Currently, more than 3,000 persons make up the category of public officers in the BVI’s workforce, and despite a serious economic downturn two years ago during the onset of COVID-19, the government declined to make any cuts to the sector.
With a decision now looming about a possible partial suspension of the BVI‘s constitution and direct rule by the United Kingdom (UK) through the Governor, concerns may only have heightened in this regard.
But Governor John Rankin — while stating that he wants an efficient public service working on the right things — did not seek to pull any punches or assuage those concerns while addressing the issue recently.
“Change is inevitable and I’m not going to predict for you precisely what size the public service will be five years now from where it is,” the Governor said in a recent interview.
The Governor noted that while there are a lot of decent, hard-working public servants, he wants them to be focused on the most effective areas for the people of the BVI.
Challenges have also arisen over protracted delays in processing work permits at the Labour Department in recent months – a humbug officials have largely blamed on a shortage of human resources, inadequate technology and poorly rolled-out government policy.
When pressed about whether there would be a redistribution of the human resources within the public service, Governor Rankin responded by emphasising a need for adaptability.
“In a changing world, public servants like anyone else need to be adaptable and need to be flexible and one sometimes needs to surge staff into particular priority areas,” the Governor added.
He said Deputy Governor David Archer Jr remains equally committed to achieving that flexibility and to redistributing resources as the need may arise.
“I also think that having clear policies in place, making sure that work permit decisions are being made against the correct and proper criteria – without inappropriate interference in the granting of work permits but being granted according to the law – will allow Public servants to know and understand the rules within which they are working,” the Governor stated.
He continued: “If we can get both of those set up, I believe we can improve the system for work permits as in other areas.”
Governor Rankin indicated that the issue was partly a matter for the public service on one hand, and on the other hand, ensuring that the criteria agreed by ministers are clear and that staff know that they are empowered to work objectively within those criteria.
As recently as November last year, the government announced its intention to pump up to $7 million into four priority areas of the public service transformation initiative.
That initiative would have placed a focus on areas such as good governance, digital transformation of government, customer service improvement, and public administration/human resource management.