'FNM hypocritical over firing then re-hiring'

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PLP chairman Fred Mitchell.

By NICO SCAVELLA

Tribune Staff Reporter

nscavella@tribunemedia.net

PROGRESSIVE Liberal Party chairman Fred Mitchell yesterday ridiculed Public Service Minister Brensil Rolle for admitting that a “large number” of the 9,000 people hired under the Christie administration have been re-engaged by the Minnis administration.

Mr Mitchell, in a statement, said Mr Rolle’s admission not only “flies in the face” of the Minnis administration’s “propaganda and false narrative” on those job hires, but also “proves the PLP was right in hiring these Bahamians”.

“What a difference 23 months makes,” Mr Mitchell added.

In March 2018, Mr Rolle told the House of Assembly that an estimated 70 percent of the contracts awarded to people for government employment under the Christie administration did not go through the Ministry of the Public Service.

This allowed Cabinet ministers to act “willy-nilly”, he said at the time.

And in January 2018, Attorney General Carl Bethel insinuated that a job reduction of more than 2,500 people in the public sector, as reflected in a previous labour force survey, netted more than $75 million in government savings.

Last week, however, Mr Rolle revealed that a large number of the 9,000 people hired from 2012 to 2017 have been re-engaged, despite previously criticising the former Christie administration for adding those people to the government payroll during its term in office.

At the time, Mr Rolle said in the case of the Ministry of Education, a “comprehensive training programme” was implemented to cause persons to learn specific trades and skills. He said if successful in completing the one-year probationary period, they would be engaged on a “full-time basis”.

However, he could not say specifically how many were re-engaged.

“Brensil Rolle’s admission that a ‘large number’ of persons hired by the PLP have been rehired not only flies in the face of the FNM’s propaganda and false narrative on these hirings, but proves the PLP was right in hiring these Bahamians,” Mr Mitchell said yesterday. “How else can the FNM explain the mass rehiring of these workers?

“The FNM, and in particular Ministers Rolle and (Education Minister Jeff Lloyd), repeatedly justified their foolish actions by saying that the PLP improperly hired these workers; that the hirings were unnecessary and politically motivated.

“The FNM went further, claiming through the attorney general that the mass separations would save the government $75 million. As it turns out, the FNM does not believe its own propaganda. Their actions are rank with hypocrisy.”

On the issue of training, Mr Mitchell also questioned whether if the Minnis administration’s modus operandi is to terminate workers it believes believe are in need of training “until such time as they acquire this requisite training.”

And if so, Mr Mitchell queried how Mr Rolle would “reconcile and defend” his government’s actions in the face of a “scathing critique” of the proficiency and efficiency of public servants by Secretary to the Cabinet (STC) Camille Johnson.

He was referring to Ms Johnson branding key civil servants as “extraordinarily weak”, and saying the civil service that she heads is “overstaffed by as much as 40 per cent”.

Those criticisms were contained in an Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) assessment that gave the Bahamas a score of only 19 out of 100 for civil service development and quality. And the report also revealed that only Suriname’s civil service is performing worse than the Bahamas’ public sector, which was ranked behind Jamaica, Barbados, Trinidad & Tobago and even Guyana on performance quality.

“Will this government now fire every deficient civil servant as per the critique of the STC?” Mr Mitchell asked.

Last week, Mr Rolle also said that direct hiring to the Departments of Customs and Immigration was done without consultation of the public service. In 2016, 114 customs officers were hired along with 217 immigration officers between March and April of 2017 and were told to report for duty without letters of engagement, the MP said.

The majority of them, he said, were just vetted when the Minnis administration took office. However, according to Mr Rolle, around 50 of these persons had not been able to pass the vetting process.

The government, he said, has been advised by police to not even consider them for engagement.

However, Mr Mitchell accused Mr Rolle of “misleading the public”.

“All officers hired in sensitive positions by the PLP government were vetted by the police as per government policy,” Mr Mitchell said. “There may have been situations where officers were conditionally hired pending the outcome of the vetting process due to heavy government bureaucracy. Suffice it to say, each one of those persons hired under the PLP were given a job description and specific functions as Mr Rolle realised and is finally publicly admitting.”