The Caswell Franklyn Column – Auditor General Got It Wrong
One of my greatest challenges is debunking erroneous, but honestly held, positions of influential and respected persons that have been shared publicly. This week I will concern myself with one such statement that was carried by the Nation.
The November 6, 2017 edition reported, according to the Auditor General’s report for 2016, that the Ministry of the Environment and Drainage had inadvertently overpaid workers and is now short $200,000. The report went on to state that overdrawn salaries were an issue for Government, and that while this could happen from time to time, the large amounts of some overpayments suggested that not enough action was being taken to minimise its occurrence.
While I admit that overpayments of salary may occur, they are not anywhere near the amounts suggested by the Auditor General. To my certain knowledge, the vast amounts of money shown as overdrawn salary in Government accounts results from a misunderstanding or misinterpretation of the rules, and possibly even from the enforcement of an unannounced change in Government policy.
In order to understand the problem, it is necessary to go back to the establishment of the National Insurance Scheme (NIS). When that scheme started, provision was made to pay sickness benefits to workers for a year (312 days) (NIS does not pay for Sundays). However, that provision did not apply to appointed Government workers, since they were already entitled to a year’s paid sick leave in accordance with the General Orders for the Public Service. That is why permanent government employees only pay 8.8 % of their salary to NIS while private sector workers pay 10.1%.
On the other hand, temporary government workers are entitled to receive NIS sickness benefits. However, as far as I am aware, it is Government policy to pay temporary officers their full salary and then the officers would pay in the sickness benefits when they are received. I benefitted from that policy when I was a temporary officer in the Civil Service in the 1980s. That arrangement would therefore have become a condition of service for temporary officers. It was never changed or rather no change has ever been announced.
As far as I am aware, most of this so-called overdrawn salary was paid to workers who had sick leave in excess of the 14 days allowed to temporary employees. When these workers go on certified sick leave that exceeds their allotted time, they continued to receive their full salary. Thereafter, sometimes years later, the officer is informed that the Chief Personnel Officer has approved an extension of sick leave without pay. The officer is then required to refund the money that was paid. But in a majority of these cases, the worker did not claim any NIS sickness benefit because they were receiving full pay.
Mind you, there is no provision anywhere in the laws governing the Public Service that allows the Chief Personnel Officer or anyone else to grant an extension of sick leave without pay. General Order 5.24.1 states:
Extensions of leave with full pay may be granted on the ground of ill-health to any officer other than a casual employee for a period not exceeding six calendar months, and when there is reason to believe that the officer will ultimately be fit for further service, for a further period not exceeding six calendar month.
To my certain knowledge, the Personnel Administration Division is now aware that there is no such thing, in the Public Service rules and regulations, as an extension of sick leave without pay but has steadfastly refuse to fix the problem. Doing so would mean that Government would have to refund millions of dollars that have been seized from workers, without lawful cause.
In this case, it is my view that Auditor General is auditing in accordance with the unlawful practice that has crept into the Public Service, rather than according to the law and longstanding Government policy.