Three Government agencies central to resolving the Alexandra School’s industrial relations “eruption” have failed the parties involved in the dispute.
While over the past month most attention has been paid to the role of Principal Jeff Broomes and his teachers, Barbados Secondary Teachers Union consultant Patrick Frost said the Ministry of Education, Chief Personnel Officer, and the Public Service Commission had not adequately fulfilled their roles in the dispute.
The Ministry of Education, in the form of a series of acting permanent secretaries passing “the buck”, was a source of “sadness” to him, the former BSTU executive member told the Commission of Enquiry into Alexandra.
The office of CPO was similarly another source of “failure”, he added, and a January 2012 hiatus by the PSC was also a “worry”.
He was answering questions from commission junior counsel Michael Yearwood.
“When you have difficulties and dangers we must at the same time make provision for the correction and righting of those difficulties and for the assuaging of where you stand. And that is where then the external responsibility to the failures took place, the Ministry of Education and the office of the Chief Personnel Officer,” the witness told the commission.
As for the PSC, Frost said: “What is also a worry in this particular context, and I hope it won’t happen again, on the 9 of January 2012 the life of the Public Service Commission came to an end and there was, I believe, a hiatus.
“So at the very top of the tree, where there is some obligation under the Public Service Act for the management of the public service by the Service Commission, by the head of the public service, and by the committee of permanent secretaries, you had one cog in that wheel not present with the perpetuity that should always exist.
“And that is worrying because there was a strike on, so that again there was no initiative that could be taken at that level, no direction that could be given at that level. So that at the Ministry (of Education) you had a problem, Chief Personnel Office you had a problem, and then in January you have a hiatus a little higher up (with the PSC).”
Frost also made it clear that while he was not calling the office holders devils, he believed the Ministry of Education “has been bedeviled … by a series of acting permanent secretaries”.
“The Ministry of Education carries away approximately 20 per cent of our Budget … and you should not have an institution like that where you don’t have a person who can serve for some period of time,” he said.
“So this business of public officers coming in and coming out has not helped the situation because there is no feeling that this buck is mine … the buck is passed and every time it is passed it is devalued and that is what has happened in this particular matter.”
The union advisor said the BSTU was not asking education officials to adopt “Gestapo tactics”, involving “telling stories behind people’s backs”, but he said there “is an obligation upon the Ministry of Education to know what goes on in its schools and if there is something going on which is less than proper, whether by a teacher or otherwise, to seek to correct it”. (SC)