EDITORIAL: Time to reform statutory corporations
A discussion was started a few months ago by Leader of the Opposition Owen Arthur – and has now been joined by Professor Sir Frank Alleyne – which must be developed and taken to a logical conclusion.
Arthur and indeed his Barbados Labour Party have argued that there needs to be a measure of privatization of some statutory corporations to ensure greater efficiency.
Now we have the view being advanced that there should be major reform of the statutory corporations from Sir Frank, a noted economist and retired university lecturer. Yes, the position was outlined at the Errol Barrow Memorial Lecture held last week, perhaps to a primarily partisan political audience, but the points were of interest to a general audience and will impact on the entire society.
The arguments on reform of statutory corporations are both timely and relevant, since we must deal with this long-standing challenge.
Many of our statutory corporations suffer from a poor financial performance. Their asset management is deficient and corporate governance practices sometimes seem to be non-existent. Many suffer from weak leadership while some are not given a chance to succeed based on the constant turnover of both non-executive directors and executive staff.
This situation has led many critics of the statutory corporations to propose a full-scale private sector-led service sector. However, such an approach may not be the answer to our challenges and we can use what has happened in Great Britain as a guide to understand that total privatization has not always been the best way forward.
As the political parties in Barbados prepare for general elections, this may be the time for them to tell the public how they will go forward with the statutory corporations and the reform which is clearly needed. It is not a subject on which we must set out to stir emotions or dismiss the opposing view as irrelevant. Rather, it must be a scenario in which we must debate the issues before us.
As a starting point, we would like to suggest that those people appointed to the state boards should be competent and equipped to do the job if these statutory corporations are to serve their purpose. Putting the political party first or being the minister’s crony should not be part of the policy, while the long-standing bad practice of political interference will have to go, and for good.
The politicians are not the only people with a view. There are many knowledgeable people in this society with an understanding, from both a practical and academic position, who must help determine the path forward. That is why they must publicly get involved in the discussion on the role and function of statutory corporations in this island. The public needs to hear diverse opinions on this issue.