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Public Workers Given Gag Order

The Government of Belize is telling public officers to keep their mouths shut. In a memorandum dated March 25 with the subject: “Confidentiality in the Public Service”, Financial Secretary Joseph Waight reminded all senior managers of section forty seven of the Public Service Regulations. According to that section, a public officer shall not, without the approval of the Chief Executive officer or head of department, communicate with the media. It also says that no public officer shall make public or make copies of documents or other information. The memo says that any public officer who defies this regulation will be sanctioned. The Public Service Union says the memo is riddled with hypocrisy. First Vice President Dean Flowers says the memo seeks to enforce an old-fashioned regulation which seeks to muzzle public officers from speaking out and exposing irregularities and unbecoming behavior of administrations. According to Flowers, the memo comes at a time when the unions are engaged in discussions surrounding the drafting and implementation of a Whistleblowers Act. Flowers says that members are advised to continue speaking up and not remain silent in the face of wrongdoings, injustice, and abusive actions.

Dean Flowers, First Vice President, PSU: The memorandum this morning we believe was not good spirited. It seeks to silence public officers, it seeks to intimidate them from making public to the union wrongdoings that may be occurring within the government and as we stated in our release we believe that the Ministry of Finance is not acting in good faith at this moment by issuing that when it in fact we’re in consultations with the government for a draft implementation of a whistle blowers act. When you join the public service there is an oath that you would sign taking an oath that you would maintain secrecy and of course the public service regulations also speak to not being able to make public any information that comes within your possession during the course of your work and these are legislations that we believe foster corruption and foster immoral behavior and as a result of that we believe and see it necessary for us to start improving on the Freedom of Information Act as well as introducing a whistleblowers act so that people can feel free and not be concerned about reprisal in the event that they were to expose some of the wrong doing  that happens within the service. As you have seen over the past couple of months, and even before under the previous administration there has been what of course the government would classify as leakages but those leakages were in fact for the benefit of the greater society. Now if we’re leaking information that threatens our national security that’s another issue but if information is being leaked to highlight the breaches of our laws and the corruption within the public service and in the wider Belizean society we want to encourage that because corruption is everybody’s business.”