Dumas agrees with CJ, public sector reform long overdue

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Retired head of the public service Reginald Dumas. –

RETIRED head of the public service Reginald Dumas says public sector reform in this country is long overdue.

He was responding to Chief Justice Ivor Archie’s address on Friday during the ceremonial opening of the law term at the National Academy for the Performing Arts, Port of Spain.

In his speech, Archie lamented that public services, including the Judiciary, were being stymied by “structural and systemic” deficiencies, which, he believes, require “major public sector reform” to address.

He said the operations of the Judiciary were being hampered by staff challenges.

And, in cases where clerks from other departments of the public service, are transferred to the Judiciary, especially the Registrar’s office, they often do not have the skills set to carry out their role.

Archie noted the systemic challenges plaguing the Judiciary can also be found throughout the public service.

On Saturday, Dumas said he supported Archie’s position whole-heartedly, noting that perhaps the earliest attempt at public sector reform was initiated almost 40 years ago.

He recalled in 1984, he led a Cabinet-appointed task force, under late PNM prime minister George Chambers, to review the public service.

“We worked very well and submitted a number of reports to the Cabinet but nothing happened.”

He said the review task force was asked to cease operations when the National Alliance for Reconstruction won the general election in 1986.

Dumas said he was still willing to hand over the task force’s work up to that point.

“But I was told to leave everything right there in the office that we had on Maraval Road. So we left everything right there.”

The NAR government, he said, subsequently established a public service reform task force, which was chaired by the permanent secretary to the Prime Minister.

“I was still ambassador to Washington at the time and the permanent secretary to the Prime Minister was the late Eugenio Moore. But nothing was done.”

Dumas said he was later appointed to replace Moore as permanent secretary to the Prime Minister and head of the public service.

“At that time, we still had the reports from the review task force, so those were helpful.”

Unlike the Cabinet-appointed public service review task force set up during the Chambers administration, Dumas said he initially had no team but quickly appointed his own.

He recalled late PSA president Dr Kenrick Rennie was a part of the team.

“We set out a schedule and we were working well. We went into the various departments and ministries, talk to people, to get as good a picture as we could of what was happening or not happening in the public service.”

But Dumas said he decided to retire from the public service and was replaced by John Andrews as permanent secretary to the Prime Minister.

“Even at that point, I was willing to brief him (Andrews). But it seemed as though the government was not keen on pushing it. I suspect it was because they realised that the public servants were unhappy as salaries had been cut and COLA (Cost of Living Allowance) taken away.

“So you had an unhappy public service and unhappiness in the country generally, which led to the attempted coup in 1990.”

Dumas said he had told then prime minister ANR Robinson that they had reached very far with the reform exercise.

“In fact, by my estimate, one year ahead of schedule and I was prepared to continue by reporting to new PS (Andrews).”

Robinson, he said, did not want to continue with the project.

“He never allowed Andrews to do anything either. And the reason was that he was aware of the fact that the public servants were unhappy and was afraid of what may have come out in the report. So that effort also collapsed.”

Dumas said the public service review and later public service reform, established by two separate administrations, both fell by the wayside.

“So I agree with the Chief Justice that this thing is long overdue. Forty years later the review or reform has not taken place. And I can speak from my own personal experience.

“The fact that Chambers could have asked that in 1984 obviously means that things were bad before that. The service has been deteriorating for decades.

“So yes, a comprehensive review of the public sector – public service plus the state enterprises – must be done, especially in this day and age.”