KINGSTON, Jamaica – A new debate has emerged on whether public servants should be allowed to express a personal or professional view on an issue that may run counter to government policy.
Prime Minister Bruce Golding on Sunday charged his Cabinet secretary to remind public officers of the provisions of Government’s Staff Orders concerning utterances on policy issues.
This directive follows the controversial suggestion by senior medical officer in the Ministry of Health, Dr Kevin Harvey, for the decriminalisation of prostitution and the imposition of a tax on sex workers.
Golding dismissed the recommendation as ill-informed and ludicrous and hinted at stringent action against public servants, in the future, if the Staff Orders were breached.
But Harvey said his controversial remarks last week did not represent the views of the Government.
The senior medical officer contended he was cognisant that policy matters were the prerogative of the minister of health and, therefore, he could not have been representing the Government’s thinking on the issue.
Harvey said he was invited to speak at a workshop where his comments reflected decisions taken in other jurisdictions to respond to a significant increase in transnational sex.
Members of the church community, the public and the Opposition Leader Portia Simpson Miller have condemned the proposal.
President of the Jamaica Civil Service Association, Wayne Jones, said the Government’s Staff Orders outline a mode of behaviour for public officers, as it relates to their interaction with the public.
Jones told The Gleaner yesterday that Section 4.4 of the order points to how government material or documents should be shared with the media through the permanent secretary, head of department or designated spokespersons.
Jones said Harvey would not be able to express a personal view, particularly on topical issues, without the media and other persons in society construing it to be government thinking.
He acknowledged that public officials would be faced with situations where they might be asked to express a professional or personal view on a matter.
Former health minister, under the P.J. Patterson administration, John Junor, said public officials should not be stifled in expressing their personal opinions.
Junor said during his tenure Professor Peter Figueroa, chief epidemiologist in the ministry’s national HIV/STI control programme, called for the decriminalisation of prostitution.
However, he pointed out that Figueroa had expressed his personal view on the matter.
Junor told The Gleaner Monday that the then administration rejected the proposal.