Solomons Government Lawyers Firm On Resignation Threat

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‘Longstanding issues,’ need for better working conditions cited

By Ednal R. Palmer

HONIARA, Solomon Islands (Solomon Star, Aug.16, 2012) – Until the Ministry of Justice and Legal Affairs resolves or takes serious steps to address all issues stipulated in their letter of demand to Government on August 3, 2012, Solomon Islands government lawyers stand by their notice to resign.

In their response yesterday to the permanent secretary (PS) of the Ministry of Justice and Legal Affairs, the lawyers said the PS’s response shows he lack the knowledge on those ‘long standing issues.’

"We must say that the call for a scheme of service for government lawyers is neither secret nor new, but a longstanding issue. The issue has been raised continuously in parliament in the past. There is strong support both political and from administrative government (past and present) for improved terms and conditions of service for government lawyers.

"Furthermore, the government lawyers have also discussed and negotiated ideas for a scheme with the Ministry for several years since 2007. In light of all this, the permanent secretary’s response therefore only shows lack of awareness on these matters and their historical basis," the lawyers said.

The permanent secretary Freddy Me’esa on Monday this week told the lawyers to be patient and urged them to raise the issue with the Ministry and not the public service commission.

But the lawyers under the umbrella Government Lawyers Association (GLA) said the Permanent Secretary’s response in Monday’s paper implies nothing can be done at this stage.

"However GLA contests the Ministry has been asleep all these years, and there is no further room for patience. GLA has assisted the Ministry by providing justifications for the draft scheme in their letter of August 3, 2012.

"This is an administrative function and it would be progressive for the Ministry to take the draft justifications on board and work towards the development of the respective scheme."

The lawyers said the justifications propose not only to improve the conditions of service for lawyers but also to work towards better ways of retaining lawyers in government by making government legal service competitive.

"In terms of upgrading, in 2011 the Ministry of Public Service upgraded the posts of all legal officers employed under the Ministry of Justice and Legal Affairs and its agencies.

"In a letter to GLA in August 2011, the Ministry of Public Service confirmed it had directed the Ministry of Justice and Legal Affairs and its agencies to facilitate the upgrading of lawyers in order to align them with their posts and respective levels as stipulated in the Ministry’s establishment register 2011."

They said only the Public Solicitors Office has fully facilitated the upgrading process.

"Other agencies have not and this has increased the frustrations of legal officers in these Agencies.

"Upgrading affects both seniority and renumeration and should be implemented across the board to fulfill the provisions of the General Orders and reflect the establishment register.

GLA called on the heads of agencies to resolve the issue without delay and facilitate the process accordingly.

They say these clearly reveal the inefficiency and failure of the Ministry’s administrative machinery.

"The PS’s response in Monday’s article in The Solomon Star only confirms this. These issues have been raised continuously over the years. It is now up to Ministry and Government to address the demands appropriately between now and November."

The GLA has given a three month notice to the Government through the Public Service Commission to promptly act on their demands or they will resign.

GLA includes those from the Public Solicitors Office (PSO), Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (ODPP), Attorney General’s Chambers (AGC) and Law Reform Commission (LRC).

They said they remain firm on their stand to resign from their offices by November 3, 2012.

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