Prime Minister Freundel Stuart has promised to probe reports of thousands of layoffs in the public sector, while pledging to review the controversial introduction of tuition fees at the University of the West Indies, if someone comes up with a better alternative before next year.
Fielding reporters’ questions during a tour of the Ocean Two Resort & Residences at Dover, Christ Church this morning, Stuart, who is responsible for the Civil Service, said he had met with all the heads of government departments on Wednesday, and no such message of people being sent home, was conveyed to him.
“I do not know that the public service is in chaos. I met with all of the heads of department — permanent secretaries and persons of related grades who are attached to the Prime Minister’s Office and that number is not small,” the Prime Minister noted.
“I met with them on Wednesday and we had a comprehensive look at the public service. I am minister with responsibility for the Public Service and therefore all the permanent secretaries and heads of department related to the public service have to answer to me, as it were. We had that meeting … and it was not my understanding that the public service was in any chaos.
“What I did understand was, because of the way Smart Stream functions, at a certain time, people are just cut off of the system, and have to be put back on because the computer does not ask any questions.”
Stuart explained that there were a number of names that dropped out of the system. He reasoned that a lot are connected to statutory boards and not central government.
“Where persons are therefore not going to be paid through the Smart Stream mechanism, as I understood the explanation, that their authorities or their authorisation would have to be done by hand. It is not my understanding that this has meant any number of people have been sent home…, they just dropped out of the system.”
The Cabinet Chairman related how the former Minister of Social Care, Chris Sinckler, used to complain that people on the Welfare Department’s roll “were just disposed of by the computer system because of how the data was imputed”.
“I am no virtuoso in the area of all this technology, but I think I can still understand the explanations that were given to me,” Stuart added.
He said he heard last night or this morning, reports that “these people” had been sent home.
“That has not been drawn to my attention, and will receive my attention once I leave here (Ocean Two) because I would need to hear more details on that,” Stuart promised.
Meanwhile, asked if there was any likelihood his Government would review its proposed introduction of tuition fees for Barbadian students attending the University of the West Indies, the Prime Minister responded in the affirmative, but attached certain conditions to any change in its position.
“If anybody has a more credible, a more sustainable, a more viable solution than the one we have proposed, since this measure does not take effect until sometime … in academic year 2014/2015, we have enough time to go back to the drawing board,” he assured.
“But we cannot keep our gaze fixed in ‘cloud cuckoo land’ — this is the real world of time and space, this is the real world where debts have to be paid, where creditors scream. The university has been screaming quite a lot about the money that they are owed.”
Stuart noted that debts could not be wished away by “some incantation or some abracadabra”. The Prime Minister made it clear his Government would even welcome any alternative measure from the Opposition Barbados Labour Party, once it was sustainable and practical.
Government owes the UWI some $200 million in unpaid tuition fees for Barbadian students. (EJ)