted that while all members of an organisation are accountable, permanent secretaries are ultimately the ones who face scrutiny from varying oversight bodies, hence the need to arm themselves well.
“The poor [permanent secretaries], we have to go and we have to answer and be public spectacles. And I take that role very seriously — it’s not something that I consider lightly. How I feel is that I am responsible for the systems, the implementation of the policies and the regulations, that there must be full compliance. And yes, sometimes I dig deep, I go down,” she told the forum.
“Some of them don’t like it. I need to know what is happening in procurement because how the system is right now, PAC [Public Accounts Committee of Parliament which scrutinises the reports of the auditor general about the accounts of State entities] not calling the officer responsible for awarding the contract, it’s the PS that has to go and give an account so I have to know what is happening — and it’s not because I am controlling but because I know the responsibility that is on my shoulders,” she pointed out.
In the meantime, she urged Government entities to respond to calls from the public for information.
“With the age of technology, citizens can gather information and form opinions, information is going out, and sometimes half-truth looks like truth; accountability therefore becomes even more important when we consider the transparent environment within which we operate. And sometimes, as leaders when we behave like we have something to hide that’s when people will come after us, so just give them the information,” Sewell said.
“And if you know and you are convinced that you are doing what is right then you have nothing to worry about; right won’t become wrong. Just follow the rules,” she added.
In further reminding public servants that they are answerable to the public Sewell said, “We are being paid by the taxpayers and some people, when they ask us questions we feel like we should not answer them, and the phones ring and we feel like we should not answer the phones, I have heard — even in my own ministry, let me confess, and I am going to deal with it. Phones are ringing in a particular department and nobody wants to answer the phone because ‘the people they are so pesky’. Yes, I have got a report recently and I am going to deal with it because, guess what? Is those people pay them little taxes and their GCT (General Consumption Tax) why you and I are here today; we are here to serve and we are answerable to them, we are obliged to respond to their queries.”
Civil Service Week is celebrated during the third week of each November and is aimed at highlighting the worth and work of outstanding civil servants who have given excellent service to central government and to the country on a whole.