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Communication Minister Symon De Nobriga.

Concerns have been raised about highly paid contracted officers in Government’s Communication Division (GCD) possibly duplicating work being done by Information Division public servants, but Communication Minister Symon De Nobriga has clarified GCD’s role, adding that the division is not being expanded.

“And there’s no plan at this time to close or phase out Info Division,” De Nobriga added.

De Nobriga replied to queries being raised in and out of Government sectors about the operation of the GCD running alongside the Information Division. In the last term, GCD and Information Division were part of the Communication Ministry. Communication now falls under the Prime Minister’s office.

Apart from possible duplication of work, concerns being raised include higher remuneration of GCD’s contracted officers compared to Information Division’s public officers and hiring processes.

Concerns have arisen in light of T&T’s constrained economic circumstances Tomorrow’s 2021 Budget is expected to be a tight prescription for T&T. Last Monday Prime Minister Keith Rowley and Finance Minister Colm Imbert both noted tough financial circumstances, stating “difficult”, “hard” decisions were looming.

The Information Division is a public service establishment involving public officers. It provides services for press conferences and media services for all ministries ranging from digital/print publications to radio and TV productions.

Government sources said part of the problem was that Information Division has 24 vacancies in its four radio, PR, TV and photography units. Vacancies existing for more than five years are filled by the Public Service Commission on the advice of the Permanent Secretary. But delays in filling vacancies have given rise to concerns that this may be an excuse for the creation of long-term contract posts.

Calls are being made for Public Service head Maurice Suite to investigate several alleged public service infractions in the issue concerning GCD and address vacant Information Division posts.

On alleged duplication of Information Division work by GCD, De Nobriga explained, “The New Central Communications Unit created by Cabinet decision in 2006, was redesignated Government Communications Division (GCD) in 2008 and focuses on Strategy and Policy for effective government communications function.”

He said Information Division does the actual implementation of functions. “Both GCD and Info Div form part of the communication framework. Both divisions have existed within the Public Administration Ministry, Information /Ministry and Ministry of Communications since (2008).”

GCD’s activity is gazetted. Information Division is, however, a gazetted entity.

On the concerns that possible duplication of work with highly paid contracted GCD officers could cost a lot when T&T is in a downturn, De Nobriga said, “Posts and terms of conditions in GCD have been standardized since 2014. Persons employed since then and now have been compensated in accordance with the standardized directives of the Chief Personnel Officer.

“But GCD isn’t being expanded and there’s no plan at this time to close or phase out Infodiv.”

De Nobriga said Government advertised and did interviews for GDC officers’ contracts and follows public service regulations for hiring as well as merit lists. “Yes, the process of advertisement and interview has been utilised and continues to be utilised to fill contract vacancies.”

On why Information Division vacancies are not being filled, De Nobriga said, “The process for filling specialized technical posts in TV and radio Units was started with the Public Service Commission in September 2019 with a request to promote officers to senior positions and advertise specialized junior vacancies. It’s expected that once the promotion process is complete approval to advertise and fill will follow.”

De Nobriga responded on claims of a proposal (in a rebranding exercise) to halt the use of the Information Division logo at the end of government programmes. Sources believe it may be illegal to remove Information Division’s legal logo as the logo signifies the origin of Government productions.

De Nobriga said, “No consideration has been given at this time on what logo will be used (on programmes).”

De Nobriga also responded on claims his adviser, a political appointee, is directly interfacing with public officers, and giving instructions on his behalf, breaching public service rules.

De Nobriga said,”No. Any information relayed would be in keeping with directives from the office of the minister.”

CONCERNS RAISED

* Senior GDC officials’ contracted salaries are as much as twice that of equivalent experienced Information Division public officers.

* Duplication of duties between Information Division and the GCD personnel in various areas and moves are on for further GCD contracted input.

* It is being claimed that GCD contracts are being renewed without advertisement internally or externally, despite regulations stating short-term contract may be renewed only once. It is being claimed that another senior GDC officer was brought in recently without advertising or interview.

* Another very senior GDC official was brought in, though the merit list was “ignored” and there wasn’t internal/external advertisement/interview for the post, it’s alleged. Concern arose since the person takes instructions directly from the minister and purportedly instructs both Information Division and GCD. Officials said this is a breach of Public Service regulations.

Sources feel GCD is like the Government Information Services Ltd (GISL) which was closed down a few years ago, “That was also manned by high priced contract officers, but it was a massive, costly failure and conduit for corruption and political interference. After GISL’s closure, it was Information Division with limited resources that rose to the occasion to ensure the professional provision of government information/media services.”