Letter to the Editor – CARICOM Secretariat in the spotlight

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Letter to the Editor – CARICOM Secretariat in the spotlight

Dear Editor

On 24th February 2021,  IzzSo published a letter about the Caribbean Community Secretariat which was well received in many quarters but did not appear to result in any notable change in activities at that institution. Following your post, we took active steps to investigate the issues raised, and based on our findings have raised our concerns with the Secretary General in a correspondence to him dated 15 March, 2021. We have had no response in over two weeks, and we, therefore, seek other avenues to compel an increased level of transparency and to mitigate waste of resources at that institution. We thank you for publishing this note which should be of interest to all nationals of the Caribbean Community.

Kindly note that our letter to the Secretary General was shared with the Internal Audit Committee and the Internal Auditor Secretary General as well as the Deputy Secretary General. We do not know if any steps were since taken to address the issues raised, but little appears to have changed. Recent developments however make it imperative that we take further steps to compel greater accountability for the Community’s resources which are clearly in short supply, and to frustrate the nepotism which keeps the status quo in place. The activities taking place at the CARICOM Secretariat are in principle the same as those which propelled the member states of the Commonwealth to bring the operations of the Commonwealth Secretariat under closer scrutiny and to withhold funding until measures could be put in place for increased transparency. We urge CARICOM Heads of Government to follow the lead of their Commonwealth counterparts, some of whose taxpayer dollars keep the Secretariat in operation.

In our letter to the Secretary General, we took issue with the activities of a Change Management Programme which has been a colossal waste of the Community’s resources. Our letter to the Secretary General noted the mandate to reform the Secretariat was given by the Conference during its 2012 Intersessional Meeting held in Suriname, exactly nine (9) years ago, and asked the following questions –

…., After six years in operation and millions of dollars later, what aspects of that mandate have been achieved? How could a change management programme initially conceived with a projected life of three years be in its sixth year of implementation without being evaluated even once? Were efforts of the the Internal Auditor to have the programme audited resisted? How could poorly-resourced member states with serious economic challenges be approached year after year for the continued funding of a programme in which 99.9% of senior management had lost faith, and openly criticized, without convening an appropriate forum for the programme to be reviewed?

Persons with expertise in change management processes are astonished that the change management team hired to lead the reform possess no demonstrated expertise or experience in leading change management processes globally, regionally or even nationally, but were able to command an enhanced compensation package. In our letter to the Secretary General we noted that –

Costly mistakes were made by the Change Office through sheer inexperience to which you appeared to have turned a blind eye. That inexperience is, in itself a circumstance which needs to be accounted for. Yet rather than focusing on its primary mandate, the Change Office made several attempts to wrestle away the work of existing departments, leading to duplicity of effort and waste. It dabbled in the substantive work of the Strategic Management Unit for some time, but was later compelled to relinquish work it had wrongly assumed to itself. It continues to operate as a second Office of Human Resources and even sought to manage an internship program which it later admitted did not belong in a Change Office. It touted the hiring of consultants to conduct a compensation study, an HR initiative, which went nowhere. It is now seeking to get into the business of project management, setting itself up as a technical division of the Secretariat in relation to projects which could be supervised by existing units of the Secretariat. Meanwhile, the primary objective of the Change Office of preparing the organization for change, and reforming the organs and bodies of the Community remains unfulfilled … Its Head was … constantly in open conflict with it’s own staff, resulting in an unusually high attrition rate among the staff of the Change Office. 99% of staff lost confidence as well as interest. The results of a customer engagement survey conducted in 2019 was probably too embarrassing to share with staff.

Editor, we challenge the CARICOM Secretariat to make available to member states even one (1) recommendation that the Change Office has made in six years for the reform of the organs and bodies of the Caribbean Community, an activity central to the terms of reference of the Change Office. The Change Office never possessed that expertise. Having abandoned this key activity without justification, it is now getting ready to supervise consultants to undertake an institutional assessment of the regional institutions, an activity in relation to which it again has no demonstrated expertise or experience.

