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Minister should clear the air on the issue of CPO’s decision

Published: 
Wednesday, November 19, 2014
CENTRE STAGE

The current debate on whether the President is entitled to a monthly housing allowance of $28,000 while he has at the same time been provided with rent-free housing accommodation and whether the Chief Personnel Officer (CPO) has the legal and/or constitutional authority to grant or approve such an allowance to him clearly call for elucidation by the powers that be. 

According to the Salaries Review Commission Report there is an obligation on the State to provide the President with an official residence. However, where the official residence is not available for use by the President and suitable alternative accommodation is not provided the commission recommended a revision of the housing benefit. What, however, is not clear is who is to determine whether or not the accommodation provided is suitable. Is it the CPO or the President? Common sense, however, would seem to dictate that if the accommodation were found to be unsuitable it would be within the President’s prerogative to reject it and be paid a housing allowance in lieu thereof. 

However, it would appear that by letter dated July 9, 2014 the CPO granted approval for the payment of a housing allowance to the President notwithstanding the fact that he has been provided with rent-free accommodation and the question that has arisen for consideration is whether or not CPO has or had the legal or constitutional authority to do so. According to section 140 of the Constitution the Salaries Review Commission and Cabinet are the respective bodies vested with the power and/or authority to review the salary and other conditions of service of the President. The section provides that with the approval of the President the commission shall from time to time review the salaries and other conditions of service of the President and the holders of other offices provided for under the section and submit a copy of its report to him which he is required to forward to the Prime Minister for presentation to Cabinet and to be laid on the table of each House. 

Further, section 24 (3) of the Constitution provides that the salary and allowances of the President and his other terms of service shall not be altered to his disadvantage after he has assumed office. 

The issue, however, is not whether the President’s salary and allowances have been altered but whether his allowance has been enhanced and if so by whom and by what authority. The CPO has, however, failed to identify the legal and/or constitutional authority by and/or under which she authorised the payment of the housing allowance save that “her office has done so previously.” 

However, it would appear that there is no provision in law or under the Constitution authorising the CPO to make the payment of a house allowance or any allowance at all to the President. As a consequence the payment would appear to be illegal and/or unconstitutional.

Section 13 (1) of Chap 23:1 of the Civil Service Act provides for the establishment of a Personnel Department to be under the direction and control of the minister to whom is assigned responsibility for the administration of that Department while sub-section (2) thereof provides, inter alia, for the CPO to be the head of that department. 

The functions of the Personnel Department are set out in section 14 of the act and are circumscribed around the general administration and proper functioning of the Civil Service such as the classification of officers, the resolution of grievances, addressing the issue of remuneration and settling terms and conditions of employment. According to the provisions of sections 13 and 15 of the act both the Personnel Department and the office of CPO are subject to the direction and control of the minister to whom is assigned responsibility for the administration of the Personnel Department and the Minister of Finance. 

There is, however, no provision in the act for an independent CPO or a CPO with jurisdiction to determine the terms and conditions of service of the President. Moreover, it is abundantly clear from the provisions of the Civil Service Act and the Constitution that neither the minister under whose direction and control the Personnel Department is assigned nor the Minister of Finance has any jurisdiction over the salary and/or other terms and conditions of service of the President. 

However, by virtue of the provisions of Section 85 of the Constitution and the doctrine of ministerial responsibility, the minister to whom the responsibility of the Personnel Department was assigned is responsible and answerable for the act(s) of the CPO and should accordingly clear the air on the issue.

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