Opinion: Ghost civil servants

POSTED: 02/29/12 1:58 PM

It’s amazing that they are still there: ghost civil servants. Finance Minister Hiro Shigemoto identified them in answers to questions by opposition leader William Marlin as employees with an addiction or with social or health problems.
If we read the minister’s answer correctly, it is apparently tough to tackle these ghost civil servants, because as soon as measures are announced they have a tendency to suddenly show up for work.

We wonder what the problem is, really.
An employee who does not show up for work voluntarily stays away from his or her job. It is as simple as that and the private sector knows how to deal with such people: they fire them.

The ordinance that regulates rights and obligations of civil servants contains clear rules. One would think that breaking those rules is enough to kick a ghost civil servant out; the fact that this does not happen almost suggests an unwillingness to deal with the situation.

Take for instance article 44, first paragraph: “The civil servant is held to fulfill the duties that arise from his function meticulously and diligently and to behave the way a good civil servant befits.”

Not showing up for work without notifying superiors hardly fits this description.

And then there is article 46, first paragraph: “The civil servant is obliged to devote the whole of the working hours that apply to him to government business. He is prohibited to remove himself without a valid reason from the place where the work is done during these working hours.”

Article 86, that deals with disciplinary punishments, says among others: “The civil servant who does not live up to the duties he is charged with or who neglects his duties in any other way, can be punished disciplinary by the competent authorities.”

And: “Neglect of duty includes violating any regulation as well as doing or not doing something a good civil servant ought to refrain from or do in similar circumstances.”

In other words: civil servants who do not show up for work break their contract. And if they do, the ordinance offers plenty of instruments to deal with the matter. So why is this not happening? Why do we hear year after year that, yes, the problem exists and we are working on it? Why does the government not set clear examples by simply firing civil servants who do not show up for work?

Ghost civil servants should have been a thing of the past eons ago. The fact that they are still around indicates that these people are protected by their own, a bit like the coalition is sticking to Jules James like a fly on horseshit.

To state that at least some of these civil servants are battling alcohol or drug problems, or that they have medical or social problems is an interesting observation by our finance minister – and we thank him for being open about this. With 1,991 civil servants on the payroll and alcoholism being a problem on average for 2 to 5 percent of any population, we may assume that the civil service includes at least 40 and at most around 100 alcoholics. It is not necessarily so that these are the numbers we are dealing with in the field of ghost civil servants. This is one of the characteristics of the alcoholic: he will forfeit anything and everything to feed his habit, but he will hang on to his job until somebody finally shows him the door.

We figure that the government ought to take a good hard look at the ordinance that regulates rights and duties of its civil servants. Because that ordinance does contain the ultimate punishment for those who break the rules.

Article 87 mentions nine possible punishments: they vary from a written warning and a fine to suspension with loss of income and – as a measure of last resort dismissal.


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