As if to divert attention away from their inept performance, it has become boringly familiar for ministers of Government to slander groups of public officers. It would appear as though ministers somehow believe that it is their duty to disparage and otherwise tear down civil servants when speaking in public fora. In so doing, they set up all officers in the particular category for public ridicule and abuse from members of the public even when the conscientious ones attempt to do their duty.
It is bad enough when ministers breach a long establish convention of not being publicly critical of the civil service, but it becomes exceedingly more troublesome when the Prime Minister joins the chorus of abuse. The Daily Nation of Thursday, March 8, 2012 reported that while addressing the CariGes for Women Pink and Purple Fund-raising Benefit at the Hilton, PM Stuart said:
“It is also a challenge trying to get the delinquent father served with the papers to come to court. There are situations where the people [court marshals] are drinking in the shop with the same man on whom they are to serve the document. And still they can’t find them and they are drinking with them”.
For the Prime Minister, that statement is simplistic, bordering on disingenuous to suggest that is the reason why court documents are not being served.
According to the Public Service (General) Order, 2008 there are 69 established posts of marshals: 1 Chief; 1 Deputy Chief; 3 Senior Marshal; 9 Marshal I; and 55 Marshal II. The 55 persons, who are in the posts of Marshall II, are the ones who serve the court documents. The Prime Minister knows or ought to have known that there are 25 vacancies out of the 55 posts. Of the remaining 30 approximately sixteen are assigned to do duty in the courts daily, and one is on extended sick leave. There are only 13 marshals left to service the entire country. Come on Mr. Prime Minister, whose fault is that? Certainly, it is not the fault of the much maligned majority of marshals who work above and beyond the call of duty.
Morale at the Court Process Office is already extremely low: it serves no useful purpose for the Prime Minister to jump on the bandwagon and contribute. He has it in his power to fix the problems. If he wanted to do anything other than talk, he should order an independent investigation into the operations of the Court Process Office but that would throw up too much political interference.
If the PM wants to see productivity in the Court Process Office one of the first things that he must do is to take steps to stop MPs from calling and putting pressure on marshals to release their constituents who would have been arrested for failure to pay maintenance. Next he should ensure that the few bad apples are removed. A few marshals have collected money that was supposed to be paid in to the office, and converted it to their own use. Last year, when questioned about that matter, by the Barbados Today, the Chief Marshal confirmed that an investigation was being conducted. Interestingly enough the police were not called in to deal with the matter as is required by rule 94 of the Financial Administration and Audit Financial) Rules, 1971, which states:
“Where fraud or theft is suspected, it is the duty of the head of department concerned to report the matter immediately to the Commissioner of Police and to the Director of Finance and Planning.
Instead of following the law, the offenders were given time to pay back the money and subsequently promoted to act.
On June 2, 2008, Magistrate Faith Marshal-Harris issued a warrant to commit for maintenance arrears for a man from St. Paul’s Avenue, Bayville, St. Michael. There were also two summonses out for the same man. The summonses were served but the warrant was returned to the court with a sworn affidavit endorsed as follows:
I, Adrian Lovell Chief Marshal make oath and say that by authoritative request I was asked to take possession of the warrant due to certain developing circumstances. Since then I have tried on several occasions to execute the same and was unsuccessful. I was unable to locate M. D.
It was signed by Mr. Lovell and sworn before Benjamin A. Payne, Justice of the Peace. When M.D. turned up for court on the summonses, he was recognised by one of the conscientious marshals who retrieved the warrant and took M.D. to prison.
A marshal, who became aware of that state of affairs, reported what he thought was perjury to the Registrar in accordance with the Public Service Act. For his trouble, this wise man, who was acting as a supervisor for almost 4 years, was reverted to the junior post.
Prime Minister you had all of these things to talk about but you chose to tarnish all marshals with one brush. I thought better of you: redeem yourself and apologise to those marshals that you have offended. I know that they are taking your attack hard.