Of equal concern are recent movements at the CARICOM Secretariat which confer new or extended contracts in the name of a restructuring programme which has not yet been discussed or even notified to the Community Council but which is under active implementation. In our letter to the Secretary General, we cited the gifting of new contracts to members of staff of the very Change Office in particular, for several years beyond the expected life of the Change Office, to fill positions recommended by the same Change Office of which they are a part. There we said this –

…… for the entire period of your tenure as Secretary General, there has been in place at the Secretariat, a policy of no-promotion. Every employee in the Secretariat, including secretaries and clerical staff, must apply for and compete with external applicants for the handful of positions which arise from time to time – even where the movement is lateral – and therefore does not involve a promotion in the usual sense. As you are also aware, the length of contracts in relation to special projects or programmes such as the Change Management Programme are closely tied to the duration of the project or programme. To issue new contracts of several years duration to staff members employed under a programme with an imminent end, while concurrently making arrangements for them to be transferred to existing positions or new positions after the programme ends, is not only inconsistent with the no-promotion policy used to keep staff members stagnated but commits a fraud against the same stagnated staff members who pray daily for an opportunity to apply for those very positions.
Secretary General, …… a Change Management Office must necessarily be independent or at least seen to be independent and unimpartial in the advice and recommendations it makes relative to staff and staff positions …. these arrangements ….. amount to a fraud on the rest of the staff, and …. contravene every known principle of fairness, including the Secretariat’s own promotion and conflict of interest policies among others ….. what are the special skills possessed by these Change Office staff members which are not possessed by other staff members and which would warrant their being leap frogged into new or existing positions on their own recommendation, ahead of other staff members without a competitive process?

Editor, our letter to the Secretary General noted the imminent end of his tenure and urged him to discuss the restructuring proposals with the incoming Secretary General and to extend the consultation process to include the Community Council prior to implementation –

One understands that, with a reform mandate nine years old, you would be concerned over how very little has been achieved … which perhaps explains why the Secretariat is now working in overdrive, trying to create and fill new positions at a time when member states are compelled to freeze recruitment. Your delay in executing the reform mandate is however scarcely a good reason to restructure the Secretariat in haste and without adequate consultation …. Would it however not be a more feasible option to simply make recommendations for the consideration of the Community Council and the new Secretary General…..?

Editor, we wish to again urge the Secretary General to be mindful of the need for greater transparency especially during this period of transition. Just this week the re-hiring of a three-time resigned/retired staff of the Secretary General’s Office again brought into sharp focus the urgent need for transparency. This former Chef de Cabinet in the Secretary General’s Office and a person close to the Secretary General, re-joined the Staff as Special Adviser to the Secretary General. Since retiring as Chef de Cabinet she was a staff member of the Secretariat operating from North America for approximately three years, without any physical presence in Georgetown. At a time when the Secretary General is informing the staff that their salaries are not guaranteed, this Special Advisor returns to the staff payroll, again from North America to add to the Secretary General’s current staff of a Head of Change Management and her staff, two long standing Advisors, a Chef de Cabinet who has been in place for several years and an Executive Management Officer among others!

When all is said and done Editor, the Caribbean Community Secretariat is the premier institution of the Community and cannot be permitted to operate without accountability. We, therefore, renew the request made in our letter to the Secretary General dated 15 March 2021, to provide to the member states of the Caribbean Community Secretariat the following –
(a) The achievements of the Change Office over its six-year life.

(b) The decision not to have the Change Office evaluated for impact or audited by the Office of Internal Audit;

(c) The consultation process which informs the restructuring of the Secretariat;

(d) The issuing of contracts to staff of the Change Office for periods well beyond the expected life of the Change Office and the earmarking of new positions to be filled by them, as well as other restructuring activities which are currently taking place without consultation with the Community Council; and

(e) The circulation of the Report of the Change Office.