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Outcry for Warren; what about those dismissed without cause?

Canute Thompson

Sunday, July 22, 2018

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What do Avrill Crawford, Herman Athias, Hugh Cross, Garfield Daley, David McBean, and Howard Mollison have in common? They all headed agencies of the Ministry of Science and Technology (and formerly energy) prior to February 25, 2016. Crawford was at eLearning, Athias at eGov, Cross at Universal Service Fund (USF), Daley at National Energy Solutions (NESol), McBean at Spectrum Management Authority, and Mollison at Petrojam.

But the heads of these agencies, which were located in the portfolio of Minister Andrew Wheatley, are the only ones who lost their jobs after February 25, 2016. Other agencies that have seen changes to their leadership since the last general election include Passport, Immigration and Citizenship Agency (PICA), HEART Trust/NTA, National Youth Service, and Jamaica Foundation for Lifelong Learning. There were still others; the long list includes even garbage collectors and, of course, the former human resources manager at Petrojam.

As to the replacements, there is information on a few cases, and these are perhaps typical of the others, or most others.

We must not forget that shortly after the election then Opposition Leader Portia Simpson Miller charged that public sector workers were being victimised based on how they may have voted in the 2016 General Election. Prime Minister Andrew Holness was adamant that none of that was taking place. I wrote at the time urging Holness to investigate the cases before he denied same, but the suggestions appeared to have fallen on deaf ears.

Enter Warren...

In the PNP's continued quest to expose the Government's handling of the energy sector, Phillip Paulwell has brought to the public's attention the fact that the current managing director of NESol, Daley's successor, has a criminal record which she incurred 25 years ago. This matter is complex and there are issues that remain unclear.

In the first place, let me say that I believe in the doctrine and practice of a second chance. A criminal conviction served should not prevent a person from getting a decent job. I share the pain of Carolyn Warren and her family and wish her all the best, whether at NESol or elsewhere. But beyond the unfortunate manner in which part of Warren's history was made public, given the pattern of terminations and separations which had become commonplace, the situation surrounding Warren's employment requires some clarification. These include:

1) Under what circumstances, and for what reasons, were the services of Warren's predecessor terminated?

2) By what process was Warren recruited; was the post duly advertised and was she the only, or most, qualified candidate?

3) Was Warren required to make a declaration about a criminal history, and if so did she do so truthfully?

4) Were background checks requested on Warren by NESol, and if so what did they show?

I feel a great deal of sympathy for Warren. I am curious that there is so much concern being expressed for her by people who either knew of or were involved in the termination of the services of so many other Jamaicans. As I ponder the public anguish concerning Warren by members of the Administration, and their involvement in or silence about the treatment meted out to others, I am led to utter a prayer, mindful that selective moral outrage is a disease by which all of us are afflicted. My prayer, taken from a Christian hymn, is this:

“Then God of truth for whom we long

Thou who wilt hear our prayer

Do thine own battle in our hearts

And slay the falsehood there.”

So my question to all those government ministers, government consultants, and members of the public is this: Where were you when Hugh Cross, having served USF for years, turned up to work one morning and was told that his services were no longer needed? Where were you when Jennifer McDonald of PICA, who had transformed that agency, was told, as she waited on her new contract, that her services were no longer needed? Where were you when the former head of HR at Petrojam was sent home on Christmas Eve in 2016? Did any politician who is now feeling Warren's pain also feel her pain?

We need to push ourselves to create a society in which no citizen need fear losing his or her job because of the party in power. Legislation should be enacted which stipulates the jobs which are for political appointees, and people holding other jobs should not be pushed out and disgraced and caused to undergo anguish on the basis that they do not — as suspected — support the party in power. We can and must do a better job at creating a just and fair society — one in which equity is a guiding principle and care is commonplace.

Good administration

There is a practice in Jamaica, and other countries, whereby employers, including governments, include in the contract of employment a clause which states: “This contract may be terminated at any time by either party, without having or giving a reason.” I signed one such contract in 2000. Some of the people mentioned above, whose services were terminated, had contracts which included the referenced clause and whose termination followed similar patterns.

I know of a case in which a low-level employee was simply called to a meeting and told that her services were terminated with immediate effect. She asked for a reason but was given none. The only explanation she could reference was that a few days before she was asked if it were true that she was from central Manchester. In another case, the head of an agency was called to a meeting and told that his contract would be terminated under the clause. He protested, but the organisation proceeded nonetheless. In the public case of the HR manager at Petrojam, she was reportedly told on Christmas Eve 2016 that her services were no longer needed. The former HR manager at Petrojam has successfully challenged the action. Others who have raised challenges will also succeed. Taxpayers will bear the cost.

Notwithstanding the frequent use of this clause, I believe it to be unlawful and unconstitutional. Being given a reason for the termination of one's employment is a right, and to do otherwise is unfair. The courts have held that when rights are breached and citizens are treated unfairly the public good is undermined. The preservation of the public good is one reason Lord Diplock said that public officials have a duty to be fair.

Jamela Ali, in a 1998 article (republished by the Guyana Bar Association in 2008), argues that the omission of reasons for a decision removes the “good” in administration, but more importantly, she contends, it instils bad administration on society. Ali posits that the concepts of fairness, justice and reasons are interchangeable and one cannot be achieved without the other.

Lord Woolf expounds on this in his 1990 publication in the Hamlyn Lectures in a book entitled Protection of the public: A new challenge. In this publication, Woolf asserts that “the giving of satisfactory reasons for a decision” is the “hallmark of good administration”. This dictum is shared by Lord Denning, who contends that the giving of reasons for a decision is one of the fundamentals of good administration. The giving of reasons for a decision is located in the natural justice principle of the right to be heard.

Leadership

Our leaders must not only articulate a vision of that better society but must act in ways that take us there. Bickering about who is worse does not advance the public good. Making promises we know cannot be kept, or which though doable we do not intend to keep, is deceptive. We ask not for perfect leaders, all we ask is that we be willing to submit to each other as servants of each other.

We can create a better society, one in which citizens feel that the word of our leaders is trustworthy; one in which leaders act with humility and see themselves as accountable; one in which we promote equity; and one in which reasonableness is a way of life.

Dr Canute Thompson is head of the Caribbean Centre for Educational Planning, lecturer in the School of Education, and co-founder and chief consultant for the Caribbean Leadership Re-Imagination Initiative, at The University of the West Indies, Mona. He is also author of three books and several articles on leadership. Send comments to the Observer or canutethompson1@gmail.com.

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