The Fire Service Saga: “Nothing is we business until it reach crisis” (letter to the editor)

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The Fire Service Saga: “Nothing is we business until it reach crisis” (letter to the editor)
Felix left) and Fontenelle
Felix left) and Fontenelle

During my tenure as Permanent Secretary Home Affairs, the Fire Service was a fairly well organized unit with dedicated and committed personnel.

It may be because most of the Senior Personnel were ex-police officers. One may recall that prior to 1974 the Fire Department was a unit of the police force.

The Fire Officers took pride in maintaining their equipment to the extent that they would retrofit ordinary mini buses into Ambulances and cannibalize one disused ambulance to make another operational. They also took pride in their accommodation in refurbishing their stations and quarters by providing their labor.

You may recall that after Hurricane Allen in 1980, government funding was at a very low ebb and it was difficult for the acquisition of new appliances.

As with most government departments, there were reports of indiscipline, favouritism etc. but these were dealt with expeditiously and were not allowed to fester.

Pre Commission of Inquiry

If allegations of misconduct of the Chief Fire Officer which one hears on the talk shows and the quotes of transcript of the Inquiry are true there were options available to Administration

(1) A lateral Transfer
(2) Disciplinary Action
(3) Retirement in the Public Interest

Allegations of Sexual Harassment and altering qualifications of an officer for promotion, are sufficiently grave to consider removal from office.

Post Inquiry

After consideration by Cabinet, the report with transcripts should be forwarded to Permanent Secretary Home Affairs and Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of the Public Service.

Although the Commissioner did not explicitly recommend the removal of the Chief Fire Officer but what was read from the transcript over radio implied that was the intention, further, it seem to give credence to the allegations.

Permanent Secretary Home Affairs after studying the transcript along with witness statements should forward through Permanent Secretary Public Service, a recommendation to Public Service Commission for consideration of disciplinary action against CFO.

While putting my thoughts together for this article I wondered why disciplinary action was not taken against Mr. Shane Felix for not obeying a directive from the CFO (viz. his transfer).

But Shane Felix unwittingly gave us the answer when he said on Choice TV that the Minister had directed the CFO to inform him of the terms of the transfer which he never received. Why should the Minister (he did not name which one) involve himself in staffing matters instead of his Permanent Secretary?

Public Service Commission

As far as I am aware Public Service Commission initiates disciplinary action after receipt of report, transcript, witness statements and comments/recommendations from Permanent Secretary Home Affairs and Permanent Secretary Public Service.

Public Service Commission would seem to be the “Whipping Boy” but I can only be convinced that it has been exceedingly dilatory if the administration can tell the public the date on which report with transcripts were forwarded to the Public Service Commission.

Disciplinary procedures tend to be a long drawn out process but given the urgency of this matter, 17 months is much too long.

General

Have Permanent Secretaries been sidetracked or is it that the Permanent Secretaries are ignorant of or abdicating their responsibilities.

The SAGA portrayed in the media seem to be about the Fire Chief, Fire Association, Minister and Public Service Commission.

As far as I am aware the Permanent Secretary’s responsibility is to supervise a Ministry under the direction and control of the Minister.

Minister should not be involved in staffing matters. To illustrate, if the Fire Association made representation to the late Sir John as Minister for Home Affairs, he would have either summoned me to be present during a meeting or more likely referred the association representative to me as his Permanent Secretary.

I can also recall the late Justice Suzie D’auvergne who as then the Director of Public Prosecution (DPP) writing to the Prime Minister complaining about the laid-back attitude of the police officers at court during her prosecution of cases. The Prime Minister did not address the Commissioner on the matter but referred the letter to me for necessary attention.

Administration of the Public Service

This country is 35 years old yet we do not have a public service act. The PSC has no rules of procedure, the Civil Service is governed by what is called Staff Orders.

Staff orders are a carryover from the Colonial Service which were deemed to be Ultra Vires the constitution and as such did not have legal authority, this is according to a legal expert (Dr. Watkins Watson) more than twenty five years ago.

