“This is not a witch hunt,” Deputy Governor Inez Archibald told about 40 government employees Friday morning during an “HR Talk” about how public servants should behave at election time.

Public employees have the same constitutional rights to free expression as everyone else, but those rights are limited in the interest of maintaining confidence in the government as an institution — no matter which party is in power, Ms. Archibald told the group.

“That’s the bottom line: That we have an impartial public service that will carry out the policies and will make sure the operations of the service are done impartially,” she said.

After hearing a presentation about the recently issued Election Guidance Notes for Public Officers from Lillian Andama, parliamentary counsel in the Attorney General’s Office, attendees were invited to ask questions.

Some asked about attending campaign events or rallies, something that both presenters said would be acceptable, provided the public officer “maintains a low profile,” as directed in the guidelines. This is the most common question from public employees, Ms. Archibald said after the talk.

Public officers are forbidden from “actively participating” in any election campaign. According to the guidelines, this includes canvassing, having a political note or letter published, speaking publicly about political matters, and, of course, running for or holding public office.


These directions seemed to be a bit too broad for some public officers, who asked whether being seen in public speaking with a candidate might be construed as campaigning. Others asked about having political posters on cars or homes that they share with others who are not public servants.

“That shouldn’t affect you as a public servant. You did not put it there,” Ms. Andama answered, adding that non-public servants do not have to abide by the same rules.

Michelle Donovan-Stevens, acting head of human resources, also attended the talk, and she told the audience that the guidance notes’ reference to displays only applies to official property such as government offices and government vehicles.

“If you share a home and you cannot influence persons around you, you’re not responsible for that,” Ms. Donovan-Stevens said.

On the other hand, a public officer who is also a pastor or minister should not take the stage at a political rally to say a prayer or invocation.

“I think it might be awkward,” Ms. Archibald said in answer to a question on the topic. “We have to be very careful as public officers. … We don’t want to be accused unnecessarily and I think we need to put the guard up. Discretion is very important.”

Some public officers are apparently worried that the rules may have the unintended consequence of discouraging public employees from doing their democratic duty.

“I am concerned that we’re not having enough of the people participating in the process to become informed voters,” Police Information Officer Diane Drayton said.  Many attendees seated in the centre or rear of the crowd applauded.

But the issue of democratic participation and an informed public was not one the established framework of rules is equipped to answer, Ms. Archibald said, adding that she hears that some officers might be intimidated, but that she feels public officers whose conduct in their quest to be informed is appropriate will be protected.

Overall, public employees were advised to use their good judgement. They were reminded that public officers are expected to be informed of the rules in the Elections Guidance Notes, the General Orders and the Constitution, and to be guided by these rules, not rumour.