FitzPatrick underscores the Service in Public Servant
SHE ENTERED THE Public Service at the start of the second decade of political Independence when the first blush of euphoria had dissipated.
But, Ingrid Fitzpatrick, who spent her entire working life as a Public Servant within the Ministry of Finance, ensured that she gave her all as she rose from her entry level position as an Administrative Cadet, to head the Government Treasury as Accountant General, a post from which she retired four years ago. And she states confidently that “I gave it my best, I did my work without fear or favour.”
It was on July 3, 1991 that Fitzpatrick entered the Government service with a first degree in Finance and Accounting, and experience from Merrill Lynch, the investment and wealth management division of Bank of America where she previously was employed.
“Prior to that I did not know much about the public service,” Fitzpatrick told SEARCHLIGHT in a telephone interview; “I went into the public service with very little knowledge having migrated from secondary school.”
However, she “came back here and was ready to do whatever I was asked to do”. She felt her entry into the service occurred just about the right time “because at that time there were not many graduates in the public service; at that time, people were just starting to go to university. Before then, the entry level for people coming into the service was three GCE O’level subjects, so I was fortunate, there were positions available for people coming in as an Admin Cadet,” she reflected.
While it was the norm for Administrative Cadets, more generally referred to as ‘Admin Cadets’ to do the rounds of departments in the Civil Service so they could obtain a wide breadth of knowledge, somehow, Fitzpatrick never moved further than within the Ministry of Finance, and more particularly the Treasury, which is one of three components of the Government’s revenue collection engine – the others being the Customs Department and the Inland Revenue Department. In fact, if the Government’s revenue machinery can be considered as a wheel, Fitzpatrick regards the Treasury as its hub.
She recalled her first significant projects being an assignment to research the expenditure at police stations in the state. The research revealed that the government was spending “a lot of money” and it led to some changes in use of the telephones at police stations statewide. She was loaned a laptop computer to undertake that assignment because the operations were not computerized; that was to come sometime later. Another memorable project which generated “great satisfaction” during the six years spent as an Admin Cadet had to do with the Diamond Dairy which at the time along with milk, also manufactured juices in larger packets. Among the recommendations that emerged from the research was for the factory to engage in production of tetra pack juices; but the decision taken at a Cabinet meeting soon thereafter was to close the Diamond Dairy.
Her first promotion came after six years, but this was a lateral move and even though Fitzpatrick was not upset about not getting a raise in pay, she recalled the Accountant General at the time, approaching her to explain the situation. About a year later, the salary for the position was adjusted upward.
The early years at the Treasury were foundation years for Fitzpatrick who during that time “learned the nuts and bolts of the Ministry of Finance; I did all kinds of jobs, jobs that junior clerks would have done, but I never fussed,” Fitzpatrick recounts with a chuckle. She is one who went herself to the records room to get files to do research, not waiting until the person assigned to that task arrived for work and having a strong feeling that colleagues looked on it strangely.
“The Treasury is the department that shaped my life, I had a lot of hands-on, not theory experience.” No doubt, her diligence worked in her favour as she was eventually promoted to head the Treasury Department as Accountant General in February 2001, two years after its computerization.
Fitzpatrick describes that move by St Vincent and the Grenadines as part of a wider OECS project to purchase the SmartStream accounting software as “a difficult time” due to the teething problems encountered, but which served to streamline and
significantly improve the efficiency of operations within the Ministry of Finance.
“That was a significant turning point in the Treasury and they had to change some of the legislation,” to accommodate the electronic processes, expand the space and hire additional staff. “There was great improvement in efficiency of operation, in terms of processing of payments you could do that within minutes, at the click of a button you could know the status of a claim,” she recalled citing an example.
The efficiencies translated across all aspects of the work of the Treasury which has responsibility for ensuring that all government money is paid in and how it is spent. Regular reports to the parent ministry, preparation of fiscal data, and ad-hoc reports “to enable the making of informed decisions” all fall within the purview of the Treasury and must be overseen by the Accountant General.
But even as she had to keep a hawk’s eye on the finances ensuring there was no leakage, Fitzpatrick did not forget that she was a servant of the people.
It pained her when persons turned up having been told that their money was at the Treasury when it wasn’t; she has seen “big men cry” anticipating that their retirement payments for instance, had been processed when it had not yet been done and went out of her way to assist.
She described her stint as Accountant General as “very rewarding” but has a bit of concern about the level of the national debt and the challenges this would have for those at the Department from which she retired in November 2017.
“Managing the Treasury was an overall rewarding experience, although it definitely had its challenges. I was able to grow and learn under the excellent leadership of my supervisor Maurice Edwards. It was with his support and that of my dedicated staff we were able to provide exemplary service to the public. No man is an island and this was not an individual accomplishment but teamwork.” Looking ahead Fitzpatrick, whom many still refer to as AG, the initials for the post of Accountant General, “would like to see us as a nation develop areas where we become self-sufficient in food. The agriculture sector, I would like to see more development in that area and not so much talk… and I am not talking about bananas, it’s neglected, we could do much better like with agro-processing,” with resulting spill overs for employment as well as individual and national income.
She thinks “there is too much reliance on government; the private sector is underdeveloped, I would like to see government create the climate,” that would enable more to be done in private enterprise.
As for young Public Servants, Fitzpatrick thinks they should “work assiduously to restore the Public Service to the once noble profession it was, or should I say, is,” noting that the Service is too politicized.
“Always remember that service is the bedrock of the profession; maintain integrity and resist compromise. Commit to understanding your role and function in order to serve with knowledge and expertise. Allow no room for mediocrity and let excellence be your standard,” she advises.
These days, you will find Ingrid Fitzpatrick working as diligently as she did while a public servant, but this time her engagement is in the development and expansion of a family project. It’s a forest trail located not too far from her Biabou home at a place called Madeira Valley where you can enjoy nature at its best.