GIS workers booted out!

Packed and ready to go? The office belongings of deployed GIS staff awaits pick up on Friday.

Packed and ready to go? The office belongings of deployed GIS staff awaits pick up on Friday.

After several months of developments leading to what the government has indicated will be the formation of a new company, which is the National Broadcasting Network (NBN), staff at the Government Information Service (GIS) have been deployed to various ministries within the public service. According to GIS workers, a few core employees will remain at the entity’s Hewanorra House offices, while other colleagues resumed duties in new ministry posts on Monday, September 23.

The four core GIS workers who will remain for the time being at GIS’s offices represent a small percentage of their 23 strong complement, some of whom have worked with the broadcasting entity for over 20 years. According to a source inside GIS who spoke to the STAR anonymously last Friday, some staff members have already gotten accommodation at various ministries, but it hasn’t been smooth sailing for everyone.

“There are staff who have been told there is no physical space,” the long time GIS employee told the STAR. “Some have visited what should be their new workstation, only to find that inadequate preparation is in place to accommodate them or to provide a conducive environment for work. They get there and there is no equipment or furniture to accomplish their tasks.”

News of the establishment of the ‘National Broadcasting Network’ NBN has not been taken well by GIS staff who are of the opinion that there is too much uncertainty in the way forward for them. Workers say the advantages of the NBN have not been made clear, particularly when weighed against functions of the already established Government Information Service, with highly skilled and experienced staff, some trained under government funded initiatives.

In July the STAR published an article entitled: “How About Better Propaganda?” which dealt with the amalgamation of the National Television Network (NTN) and Radio St Lucia (RSL) into the National Broadcasting Network. At the time it was revealed that a Central Office of Information, “a shrunken GIS, in reality, would be fed the information produced by the various ministry communications officers for broadcast on NBN.”

According to a tipster, most of the ministries that staff were transferred to do not have existing communications units, therefore the former GIS staff will not only be required to serve their new ministry, but will be charged with creating and coordinating communications units in their respective ministries.

“They did lateral transfers, which means staff will be in a situation where there isn’t any line of command anymore where we have supervisors to answer to. Most of the staff will now be required to work with a group of people around them who are not communications specialists. In some cases, officers will be sent to ministries alone, without so much as a camera person.”

The change in the status quo brings about questions on how information in such cases would be sent over to the ‘Central Office of Information’ when there is no solid plan in place to gather information across the board.

“How can information personnel go out to these ministries without a complementary cameraman and expect to do anything meaningful for that ministry’s profile to be uplifted in the public domain?” the GIS informant added. “We have no idea how that is going to work. Additionally, our salaries were not reviewed with a view for upward mobility.”

Staff from GIS say they received letters advising on their transfers between late Thursday to Friday morning, just a few hours ahead of their union meeting with the Civil Service Association (CSA).

“We had been emphasizing that we had not received those letters; we are still awaiting job descriptions,” our correspondent revealed. “Where equipment is concerned, some of the staff who have been deployed are being told quite forthrightly by ministry staff that this is an imposition on them and their own budgetary constraints.”

According to the employee, a significant amount of equipment at GIS was donated by the Taiwanese government during Tom Chou’s tenure. Even so, staff suggestions to lessen the burden on various ministries by carrying on with some of the existing GIS equipment, considering they are still under the government umbrella, have been dismissed.

“The ministries have limitations with equipment and furniture and so forth, why not allow us to take whatever we are using? This leads us to wonder whether they want these work tools and equipment to remain at GIS only to be transferred to an entity, which is going to be a statutory entity.”

RSL’s existing Board of Directors will transition to the new board of the NBN. RSL and GIS will both be disbanded ahead of the creation of the new entity, but as it stands, clearing out GIS appears to be the first order of business.

“We feel like we are being rushed out the door,” our source said. “Staff have indicated that they feel unceremoniously booted out even before the new entity comes into play, and interestingly enough, we are supposed, as former communications officers of the GIS going into the various ministries, to have a working relationship with the new entity. We are government workers; we cannot have two bosses. We cannot have the board of NBN directing us, telling us what to do or expecting anything from us, nor can we make demands on them. The entity is not a

physical structure yet. It’s not up and running, but already we have been booted out the door.”

