FOR the first time in its 32 year history the Staff Orders of the public service are being challenged but not in a court of law, although the challengers say it may very well end there.
The Staff Orders, which are rules governing the general conduct of public servants here took effect on August 25, 1983.
Cletus Cyril and Wilfred Pierre, President and General Secretary respectively of the Civil Service Association are undertaking this unprecedented move in Saint Lucia, using the Jeana Corneille/Public Service Commission case, which began Thursday, to launch their opposition to the Staff Orders, particularly section 4.16.
Corneille is facing disciplinary charges brought on by the Public Service Commission for an alleged act of misconduct on her part resulting from her appearance on a local television programme.
The Commission claims that Corneille publicly showed and/or indicated her support for the United Workers Party, and/or its representative for the Gros Islet Constituency, Lenard “Spider” Montoute.
The Commission quoted Corneille as saying on the show that she valued the contributions Montoute had made over the years and that she looked forward to working along with him should she become the candidate to represent Gros Islet.
The Commission further claims that Corneille, on the same television station, let known her intention to vie for political office and represent the United Workers Party, at the next general elections, and that she spoke on political matters.
According to the Commission, Corneille also indicated to the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of the Public Service, Information and Broadcasting that she had decided to become an active member of the UWP and that she submitted an application to become a candidate for the party at the upcoming general elections.
Further, that she, on June 30 of last year, appeared on a radio show ‘News Spin’ aired on Radio Caribbean International where she participated in a discussion and indicated her support for the UWP, a political organization in Saint Lucia.
Corneille is facing five disciplinary charges all in breach of Staff Order 4.16 (a, c, and d).
Staff Orders 4.16 states that officers are expressly forbidden from engaging in party political activity at any such time as: (a) holding office or taking active part in any political organization; (c)writing letters to the press, publishing books or articles, circulating leaflets or pamphlets or participating in radio or television broadcast on political matters; (d) canvassing in support of political parties or in any way publicly supporting or indicating support for any political party or candidate.
The hearing into the charges against Corneille was held in the Boardroom of the Ministry of the Public Service. She did not appear alone. Standing with her was attorney Alberton Richelieu. In the background was the executive of the CSA.
The hearing has been adjourned to February 11.
Both Cyril and Pierre say that they are not perturbed at the show put on by the Commission saying that this case will set precedence here regarding the rights of public servants to represent their country at the political level.
They also say that the Staff Orders trample on those rights which are enshrined in the Saint Lucia Constitution and even in the Labour Code.
“While the Corneille case is important we are also focusing on the restriction the Staff Orders have on the rights of persons within the service with an intention to run for political office,” Cyril said.
“We are well prepared. We have researched similar cases within the region and elsewhere in the Commonwealth,” Pierre said.
“The Staff Orders are curtailing the rights of public servants,” Cyril said.
Both men say that they do understand why persons who sit high up in the public service and have access to sensitive information should not engage in seeking political office but that does not hold for low level public servants like clerks, which Corneille is in the Ministry of the Public Service.
Adding to the CSA’s determination to challenge the Staff Orders all the way to the courts was the rejection of a proposal it made early last year during negotiations with the government negotiating team to allow its members, those with an intention, to engage in active politics by giving them a leave of absence. The proposal was rejected by the GNT.