EDITORIAL: Return Barbados to golden days
Government’s plan to axe 3 000 jobs early in the new year raises a number of issues far beyond the industrial relations component or, as the Opposition Barbados Labour Party (BLP) fears, any attempt to send home its supporters.
The planned cuts must address the issues of efficiency and effectiveness in the public sector, which suggests that much more has to be done beyond simply sending home a few thousand people.
It was known for many years that our public sector was bloated, which has led to inefficiencies at all levels. But, for both of our two major political parties – the ruling Democratic Labour Party and the BLP – provision of jobs for supporters, whether in central government or the parastatals, has given them the kind of political support necessary to hold the reins of power.
It is not incorrect to say that our public sector went awry from the 1970s. Late Prime Minister Errol Barrow perhaps clearly understood the dangers when he spoke about an “army of occupation”. Unfortunately, he did not solve the problem. Others since him have only exacerbated the situation. Statutory corporations originally set up to offer a faster and better service have in many respects become nothing more fatted calves there to feed party loyalists.
Now that Government has acknowledged it cannot continue to offer any airtight guarantee on jobs given the country’s poor economic health, it also needs to review the viability and necessity of many of these statutory corporations. In some cases there is unnecessary duplication while there is accepted widespread inefficiency with many others. The issue of privatization can no longer be seen as an evil plot.
The main objective must be to save the country from slipping even further into an economic sinkhole. Government has now acknowledged that the public sector wages bill is unsustainable. While the politicians speak to the current payments, they and the trade unions must also look at other issues. Funding of pensions is one such critical matter particularly for quasi-state agencies which may have woefully underfunded plans.
There is also the importance of instituting sound human resource management practices with the pending layoffs. The archaic and simplistic last in, first out system cannot be acceptable, but rather a methodology based on performance and productivity to ensure the best workers are retained.
This country once considered the most efficiently managed in the Caribbean must return to those halcyon days. But it cannot be achieved through cosmetic changes or tardiness in taking tough decisions, even if painful.
The pending cuts in employment, to add to those already instituted in services, must redound to the benefit of the entire country.