30 November, 2001
Development of the Public Service
I have been asked to give an outline of the development of the public service in Dominica as part of National Public Service Week. There are many features of the service that we share with former British colonies throughout what was once the British Empire. Any Dominican civil servant visiting government offices in Ghana, India, Papua New Guinea, Western Samoa, Belize or Guyana would immediately recognize systems, which are familiar to him or her in Roseau. Just a couple of weeks ago I participated in a workshop for record keepers in the local public service at the Public Service Training Centre. A video of the problems of record keeping in Tanzania was used to illustrate the need for proper systems of storage and indexing in Dominica. Although filmed in Dar es Salaam, the situation was very familiar to our public servants here.
As the Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, Ottomans or British were to find out, the success of their empires depended on a network of civil servants working under a clearly defined system of responsibility. This was the foundation on which the rulers could maintain and expand their area of rule and it enabled the benefits of empire to extend to its citizens, of whatever cultural or ethnic group they may have belonged. In the case of Dominica, while the cultural influence of the mass of the people may have been of African and French origin, the way we govern ourselves is anchored in the British pattern of government, often called "the Westminster system".
We may speak Creole or Cockoy, woulay to La Peau Kabwit and eat Ton-Ton, but our system of justice, education, legislation, policing, health and welfare administration and financial management is all steeped in the British tradition. This is what now enables us to be citizens of the modern world and provides us with the skills to battle our way in this new empire of globalization. Without that tradition of international public service skills, developed over many generations, we would not have a leg to stand on now.
The public service as we know it in Dominica is 238 years old, having been established when the British took over the island by the Treaty of Paris in 1763. One of the first buildings they constructed was an office for civil servants on High Street where the Inland Revenue Department is located. That building, and the one behind the State House at the top of Cross Street, were the centers of administration until well into the 1950s. This shows that, once established, there was little expansion of the service for almost 200 years. After Slave Emancipation in 1838 there was a slight increase in public servants with the establishment of a few government primary schools, the police service and basic health care facilities.
For much of this time most of the civil servants were British, white and male, but by the end of the 19th century, with the country in collapse and white people departing, it was realized that the future lay in training local people to man the public service. This was the main argument for the establishment of the Dominica Grammar School in 1893, and secondary education in Dominica appears to have followed that narrow minded approach to its curriculum ever since.
The upheavals in the Caribbean during the 1930s changed everything. Although peasant-based Dominica was quiet and peaceful, strikes and riots in the other islands demanded change. In response, the British government sent out a commission of enquiry under Lord Moyne to investigate conditions here. The recommendations of The Moyne Commission were far reaching and pushed the British West Indies into the 20th century, providing the funds to give improved services to its people. A sudden and marked increase in the public service took place as a result.
The introduction of ministerial government in 1956, the establishment of new portfolios, the increase in departments and divisions of government, all resulted in a ballooning public service during the 1950s and into the 1970s. During those years more office space was constructed on High Street and Kennedy Avenue and a wider dispersal of public servants took place across the country, particularly in the ministries of education and health. The growing body of workers moved to ensure union representation and formed the Civil Service Association (CSA), now the PSU.
From the early 1970s, following the oil crisis of 1973, the demands of the civil servants for better pay in relation to the rising expectations and cost of living became a constant issue, resulting in strikes and sick outs. The growing size and power of the public service led to the involvement of the CSA in the political maneuvers of the 1970s, heightening the role of CSA leaders in national affairs. By the 1980s the IMF thought that the expansion had gone too far and the call for "structural adjustment" was in the air.
In 2001 the situation has become even more critical and the immediate future will be a testing time for the public service and the people who have to pay for it. To put it simply, the public service has been expanding while the economy to pay for it has been contracting. This state of affairs, and the decisions taken to deal with it, will mark another important stage in the provision of services to the people of Dominica and the administration of the government of the country as a whole.
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