President David Granger: Permanent Secretaries; Department Heads; Lecturers; but most of all the graduating class of 2017; members of the media, ladies and gentlemen. I am happy to be here this morning although I regret I have not been able to spend more time with the College and with the cadets, but as has been said before, this is a very significant day, not only for the cadets themselves but for the country.
We stand in the shadow of Bertram Aggrey Nathaniel Collins, and his legacy is not merely his academic achievements but especially in the application of his ideas. We remember him because of his chairmanship of three of the most important commissions ever convened to determine the character of Guyana’s public institutions; we remember him for his co-authorship of the reports, the report which led to the establishment of the Public Service Commission, the Teaching Service Commission and the Police Service Commission. He really is the founding, you may call the mastermind, behind the establishment of these three commissions all in 1969.
Bertram Collins also authored “The Civil Service and the Ministerial System” a text which should be required reading for all those interested in understanding the requirements of a professional public servant. Collins, as you know, attended Queen’s College and attended the University of the West Indies in Jamaica, the Sorbonne in Paris, France, and University of Oregon in the United States. He later served in various distinguished academic institutions and positions including lectureships at the University College of the West Indies and the University of the West Indies, and the University of Guyana and New York University.
Collins employed his education, his experience and his expertise in an effort to transform the British Guiana colonial civil service system into one that could sustain an independent nation, what would become the Cooperative Republic of Guyana.
Guyanese today should understand the situation that existed in this country during the colonial period. The first attempted strike by the civil service in 1961 when the British Government attempted to bring a foreign head of the post office, the postmaster general. The next person in line was the grandfather of Nigel Hughes; he was deputy postmaster general and when the British attempted to bring a foreign post master general they said “Nah, this is enough, we’re gonna strike” and that’s the first time a Guyanese was made post master general.
So it was that bad in 1960; but ladies and gentlemen, at midnight on the 25th of May, 1966, when we boasted of becoming independent, when we lowered that three coloured Union Jack and hoisted our Golden Arrowhead for the first time we all celebrated independence; but when day-clean came on the 26th of May and we looked around we saw lots of familiar faces; the Governor General was a foreigner, the Governor of the Bank of Guyana was a foreigner, the Chief of Staff of the GDF was a foreigner; the Commissioner of Police was a foreigner, the Vice Chancellor of the University of Guyana was a foreigner; the Bishops of the Anglican and the Catholic churches were foreigners, though I must say for them they got citizenship the next day; the directors of the bauxite and sugar industries and of the banks were foreigners.
Ladies and gentlemen, we could not change our country by maintaining unchanged institutions. Change, however, is not a single event. It’s a continuous process and if the public service was to change this country, this colony, into a country much more had to be done. Therefore when I became President on Saturday, the 16th of May, I knew what I was going to do. I wasn’t taken by surprise, neither by the results of the elections or by the prospect of running this country.
On Monday, the 18th of May, 48 hours after I took the oath of office, I met the senior public servants of the ministries at the Arthur Chung Conference Centre, sorry; I met my own public servants at the Ministry of the Presidency on Wednesday morning, the 20th of May. I met the public servants and then I went, on the 21st of May, to what was then called the Public Service Training Division on Vlissengen Road, Vlissengen and Durban Streets, where I met Mr Hydar Ally and Ms Grogan.
So within the first five days of being President, I had three encounters with public servants, at the Ministry of the Presidency, at Arthur Chung Centre and at the Public Service Training Centre itself in Vlissengen Road. So I was able to assess the situation, assess the facilities and try to craft a way forward. I took the decision after these meetings and these visits to promote the idea of a Public Service Training Centre to be called the Public Service Staff College. As fate would have it, as my mother used to tell me God doesn’t make mistakes, the Guyana Sugar Corporation had made the decision to relocate its head office from here to Lusignan and although the Ogle campus was the object of desire of other institutions, having the President on your side has some advantages and we were able to accept the offer of a suitable site for the college in February 2016.
Today, the graduation of the College’s inaugural cohort is an important landmark in the states’ quest for a professional public service. It is a significant step in the personal careers of the cadets but for the state it’s a leap, a leap forward to provide an efficient and accessible public service to all of our citizens. The decision to establish the college was not hasty. It was not whimsical or fanciful. It was calculated and deliberate. It was predicated on the need to develop a professional public service. A professional public service is essential to the efficient delivery of public services such as public education, public health, public infrastructure, public security, public telecommunications and ,of course, the public service itself.
As you can see the word public is one of my favourite words. It derives from the Latin word ‘publicus’, meaning, pertaining to, or of the people. The very word republic comes from the same root, that is, res publica, referring to public things, public affairs. I say these things without advice from my Latin adviser who is not here today. The Cabinet is laughing. They know who my adviser is, I don’t venture into Latin without his guidance, but the word public is central to everything that we do and the public, being people, it refers to the ordinary people out there, all 750,000 of them.
