The New Today

Commentary

Transforming the economy – the role of the Permanent Secretary within the public service

In a previous article, I focused on good government as specified in the Grenada Constitution; and specifically on the legislative requirement for the implementation of the good government or good governance agenda. In this article, I articulate on the role of the Public Service and the complimentary role of the Permanent Secretary within the legislative framework.

The Public Service according to the constitution of Grenada is “the service of the Crown in a civil capacity in respect of the government of Grenada”. The Public Service is staffed by public officers often called public servants who serve the Government of the day by developing and advising on policies and legislation, and implementing the decisions, policies, and programs of the Government. They also manage the resources, assets, and finances of the country.

A functioning, professional and apolitical public service is therefore a key facet of the good government agenda and would significantly impact the government’s performance. Such a public service is essential for building public trust and confidence in the government sector, for adding value to the commitments of the government and for national growth and development. Good government requires that the public service be efficiently managed, with well-defined accountability arrangements. It also calls for enhancement to the delivery of services to citizens and businesses, a sound public financial management system and citizens empowerment.

This brings into sharp focus the roles of the administrative leaders and managers in the public service. The Permanent Secretary as the administrative head of the ministry or department of government has constitutional and statutory responsibilities for its day-to-day operations. The Permanent Secretary according to the constitution is appointed by the Governor-General, on the advice of the Public Service Commission and with the concurrence of the Prime Minister.

Being the point of contact between the Minister and the staff, the Permanent Secretary anchors the ministry or department in the laws and regulations governing the public service, administering these in an impartial manner. The Permanent Secretary undertakes all functions necessary for the smooth operation of the ministry or department, ensuring the Minister is at all times informed of and kept abreast of the implementation of projects and programs being undertaken by the staff; and any other developments within the ministry.

As the Accounting Officer, the Permanent Secretary is accountable for all monies allocated or voted to that ministry or department in the annual estimates of revenue and expenditure. He/She guides and supervises the preparation of the annual estimates and manages the budgetary allocations, ensuring expenditures are in keeping with the budget and statutory requirements. The Permanent Secretary takes steps to reduce or eliminate waste, periodically reviewing the operations of the ministry or department, ensuring adherence to planned programs, projects, other activities, and legislative requirements.

Permanent Secretaries provide support to Ministers in the performance of their ministerial functions and the development and implementation of policies and strategies. In so doing, they seek to ensure compliance with all legal instruments in force especially those pertaining to the ministry or department and other state or regulatory entities under the purview of the Minister. Permanent Secretaries are required to manage the human, financial, material, and other resources or government assets attached to the ministry or department. They keep the Minister informed on significant developments and provide objective, evidence-based advice while implementing the decisions of the government.

In the performance of their duties Permanent Secretaries and public officers in general are required to be politically neutral in their work, serving the Minister and by extension the government in such a manner that will enable them to serve any future holder of the office or government. Public officers accordingly act professionally; with honesty, consistency, and impartiality. They put the interest of the public over personal interest, provide apolitical and non-partisan advice in a transparent manner that can withstand public scrutiny.

Political neutrality in the performance of their duties by members of the public service is key to its ability to provide the support necessary to the government of the day and any future government.

Accordingly, it will be necessary to establish a more objective, transparent, and open process which could lead to the appointment of the most qualified and competent officers as Permanent Secretaries.

Knowledge is power, and experience is the greatest teacher.

Laurel Bain is a Grenadian-born former economist with the St. Kitts-based Eastern Caribbean Central Bank

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