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Punishing the public

Friday, June 27 2014

The sudden closure of the Immigration Office (Passport Section) on Frederick Street is wreaking havoc on the travel plans of an innocent public. And the loss of an appointment at the Passport Office can be a far more compelling personal tragedy than missing appointments or getting no service at other government institutions.

Many of the applicants who are not being seen by Immigration Officers may have already planned their holiday or business trips out of Trinidad and Tobago. Missing their appointments means they will also miss their appointments at various foreign embassies or consulates which require a TT citizenís passport before they issue a visa for travel to that country, not to mention the need for a valid passport to complement the travel booking process. This could be a nightmare given the limited airline seat availability to favoured destinations during the peak travel season.

The Passport Office on Frederick Street was closed by a walkout of staff without prior notice to the public. Public Services Association President Watson Duke has added this facility to the many public offices he has forced closure upon by leading the staff off the premises. Mr Duke has been claiming that the working conditions are too poor for people to perform there.

Now, we are in no position to agree with or dispute Mr Dukeís claims. However, we believe that unless there is immediate danger to life and limb, most of the corrective action needed in instances like these can be discussed, lists of requirements agreed between labour and management, and the necessary work started and completed within a reasonable time frame. We are not sure, either in the current case of the Passport Office, or previous walk-outs, if a complaints procedure was followed, or whether buildings are being claimed unsafe on spur-of-the-moment decisions by the workers or by Mr Duke. We think that it is important that we know what procedures, if any, were followed for each of the shutdowns called by the PSA over the past several weeks.

We cannot accept that these buildings suddenly presented a grave danger to workers, requiring evacuation and closure to workers and the public. And we are not aware of complaints, or letters of complaint, about the conditions which are affecting workers being ignored by the authorities. If there is a trend or habit of ignoring such complaints, we would have expected some final notice being given that workers will not enter the building. So, and while we may be wrong in this, these shutdowns have taken on the character of a guerilla war, and it is a war against the long-suffering public, not necessarily against the government.

We concede that the conditions in many government offices are below what are considered acceptable standards. But who is to be held responsible for this, if not the same Public Service. It is not the job of Cabinet Ministers to check the state of the toilets, kitchens, air-conditioning and filing systems in the facilities occupied by public servants. These are all functions which would fall under the various levels of management in Ministries and government departments. So we need to ask: against whom are the members of staff protesting? Who is responsible for keeping the Passport Office clean, cool and efficient?

If our questions are answered showing that the deterioration of our public buildings resides with other branches of the Public Service, then we need to demand that those departments take up their responsibility and correct the problems.

This, rather than punishing the public would seem to be the way to resolve issues of this kind.



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