Rules of procedure for Public Service Commission were prepared by the late Desmond McNamara QC when he served as Chairman of the Public Service Commission. The document was forwarded by him to the CSA for comments which he never received.

I tried unsuccessfully to have his successors to look into the matter. It is worthy to note that since 1997, the PSC has had a full time Executive/Chairman and an in House Lawyer; yet no rules of procedure have been promulgated.

Public Service Act

The Public Service Act has been in draft since the early or mid-90’s , yet for the past twenty years there has been talk of Public Service Reform.

In more recent times we have been hearing of E-Government etc. but the basic fundamental instruments or systems are yet to be put in place.

I have no problem with E-Government but let us first deal with the basics. We try to fall in line with the First World countries but if the UK, apart from having passport forms on-line, they are also available at the post Offices. Could we not do the same to help the citizens in the towns and villages?

What about procedures/operations manuals to assist officers who enter the service and more particularly at the senior level?

My comments straddle many administrations, so please do not introduce the RED vs YELLOW game – there is much too much of this.

I am of the view that the Fire Service should be made an essential service under the relevant act.

The Fire Service Chief and the Head of the Bordelais Correctional Facility should be given powers to discipline subordinates as provided for the Commissioner of Police.

It is my opinion that the PSC can confer such powers on these heads of Department since they are Quasi Military organizations where discipline should be at highest level.

This can be done by the PSC as provided under the constitution. Of course PSC would have to establish the rules under which these powers are conferred so as to ensure the powers are not abused.

It was stated that caution was being exercised re in the suggested transfer of the CFO in order to avoid the problems which arose re ausbert regis transfer. I fail to see the comparison since the regis case the Comptroller of Customs, head of a technical department has been transferred.

– Victor E. Girard

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7 COMMENTS

  1. You have it all wrong. The PSC acted on this matter following the report of the Commission of Inquiry. The Prime Minister was the one who made the public statement.

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  2. Apart from the Controller of customs,you forgot to mention Moses Charles(senior police officer) who has been sent on on "administrative leave" for almost two years now "in the public interest".

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  3. So true, the Public Service of Saint Lucia is in disarray because we have Permanent Secretaries and Deputy Permanent Secretaries who are clueless about managing the affairs of the public. We also have a culture of secretaries moving up the hierarchy,once they get a degree, but they lack initiative, analtyical skills, with most former sercretaries turn DPS and PS only interested in gossip and running the Ministries based on personal relationships and favors, as a cover up for their lack of knowledge and initiative. So sad. Imagine the PSC has not only one attorney, but it has two attorneys, yet no PSC rules, despite the fact that the more senior Legal Officer at PSC has been there for over 10 years and has been promoted several times during that time. What is her success rate and record......still searching.So 2 attorneys, Yet, disciplinary cases are not being processed any faster and neither are there increases in the success rate of removing ill-mannered and unprofessional public officers. some public officers go off on disciplinary proceedings and earn a salary for years, while awaiting the outcome of their case. To teh point that they get second jobs while collecting a salary from government.We paying more civil servants yet no returns. Shaking my head.Politics just killing my country.

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  4. Thanks sir for you detailed and well presented piece. What has and is happening is that PS's and now political appointment to serve the interest of the party in power...Some of those "appointee" can even rule their homes. Additionally there are Ministers who believe that they have a "divine monopoly" on the portfolio the hold. The sad outcome of events is just a beginning. Shane Felix as well as Leslie Fontelle should both be disciplined for their actions...How can an officer refused to be transferred? How can a Chief be allowed to ignore proper protocol...We are reaping the fruits of our national disgrace.

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  5. Interesting, but i suspect you will always get this when you have square pegs in round holes. Should some of those PS or DPS really be where they are. Did they get political favours to be in that position? Should a ministry example Health have a minister, PS or DPS who know nothing about health? I wonder.

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  6. You must have already retired during the time former Police Commissioner and two others were fired because as remember sir did allow the PSC or the Permanant Secretary to deal with "staffing matter" because he publicly fired the above mentioned officers himself!!!

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