Guyana’s development demands the existence of a public service and the public service must possess the education, they must have the motivation and they must be the organization to enable them to provide the services that our citizens need. Simply walking off the street and passing a job interview can’t be enough – can’t be walking the street one day and a public servant the next day; there has to be a transition process. As the permanent secretary explained you can’t walk off the street one day and fly a plane to New York the next. You have to be trained, you can’t walk off the street and carry out some brain surgery the next day; you have to be trained. Similarly, you can’t deliver the quality public services this country needs by simply walking off the street one day and calling yourself a public servant the next. This is not to make life difficult for you but this is to make life better for the public.
Public servants have to work very hard. They have to be educated, educated enough to be able to advise their ministers; they must provide their ministers with a product of organised thought and research. They must bring their experience to bear on the way the ministry is administered. The ministers may change; here today, gone in five years’ time but the public servant remains. That’s why we call the permanent secretaries permanent secretaries. They are not temporary secretaries. So when a minister arrives in the ministry he has to get the best advice from his permanent secretary and from the corps of public servants he finds there. So they have to be educated if they are to provide correct advice to their ministers. They have to be experienced. Training in this College therefore is meant to inculcate those qualities in the public servants. They must be able to comprehend the complexities of the Constitution of the Cooperative Republic of Guyana and the system of public administration at all three tiers of government – how central government works, how regional administration works, how municipal and local administration works. Public servants must be familiar with the financial and administrative regulations and rules that are common at all three levels.
The public servant must also comprehend the diversity of the national landscape throughout the ten administrative regions. There is the, I don’t want to call names because you have some people who like to litigate in this country but a very highly placed clergyman attempted to go across the Pakaraimas; he probably felt all Guyana was flat and muddy and he was out of breath after the first bump.
Guyana has a very diverse landscape of which we are proud but as public servants you have to understand that landscape and I’m glad that Colonel Powell related some of those experiences. The coastal beaches, like shell beach, the mud flats where we get some of our best honey from the mangroves. I didn’t know that. Some of the best honey comes from the mangroves. The grasslands, the intermediate savannahs in the Berbice of which my Minister of Agriculture is very fond and the Rupununi savannahs; the Rupununi itself is bigger than Costa Rica.
The highlands which some of you have never seen, some of them covered in clouds. The islands of the Essequibo river, the longest river in the country, a thousand kilometres long; the wetlands from which our national bird comes – the Canje pheasant, otherwise known as stinking Anna; our lakes, some of you may never have seen our beautiful lakes, the Capoey, the Mainstay lake; our rainforests, our rivers, many of them running from south to north; our rapids, our beautiful waterfalls. All of this belongs to us, this is our patrimony – this is our heritage. The public service has got to understand this; as Colonel Powell said, you can’t tell somebody from Mahdia come back tomorrow, come back next week, but it does happen.
The public servants must understand the challenges of administering 215 indigenous communities; many of them isolated from each other. Yesterday I think I spent about two and a half hours in one community to get to the Pomeroon-Supenaam Region, now has the longest stelling in Guyana I think, 1440 feet. I asked them how long they think Usain Bolt would take to run down that stelling. But we have to understand that when a little community like that asked for a stelling it isn’t for glamour and for ostentation; it’s because old railing fall off of what they had before, fall in the water, because they’re walking on Takuba, and many of our indigenous people, or all of our indigenous people come from nine ethnic groups and many of them prefer to speak their own language. They could communicate in English for the greater part but when you’re getting technical or as I discovered, political you better speak their own language; they understand you better.
The public servant has to understand that we are changing the system of regional administration now. We have created three new towns and it is our intention that in coming years every region must have a capital town so that no person has to leave his or her region to come to Georgetown or go to any other region to do his or her business and I think that the Minister of Business would tell you the stories of businessmen in the Rupununi who have to go to Adventure in the Essequibo, in the Pomeroon-Supenaam region, to register their business. Recently I opened the district magistrate’s court at Wismar.
If you were a woman at Wismar you wanted to collect your child support or whatever you had to collect, you had to go to Vreed-en-Hoop. It is an absurd, idiotic system. So we are now creating a regional system in which the resident of each region would be able to transact all of his or her business within that region and the public servant has to understand that. Whether it’s NIS, whether its passport, whether its incarceration, all that should be done within the region.
So what I see happening is that every region could have its own aerodrome which could be a point of entry; people could fly from Barbados into Bartica, without having to go through Eugene Correia or Cheddi Jagan airports. They can come from Trinidad and Tobago directly into Lethem as a port of entry. Every region should have its own commercial banks, its own chambers of commerce, its own law court, its own radio and television stations and this is starting to happen.
Our Prime Minister has opened about half a dozen radio stations already; police and fire stations, schools, citizenships and immigration services, all of these are being decentralized. Social protection services and civil servants have to understand that change is taking place. Everybody does not have to come to Georgetown anymore. Regions will be very strong; the regions would be important instruments for development- delivering services to the public.
