Chief Personnel Officer (CPO) Gail Atkins has broken her silence on the controversy surrounding the reversion of National Union of Public Workers (NUPW) President Akanni McDowall to an entry level post in the Ministry of Health.
Atkins released a statement today through the Barbados Government Information Service (BGIS) emphatically denying the Public Administration Department (PAD) had victimized McDowall, or that there were ulterior motives for removing the trade union leader from the post of Health Planning Officer, in which he recently acted.
In fact, the CPO said the PAD had no record of McDowall ever holding the position from which he is reported to have been removed.
“There have been claims in the media that Mr McDowall was demoted from the acting post of Health Promotions Officer. However, according to the Chief Personnel Officer, the PAD has no record of Mr McDowall ever having held such a post,” the BGIS statement said.
The CPO explained that one post of Health Promotions Officer was created in 2009, and the officer who had occupied that position was subsequently promoted and someone other than McDowall was given the post.
“I do not know of any other post of Health Promotions Officer in that ministry. Therefore, the Personnel Administration Division cannot substantiate McDowall’s claim based on the data we have. Our assignment record shows that he was, and is an Environmental Health Assistant,” Atkins said.
The CPO disclosed the chronology of events that led to McDowall’s reversion, beginning with his appointed as Environmental Health Assistant II on October 1, 2006, on to Environmental Health Assistant I on August 1, 2008, and his acting appointment as Environmental Health Officer from July 28 to December 31, 2015, before returning to his substantive post from January 1 this year.
However, the row between the NUPW and Government involves McDowall’s acting appointment as Health Planning Officer from June 8 to October 14 this year. The CPO explained that after the Public Service Commission had accepted the recommendation for McDowall to act in the post, the Ministry of Health advised that it had requested an officer with a background in economics, not public health, therefore McDowall had to be replaced.
“The Ministry of Health indicated what its needs were; we made an assessment of the needs and found they were justified and we went back to the Public Service Commission,” she stated.
According to the statement, the PAD “advised that McDowall’s acting appointment should cease, and an officer with the requisite qualifications was recruited. She has insisted that contrary to the union’s suggestions, the new holder of the post meets the qualifications and stressed that McDowall’s return to his substantive post had nothing to do with him being the President of the National Union of Public Workers”.
The NUPW has accused Government of victimizing its president over his militancy in dealing with a number of contentious industrial relations issues, including those related to the Sanitation Service Authority, the National Conservation Commission and the Grantley Adams International Airport Inc, which was said to be nearing a settlement.
The union has also insisted that the person who replaced McDowall in the senior position was not qualified and superseded several other public servants who were senior to hear.
The union has threated to disrupt the visit of Britain’s Prince Harry for Barbados’ 50 anniversary of Independence, as part of its efforts to force Government to reinstate McDowall.