I hasten to say how honoured I am to address you on this our 9th Biennial Conference of the Dominica Public Service Union.
The Dominica Public Service Union is undoubtedly the most democratic, relevant, vibrant and active Union in Dominica and I dare say the OECS. We can boast of a capable, competent and hardworking General Secretary and dedicated staff and Executive. I wish to thank you most profoundly for your excellent work.
For this conference we have chosen to reflect on the theme “Accomplishing and Sustaining National Development through Resilience, and an A-political Public Service;” in my view a most relevant and suitable theme in the wake of one of the most destructive and devastating hurricanes to visit our shores. You will recall that last year Hurricane Maria indeed ravaged our island. I lament, however, that it appears that Mother Nature’s destructive forces seem to be competing with our human tendencies to destroy each other and our beloved country.
The memories of the enormity of wanton looting which occurred post Maria forcing many businesses and redundancies will linger with us for a very long time. Maria really made a bad situation worse, pushing us to the brink, causing mass unemployment, mass migration and dealing a major blow to our economy. What is even worst is the continuing character attacks and what I will describe as propagandering that pervades our airwaves. Hence while we appear to be talking resilience, our actions say something directly opposite.
Resilience, my dear friends, is an investment not a reaction to the impact of a natural phenomenon. Resilience building should be our natural way of doing things so that we avoid making the same errors of times past. Our thrust at national development should be nothing short of a comprehensive approach that is informed by proper risk assessments and intelligence to ensure that every decision, every brick laid or roof installed or job we carve out should result in making things better. We must ensure the safety and the advancement of our people by first building bridges of unity and collaboration rather than erecting walls of division and victimization.
How can we achieve and sustain National Development if we are yet to recognize that each of us has a right to be here on this small but verdant rock called Dominica. A right to live, to work and enjoy what Dominica has offered us. That before we were aligned to any religion or political party or before we were even born, Dominica offered to its people its beautiful scenery and bounty for each generation to enjoy. If I may cite a quote from the Desiderata and indirectly the Dominica Constitution, “We all have a right to be here” and to benefit from every legitimate programme of Government, every system or facility that generations before created.
So as we all aspire to un-peel our dreams and find our destiny and as nature would have it, be subjected to horrendous weather events such as a Maria from time to time, why can’t all our citizens, all public officers who were affected and deserve support be treated in the same fair manner? We may not all be blue or all be red but we all are Dominicans and the Government in power is the Government for all Dominicans. All Government programmes that are set up in the public service, particularly Post Maria, should benefit all citizens who require that service.
We need a public service that is A-political, one that is free from the repugnance of partisan control; one that is empowered to serve all citizens of this country without fear or ill will. Those of us who require relief or assistance to rebuild should not have to grovel at the toes of any politician begging and pleading for relief. Public officers, like everyone else deserve to be treated with humanity and respect for we fulfil functions that touch every facet of Dominican life and that of our friends and those who visit our shores. As the union song proclaims, “Without the working people of this country not a single wheel would turn”.
Friends, Brothers, Sisters, the Public Service is a bank of expertise that consists of professionals and staff that must be fair and just and honest in what we do. We are the body of people who implement Government Policies, doing so in some cases under conditions that are inconvenient and under-resourced, inadequate and dilapidated furniture, little or no office space, a lack of computers, limited or no access to the Internet (in 2018!!) …etc., etc., etc. we are aware of the deplorable, hazardous conditions at the Registry, at the Planning Division and at the Government Printery among others. Yet the expectation is that we, the public officers still find the strength and warmth to smile to every client whom we serve.
More and more we see others being planted in the system through nebulous and unorthodox machinations to perform functions which were once only performed by those who met the requirements to enter the public service. The sacred function of those qualified and duly appointed by the Public Service Commission (PSC) or any other public officer duly designated by the PSC is swiftly being altered and undermined right before our eyes! The blatant victimization, discrimination and indifference that we are forced to confront and endure as a Union demand that many among us should be speaking out in outrage, but we remain handicapped in silence. Many choose to see no evil, hear no evil simply because of personal benefit, ambition and partisan loyalty.
Ten years ago it was unheard of to have a Permanent Secretary on contract. So we see, at the highest levels, evidence of perilous conditions facing the public service today. Where one cannot be sure that their tenure will continue at the end of a contract without the endorsement of a politician, there is uncertainty and instability. We now have public officers in temporary positions for five (5) and ten (10) years as though that is the new norm that we must accept. We must open our eyes and demand better for our employees, our professionals.
From several reports, we have a health system that is in crisis and on the verge of collapse. We hear reports that our nurses are treated with scant regard and appreciation, working under stressful conditions with menial remuneration.
Some, it has been reported, have reached the end of their patience and are leaving our shores in droves. Shouldn’t our Government, the employer be addressing the concerns of the nurses with greater urgency? We cannot have a resilient health service without our nurses. We cannot have a resilient Dominica without a resilient health system.
My Friends I could go on and on tonight but in closing I wish to remind us of the words of Alexander Hamilton (US Founding father):
“It is a general principle of human nature that a man will be interested in whatever he possesses, in proportion to the firmness or precariousness of the tenure by which he holds it.” End quote. People must feel they have a future in the job they hold. They must feel empowered.
So to build a more resilient public service, we must make some fundamental changes. This should include revisiting the ancient, anachronistic General Orders and adopting the new Public Administration Bill. We must get rid of the category of public officers classified as Non-established employees. We must swiftly and judiciously implement the recommendations of the Classification Exercise and appoint all public officers in Vacant Positions for more than 24 months.
The DPSU is resolute in its pursuit of fairness and justice for all, for equal humane treatment to all our members, and the working class at large. Let us all join hands to rebuild Dominica so that the Country we shape from the remains of Maria will survive and thrive for generations to come for the benefit of all. We cannot do so if we turn on each other, if we malign one another, if we discriminate against those whom we have a different view or belief. We must love and care for one another unconditionally and together we will achieve a more resilient Dominica and a more professional and capable public service to serve us all.
I thank you!