Cadets, graduands, public servants, providing these public services would be impossible unless the public servants themselves understand the country in which they live, and appreciate the needs of the citizens whom they serve. As you are aware, we are becoming a green state and the public service has to understand that. We want to protect our environment. Sometimes in the past people have gone into new areas and the first thing they do is cut down the bush and of course the soils are so weak that some of those areas remain arid, almost desert, because nothing grows on the sand. Sand is good for making glass, not good for agriculture but sometimes you go to some public places in the hinterland and people cut down the bush.
We have to protect the environment because our precious flora and fauna need the habitat. We’re making many of our towns green. On Friday we had a delegation from Bartica. They’re thinking now of replanting trees which previous administrations had cut down, they’re thinking of solid waste disposal, they’re thinking of parks, they’re thinking of green technology in terms of energy generation. In time to come people, as we discussed with the Minister of Public Health on Saturday, I’m sure we won’t be having plastic bottles for our water; we will be having glass bottles for our water which are reusable and maybe cutting down on plastic bags in the supermarket. We’ll have biodegradable reusable bags but one thing at a time. That’s where we’re heading.
We must also ensure that our public servants understand the importance of science, technology, engineering and mathematics, and this College, in addition to simply training cadets year after year, will be able to accommodate students and cadets from other branches of the public service such as the defence force, police force, the foreign service so this can become a centre for excellence in science and technology.
Ladies and gentlemen, I see you start fanning already, you’re overheating. Ladies and gentlemen, public servants must possess an understanding also of the values and standards of the service. These values and standards contribute to the functional competence of the public service. They foster teamwork and they promote leadership skills. A professional public service, therefore, must evince four major values.
The first is intelligence. He or she must possess the intellect to understand the rules and systems of the public service and must aspire to technical competence through enhanced academic qualifications and continuous training, some of which will be provided by this College; but the College must be a platform to enable you to go to other institutions of tertiary institutions. This is not the end, this is the beginning, not even the beginning of the end but it is a platform from which we can engage what I call PQS, progressive qualification, so as you are promoted in the public service your education also will be enhanced, step by step. This is just the first.
The second value is integrity. You’ve heard the word and the concept of un-bribability. Each public servant, every public servant must be a person of integrity and we know that the public service is not the best paid branch of the economy but, as you can see from what has occurred over the last thirty months, the salaries of the public servants have progressively increased and those at the lowest levels have achieved over 50% increase, nearly 50% increase over the last thirty months.
So we will continue to improve the quality or the level of pay of our public servants as our means increase, and when we get richer you’ll get more. The third value is the value of impartiality. Now, every public servant is expected to be politically neutral and to provide the best technical advice to whichever political party is in power. Everybody is biased. Somebody may come from your church or your mandir or your masjid; somebody might be a distant cousin who is looking for a favour, somebody may be a political leader but the public servant is required to act without fear or favour, affection or ill will, towards the public in the performance of his or her duties. That is what it means to be a professional. If you are a doctor, a PPP doctor, and you see the president coming into the clinic to have his eye examined you would give me the best examination. You can’t say, “Boy, if this man blind he can’t read nothing”.
If you are a professional you will make sure I leave there with 20/20 vision. That is what professionalism means, that you will give me the best service because that is the oath, that is the vow you took and every person who comes before you, regardless of his or her ethnicity, regardless of the social status, you know Guyana has big shots and little shots. You don’t tell the big shot come around. You treat people with impartiality; and the fourth value I call identity. You all, I’m told by Colonel Powell, are easily identified. I supposed when you go by the minibus people say “ah, the college student entering into the minibus culture”, but corporate identity is very important because it not only means that even as an ordinary citizen you feel the sense of pride and camaraderie and fellowship with other members of the service, you extend courtesy to every member of the public. You are confident in your professionalism, and that sense of identity gives you the feeling of what I called corporate solidarity that you would not let another public servant down. I don’t mean that you must lie or cheat or steal for him or her. That is why in most professions we have professional guilds or professional organizations. The Bar has a Bar Association which is meant to be a watchdog of standards to prevent malfeasance and corrupt practices among attorneys.
The medical profession should have a guild which ensures that high standards of medical ethics are observed. Every profession should have some form of professional association which is the watchdog of those standards, of those values, and you too as public servants must have. I’m not talking about unionization necessarily, I’m talking about associations which ensure that public servants who breached the rules of ethics that should prevail in the public service are sanctioned, not necessarily by the courts, but by their peers which sometimes is the more harsh form of sanction when your peers, your equals look upon you as a common garden crook. These are the four qualities, therefore: intelligence, integrity, impartiality and identity which I feel are the hallmark of a professional public servant.
Ladies and gentlemen, the public service is inseparable from the executive. It is the public service which must implement the directives and decisions of the Cabinet and the government. Graduation from this college, therefore, is just the commencement of a process to ensure that government functions, a process to ensure that the public interest is well served.
Allow me to thank the staff, lecturers, administrators who have brought you through your studies since you enlisted, since you enrolled. I’d like to congratulate you on the completion of your program. I’d like to welcome you into a very noble profession, the Guyana Public Service, and I wish you a long and satisfying career as a public servant. May God bless you; and happy Christmas.