Opinion: Through the mud

POSTED: 08/28/13 4:18 PM

It is not the first time we hear stories about the civil service that are beyond belief. We hear that unnamed civil servants have the nerve to erase the signatures of ministers on documents that subsequently disappear into a deep drawer and that are not moving through the system as they should. We even hear stories about civil servants – on the secretary-level mind you – that simply tear up documents because they disagree with their content, or because a decision harms the interest of their friends or family.
The problem with these stories is that they put a wet blanket over the whole civil service: they make it look like all civil servants are doing things they should not do. That is obviously not the case, but the fact that these stories are floating around is all the more reason to take action.
The stories we are referring to do not come from the good old gossip mill. We heard them from impeccable sources, so we are confident that there is a lot of truth in them.
Obviously, such actions have numerous negative effects. First of all, they damage the standing of the civil service itself. Secondly, they infringe upon the authority of decision makers higher up in the government apparatus. Thirdly, they affect citizens, who are left wondering why it takes so long for a perm it to materialize, or for a simple answer to a letter they sent.
We suspect – but we have no evidence to back this up – that this practice has been going on for a very long time. We heard politicians and even minister complain about it. But we have never become aware of a course of action to tackle this issue. Still, it is important that something is done about all this.
When the Ombudsman gave a presentation in the Central committee earlier this month, National Alliance MP George Pantophlet launched his by now famous statement that some civil servants behave as if they are the fourth power.
Ombudsman Arduin has recommended that the ministries set up a system of proper record keeping. Such a system ought to set terms for keeping track of these documents.
A government apparatus that loses documents on a regular basis, or that employs civil servants that do not think twice about tearing up correspondence and official documents has a serious problem.
One may well wonder why it takes remarks by the Ombudsman to bring this issue into focus. If politicians have complained about it, if ministers have made remarks about it, why on earth has nobody ever taking action?
We have scratched our head over this situation, turned the issue inside out and upside down and still we did not come up with a possible explanation for this unprecedented level of inertia.
Complaining obviously does not make problems go away. Complaining does not improve things. To achieve improvement, action is needed.
That action has to come from one of two sources: the Council of Ministers – we’d say in particular the Ministry of General Affairs – or the parliament, where politicians that have been complaining the loudest ought to step up to the plate and come up with initiatives to put a stop to this abuse of power by unnamed civil servants who drag the names of their colleagues through the mud in the process.

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