Public Employees Salaries Cannot Be Kept Secret From The Public…

Jamaicans should find no com­fort in the recent deci­sion of the Office of the Services Commissions (OSC) to deny media request for the con­tract specifics of the Commissioner of Police Antony Anderson, Tax Commissioner Ainsley Powell, and senior mem­bers of the JCF from the rank of assis­tant com­mis­sion­er upwards, and for per­ma­nent secretaries.
Under the Access To Information Act and the sub­se­quent denial, this request must be viewed ulti­mate­ly as a fail­ure of the Act itself to defin­i­tive­ly set out in the clear­est terms pos­si­ble, under what cir­cum­stance such denials may be law­ful under the Act.

In response to the request and explain­ing its deci­sion, the (OSC) respond­ed, “This office is restrained from pro­vid­ing the infor­ma­tion you request­ed.” The (OCS) response cit­ed Section 22 (1) of the ATI Act, which allows an author­i­ty to block access to an offi­cial doc­u­ment, if it involves “unrea­son­able dis­clo­sure” of a person’s pri­vate affairs.
It is dif­fi­cult to imag­ine how the Act could have been writ­ten to pro­tect pub­lic employ­ees’ salaries from pub­lic scruti­ny, con­sid­er­ing that the same tax­pay­ers direct­ly pay those salaries and oth­er remunerations.
Various indi­vid­u­als and inter­est groups have come out on either side of the issue, with for­mer Commissioner of Police Owen Wellington com­ing out sup­port­ing the deci­sion, argu­ing that the pri­va­cy issues should be con­sid­ered legit­i­mate rea­sons for the denial.

However, from a prac­ti­cal stand­point, it is incon­ceiv­able to see what pri­va­cy issues could out­weigh the pub­lic’s right to have that infor­ma­tion, again con­sid­er­ing that the pub­lic pays their salaries.
Under what cir­cum­stances would reveal­ing their salaries jeop­ar­dize the pub­lic employ­ee’s pri­va­cy? Have the (OSC) ever heard of redacting?
The ser­vice com­mis­sion is not a body elect­ed by the Jamaican peo­ple, but is appoint­ed by the Governor-General on the rec­om­men­da­tion of the Prime min­is­ter, in con­sul­ta­tion with the Leader of the polit­i­cal opposition.
Two (2) of those mem­bers are nom­i­nat­ed by the General Legal Council, none of whom should be active­ly prac­tic­ing Law.
Violent crime con­tin­ues to increase despite the mea­sures the Government has imple­ment­ed. It is curi­ous, to say the least, that the Minister respon­si­ble for National Security would announce that the Police Commissioner’s con­tract would be extend­ed, yet, accord­ing to the (OSC), the peo­ple have no right to know how much they are pay­ing him.

No one should be under any illu­sion that this deci­sion is sole­ly that of the (OSC), or that the Government’s fin­ger­prints aren’t all over it.
It is quite under­stand­able that peo­ple with spe­cial skills are some­times employed on a con­trac­tu­al basis. Based on those skills, they are some­times spe­cial­ly com­pen­sat­ed out­side the norms of what oth­er­wise would have been paid.
However, it is dif­fi­cult to see what those spe­cial skills could be as it relates to the blan­ket refusal by the (OSC).
The media should not relin­quish its pur­suit to retrieve this infor­ma­tion, even if there is no press­ing need for it. Under no cir­cum­stances should pub­lic ser­vants paid with tax dol­lars have any expec­ta­tion of blan­ket pri­va­cy, much less pri­va­cy from the dis­clo­sure of how much they are paid.
Giving in to these bla­tant abus­es by Government is to con­tin­u­al­ly see our rights abridged by the very peo­ple we elect and pay to serve us.
Allowing an unelect­ed enti­ty to stand in the way of infor­ma­tion that ought to be in the pub­lic domain in the first place, is atro­cious and should not be allowed to stand.



Mike Beckles is a for­mer Police Detective, busi­ness­man, free­lance writer, black achiev­er hon­oree, and cre­ator of the blog mike​beck​les​.com.