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ON REFLECTION: To public sector shake-up!

Ricky Jordan

ON REFLECTION: To public sector shake-up!

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In a season – silly or otherwise – in which the topic of privatization and the resultant layoff of public servants is being kicked about with varying degrees of skill from one end of the political spectrum to the other, it is refreshing to hear a non-political view on this burning issue.
Such was the case on Friday when a private sector chairman, namely Bernie Weatherhead of the Sun Group that includes Sun General Insurance and a number of tourism-related entities, told those gathered at the third National Entrepreneurship Summit that whichever party wins the next general election, it would have no choice but to institute a major shake-up in the Civil Service.
Painting a picture of inefficiency, lack of up to date audits and value added tax (VAT) situations that should not occur in what we glibly call a developed country, Weatherhead emphasized that the new Government in 2013 would have to “come to the people of Barbados with a clear direction that it’s not going to be business as usual”.
So while one party has been preaching the “gospel” of privatization with the aim of enfranchising the workers by making them shareholders and somehow “putting money back into people’s pocket”, and the other party is insisting on not laying off a single individual in the public service, a few voices are saying there seems to be no option but to “shake up” things, or cut workers, in order to maximize efficiency in the country.
Veteran economist and human resources expert Tennyson Beckles hinted at the same while addressing a Democratic Labour Party (DLP) lunchtime lecture last month.
He noted that while acute social dislocation would occur if the Government started laying off public sector workers willy-nilly, there was a crying need to “look at our public service and run it as efficiently as we can”.
But Weatherhead has gone a tad further, noting that while he was not placing blame on the ruling DLP or the Opposition Barbados Labour Party, there were glaring deficiencies in the country’s Civil Service that had helped to stall business activity in Barbados over the years.
Hence my repeated call for a “conversation” from both political parties; for not only is civil service bureaucracy a perennial source of national agony but Government’s facilitation of business expansion via the same civil service bureaucracy has not been a resounding success, even as Government repeatedly calls for a national spirit of entrepreneurship.
The Sun Group chairman’s call therefore is for “a Government of the future”. But which party has the depth, fortitude or energy to take on that mammoth challenge before or after the next general election?
Public sector reform was a catchphrase since the late 1990s; so what happened? Every succeeding Government allotted places for “their people” almost immediately upon taking office, and will most likely continue to do so. Business as usual.
Culture of supersession
Why must supersession continue to be part and parcel of the culture of our great nation?
It occurs across public and private sectors – from the highest levels of the judiciary to diverse areas that include insurance, tourism-related businesses, the media; one could go on ad nauseam. It spoils an otherwise healthy record of the country’s achievements portrayed in our national motto: Pride And Industry.
And such supersession sometimes occurs so suddenly, swiftly and forcefully that even labour union leaders are left scratching their heads and asking, “What happened here?”
Such was the case recently where ironically an officer of the law courts who had been acting, as per usual in our own little Bajan “Hollywood”, as Crown Counsel for years, but was eventually surpassed by the appointment of an attorney from another ministry.
Clearly, there was no concern for the qualifications or expectations of the “actor”, nor was the post ever advertised.
If the “acting” Crown Counsel had simply turned a blind eye to this matter, he would have been yet another unjust statistic who would then have been expected to continue being a diligent team player.
When such unfair practices are executed with impunity at the highest levels of the public and private sectors, why do we then wonder at the fact that some other workers, looking on, try their best not to be diligent?
Is this inclination to be unfair bound up somewhere in the deep recesses of the Bajan psyche, or do those who happen to have power in the marketplace take pleasure in exploiting their privilege of being able to appoint and disappoint?
Thankfully, justice sometimes prevails, as in the case of Crown Counsel Elwood Watts, who dared to challenge the appointment. But shouldn’t someone be penalized, especially since this was done among those sworn to uphold the law?
• Ricky Jordan is an Associate Editor of THE NATION.