GIS staff told the STAR Friday that what they really wished to clarify was the new relationship between themselves and the NBN.

“The NBN is supposed to be the output vehicle for the government information apparatus,” our source elaborated. “It is apparent that until this new entity is up and running and functional, we the officers who started work this week with the various ministries are not sure how we are going to get whatever information that we produce, whether through print or television out when we cover different events in the ministries.”

“We were told that we would not be made worse off, but what’s unfolding is very confusing
and contrary to that. We asked for consultation and to be involved but we were not facilitated.
The process was not open to us. We were
simply told that an executive order had been
given from Cabinet. From all indications the thrust seems to be to make this happen at all cost,
whether they are losing the well trained, experienced staff that they already have. There are certain officers who will be under-utilized going into the ministries with the posts they’ve been assigned, but they don’t mind sacrificing all the benefits of the GIS. We really want the public to know, this is not a merger. This is an attempt to gain partisan control of government communications.”

The GIS employee made mention of party activists who were placed in the midst of their working environment, even though the GIS was a tax-funded and supported entity, known for defending its neutrality.

“When we asked for clarification on one of the gentlemen being installed at GIS, we were told he was just occupying a vacant office there for lack of space elsewhere. We were presented with some of the material he had been generating on behalf of party interests. These people are well known to have certain leanings that are not fitting to be associated with a government entity like the GIS.”

Employees feel there is great motivation behind the Ministry of the Public Service’s move to dismantle the information service.

“It is all about putting in place an entity where they will have more control. It will be their say, and not the say of the Public Service Commission. They would not have been able to circumvent the mandate of the GIS, which is an institutionalized mandate, so they prefer to rid themselves of this existing apparatus and bring in something new, which turns out to be much more expensive.”

There are too many grey areas in the present situation, according to employees, particularly considering they were told they would not be placed in a situation where they were worse off.

“We are well in the position to understand the implications, the obstacles and the hurdles, which lie ahead. All we’re being told is “when we get to this matter we will deal with it.” We feel that our intelligence has been insulted throughout this entire process. We were finally able to leave the cramped office in the prime minister’s office building, which was surely inadequate for us, and moved to Hewanorra House where we had a conducive environment to do all we could. We got a state of the art, modern complement of equipment from the Taiwanese, perhaps the best on island, but before we could really roll out a work plan to maximize all of these new opportunities afforded us at the GIS our wings were clipped.”

The transitional office is said to be
unprepared for what is being described as a haphazardly orchestrated shift of operations, with staff left behind unclear on what is expected of them.

“We feel like this was part of the plan long before we moved into the new building,” our source said. “Very clearly when this administration came in, we got the underlying vibe that we were to curb our enthusiasm because there is a different plan cooking. We got those hints and we believe this was a plan the government came into office with, that they are now unfolding at all cost. They tested the waters a bit, some persons with known political affiliation were being assigned to GIS and we had to take certain stands against that. They wanted to see if they could do whatever it was that they wanted to alongside the GIS, and at some point concluded that it would be better if they went ahead with their own plan to implement something new and different. No public memo has gone out to that effect and we’re yet to understand why. It really is the end of an institution. The end of GIS as people know it.”

The GIS employee painted a picture of demoralized employees, adding that staff felt “hopeless, disrespected, and not very optimistic.”

“The government is trying to excuse their own questionable motivations for undertaking this move and in doing so they may have even tarnished our image in the eyes of the public and in the ministries, making us look like an inefficient bunch.”

In conclusion: “We had a meeting with the CSA on Friday to discuss those issues because as part and parcel of whatever it is that the government is undertaking, we are seeing first hand now that we are actually visiting the various ministries that most, if not all of us, will be going into a situation where we will be made worse off.”

At Friday’s meeting CSA President Mary Isaac expressed dissatisfaction with the entire process, particularly with the fact that officers were deployed to various ministries before the working conditions were properly assessed.

Speaking to the media on Monday the CSA president stated that not much planning and consultation had gone into the move to deploy the GIS staff. “Why the haste to dismantle the GIS?” Isaac asked.

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