In a country like the United Kingdom, a permanent secretary is typically a person of high experience, professionalism, distinction and integrity, and because of the maturity and independence of the civil service, a person who is comfortably able to serve at that level regardless of which political party is in Government.
There are about 39 permanent secretaries in the UK Government, 13 of who have knighthoods, 2 are Queen’s Counsel(QC’s) and all of the others have some other distinction to their names in relation to professional qualification and record of service.
The permanent secretary runs the day-to-day operations of the ministry, is accountable to all branches of Government, and can be called upon by the Prime Minister, who heads up the Executive Branch, and by the Parliament to report to, and account for, matters under his or her purview.
The permanent secretary is mandated to operate within the rules of governance of the civil service and within the law, to report and account to, advise and support the minister, and, under the direction of the minister, to discharge his or her duties in accordance with the policies and objectives of the ministry and government.
It is important that there be a mutually respectful, and a good and productive working relationship between minister and permanent secretary. If that is not happening, then a serious problem in the government, and with governance, develops, and an adjustment becomes necessary.
And in the absence of something compellingly to the contrary, that adjustment is satisfactorily effected only by a repositioning of the permanent secretary, as uncomfortable as that may be.
Because while the security of tenure and the independence and integrity of the civil service are to be treated with the utmost respect and sensitivity, the minister is part of the group( a political party) which has received a mandate from the people in a lawful election to govern the country, and the will of the people is not to be frustrated. So nobody administratively that close to the minister should be allowed to stall and frustrate him or her in the discharge of his obligations under that mandate.
It is no secret that for some time now. Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of National Security, Foreign Affairs, Social Security and Labour, Mr. Sam Condor, has been unhappy with his permanent secretary.
Now in case you are new to our Federation and do not know, Sam Condor is one of the most patient and tolerant people on Planet Earth. Indeed, he is a modern day Job. He is not impulsive. He takes his time with things and, most importantly, with people.
He is a man of firm Christian faith, and he is also deeply committed to the Labour Movement.
Additionally, he has been unswervingly loyal to the leader of the Labour Party and Government, a loyalty for which Sam has, time and again, been rewarded with disrespect, marginalization, abuse and punishment from his leader and his leader’s cronies and messengers.
Yet, he has soldiered on, restraining himself from saying or doing anything that, in the general interest as he saw it, he might later regret.
A few issues, however, seemed to be of sufficient importance to him to make him take a definitive stand, the permanent secretary issue being one of them.
It did not take him long to conclude, as I had done, that he had been given the Ministry of National Security to fail and to be blamed for it. He would get little support, and he would be undermined, bypassed( by direct interference in the security agencies and otherwise) and frustrated by and on behalf of his leader. And a lot of the undermining and frustrating would be done by people right under Sam’s nose, right next to him in his Ministry and its agencies, acolytes and news carriers of their leader.
It is bad enough people around you try to frustrate and marginalize you as you try earnestly to do your work on behalf of the team. It is incomprehensibly egregious when this is done on behalf of your leader.
(In the matter of bypassing the Minister, it is interesting to note, so quickly following the statement by Sam’s leader at the Chamber of Industry and Commerce ‘s recent Dinner to the effect that no interference with the Police has taken place under his leadership, that a very strong letter from the Police Commissioner dated 29th June, 2011, addressed to the permanent secretary and somehow finding itself in the public domain, suggests interference).
All of this has been part and parcel of the strategy to dilute Sam’s political capital, to marginalize him and to pave the way for his successor in Constituency 3. A strategy which Sam had seen before.
This, and the fact that he sincerely wants to do the best that can be done in the Ministry of National Security, caused him to take a stand and to insist that his permanent secretary be repositioned.
But while he took a stand, it seems that she did too, because, in my opinion, the right thing for her to do, recognizing the fact that the minister did not want to work with her, was to ask to be repositioned. And, to be fair, maybe she did ask , but was told by her leader to stay put.
Whether because of the stubbornness of herself, her leader, or both, the bottom line is that she is still there.
Apparently, when Sam first brought the matter to his leader’s attention, the latter basically dismissed him and said that he could shuffle the Cabinet, which meant that Sam would be assigned a different ministry and the permanent secretary would remain.
That would have sent a clear message to Sam: she is more important to me than you are.
In such a shuffle, Sam might even end up as Minister without Portfolio. Imagine that: from Deputy Prime Minister, Minister of National Security, Social Security and Labour to Minister without Portfolio.
And all of that in the cause of the permanent secretary who is an acolyte of Sam’s leader.
Utter and total disrespect for Sam.
There were three, I am told, very strongly worded letters last year on the matter( and on related matters)between Sam and his leader, two from Sam and one from his leader. One such letter found itself on the internet last November or December.
Yet the permanent secretary remained.
But Sam, patient and deliberate, held his ground. And in doing so, he put some serious pressure on his leader.
I can tell you this: if Sam’s leader was angry with him before, he is 100 times angrier now because he likes to have his way, and he does not like ultimatums.
So what do we see?
Sam’s leader is presently considering a Cabinet shuffle, and it is reported that within the last three weeks, he has offered the Ministry of National Security to Dr. Timothy Harris, not once, but twice.
Why Tim? For the same reason he had offered it to me and to Sam: an effort to set Tim up to fail, to get him out of the picture too, and if Tim accepts , then his leader might have succeeded in driving a wedge between Tim and Sam, which further marginalizes the two of them and strengthens their leader’s hand as he seeks to move them out and replaced them with his ciphers.
Remember, Tim’s leader wants to rule St.Kitts & Nevis for life, which means that, if he has his way, whoever replaces him as leader will be nothing more than his cipher.
Now if Tim declines, what does his leader do?
Well, I am told that Tim has declined the offer. This means that either his and Sam’s leader would yield to Sam and have the permanent secretary repositioned, or he would continue in his quest to keep her there and keep punishing Sam. If the latter, then Sam would be relegated to being Minister without Portfolio, or he simply would e a back bencher, or, who knows, he would cross the floor.
Meanwhile, a new scapegoat will have to be found. Which one of his three other elected ministers would he choose? Dr. Asim Martin, Ms. Marcella Liburd, or Mr.Glen Phillip? Or instead of exposing any of them, might he ask Mr. Ricky Skerritt or Mr. Nigel Carty to take that Ministry?
The only way I see any of the three elected getting it, is if their leader is planning to dump him or her.
Alternatively, if he wants his chosen one to appear to be successful and to gain political capital, he could find money, from the European Union(EU) and perhaps from the Sugar Industry Diversification Foundation(SIDF) and other resources that are so desperately needed (and money and other resources will be needed notwithstanding any successes the new Police Commissioner might achieve, and he has our best wishes and support in his efforts)to give National Security the fair and fighting chance that it needs.
And if Sam’s and Tim’s leader does find the money, the question would have to be asked: Why only now? And everybody would see, at last, what this was all about.
Meanwhile, from where I sit, I do not see Sam backing down from this one. And all right-minded citizens and residents need to pray for Sam( and Tim) and to encourage them to remain strong and resolute, and to show their leader that, on principle, they will not yield to him.