Bosses need to pull weight too
IN THE LAST FOUR YEARS since the full impact of the global financial crisis hit here, we have heard policymakers and business people emphasizing, “It cannot be business as usual.”
They have told us ad nauseum that we must be more efficient, productive and innovative. This, they said, was the best way Barbados could survive and succeed in the new global environment.
Few Barbadians would disagree that we need to be better at what we do. Indeed, if we are honest with ourselves, we would readily admit that there are still too many instances where, as workers, we do not always perform to the best of our ability. And this is right across the board in the public and private sectors.
So if we agree there is room for improvement as we have the capacity to do better in every sphere of activity, and that we should strive to be the best we can be each day to achieve our personal goals, our employers’ targets and the country’s objectives, why are we not doing it? What could be holding us back?
The answer to these questions, I suspect, has to do with what the average person perceives as the “double-speak” of those in management. That is, bosses who preach one thing but do something else.
In the last few years in the private sector, many employees have been heard complaining that despite management’s statements about their company losing money, they continue to see what they term as extravagance by their bosses.
Whether true or imagined, the net effect of this perception is that employees do not feel they should make a sacrifice for the business if their bosses are seemingly not doing the same thing.
In the public sector this “double-speak” is even more obvious. It is seen in Government continuing to spend more than it earns; no great effort being made to ensure greater transparency such as in granting contracts; and not enough being done to make sure there is accountability in financial matters, among other things.
These glaring shortcomings have consistently been highlighted in the annual Auditor General’s Report – this year’s being particularly pointed.
That report, which examines Government’s main accounts and reports on failures by ministries and state corporations to observe accepted accounting practices, shows the administration’s finances to be in a mess.
In the concluding statement in this year’s report, Auditor General Leigh Trotman said of agencies, including the National Insurance Fund whose audit is eight years in arrears: “In my opinion, the financial statements presented for audit did not, in all material aspects, fairly represent the financial position of the Government of Barbados as at March 31, 2012.”
With Trotman adamant that Government’s generally poor accounting practices “can create an environment where fraud can thrive and remain undetected”, the message is clear that for all the talk about the country needing to improve the way things are done, very little seems to have effectively changed.
Again, I ask, what could be holding us back from doing what we all seem to accept needs to be done?
I would suggest that our leaders need to set the right example to encourage the average citizen to buy into what they’re saying. In other words, if private sector bosses want their staff to fully appreciate and make every effort to be more efficient and innovative, they should demonstrate thrift in their dealings.
Likewise, Government needs to start systematically cutting their excessive overspending, and by doing so send a clear message that they intend to address this burning issue.
But here is the rub. To cut spending in Government, one has to slash the biggest cost – the salaries and wages bill. And that means the laying off of workers. Does the Freundel Stuart administration have the guts to take this action?
Clearly, if Government hopes to combat its deficit and command public confidence in the management of the island’s affairs, it needs to take action which suggests it is serious and not just blowing hot air.
What better way to demonstrate Government means what it says than by taking definitive action on addressing the $1.2 billion gap between revenue and expenditure?
As recently as Monday the International Monetary Fund prescribed that for Caribbean countries to effectively manage their debts they need to take effective measures.
“Based on a survey of country experiences, fiscal consolidation based on expenditure reductions tend to be more effective than tax-based consolidations.
“However, for countries with large adjustment needs, fiscal consolidation may need to be a balanced combination of spending cuts and revenue increases, along with debt restructuring,” stated the IMF paper titled Caribbean Small States: Challenges Of High Debt And Low Growth.
The IMF’s prescription included better control of the public wage bill, improved public sector efficiency and rationalization of transfers to state entities.
If these recommendations sound familiar it is because they are similar to what has been consistently prescribed for Barbados.
The time for saying it can’t be business as usual is over as talk is cheap. Our leaders need to start working towards the change desired.
• Sanka Price is an editor at The NATION. Email him at [email protected]