Urgent need for public sector reform
PRIME MINISTER FREUNDEL STUART’S public admission that there are dire weaknesses in the public sector in relation to an effective performance appraisal system does not come as any surprise. However, it underscores the need for urgent reform of this sector.
The importance of performance appraisal cannot be overstated, given that it can be the basis of an equitable system within any organization and a tool to help measure productivity. There is little justification in the argument that because of our size we cannot easily adopt a transparent and effective appraisal system in our public sector.
The private sector must also grapple with similar challenges that an appraisal system may pose. It can not only be a good gauge of performance, but can also highlight weaknesses and help determine how best to deal with poor performance, low productivity, lateness and abuse of sick leave. The old practice of shifting and shielding underperformers must be brought to an end.
Admittedly, carrying out performance appraisals has not been a simple and easy matter for even those in the private sector. Many corporate entities still face the issue of supervisors and managers not doing an effective job in their evaluations. The problem is largely the result of a lack of proper training and preparation of those who must undertake the tasks. In this regard, there is really little difference between the public and private sectors.
The issue therefore goes beyond simply instituting a meaningful appraisal system. What is clearly needed across the entire public sector is a comprehensive review of all of its human resources management systems. As the largest employer in the island, Government must set the best example by having exemplary talent management systems in place.
At the same time, it is important that employees in the public sector understand what their shared vision is and feel there is fairness in the system and that success will be based primarily on merit. The trade unions and staff associations will also need to buy into the change process, recognizing that theirs is a crucial role.
The Government ought to have a human resource management and development structure that goes beyond the old, established personnel procedures. Too much is at stake, including success of the private sector.
In promoting any initiative for change across the Public Service, Mr Stuart must guard against the temptation to get into any intellectual exercise or allow himself to be bamboozled by the bureaucracy.
In his capacity as Minister of the Civil Service, Mr Stuart has an exacting task ahead of him to initiate change. He must give strategic direction in ensuring the process becomes a reality. There is no time for verbiage or deferring to those with an agenda. Reforming the public sector is in itself an opportunity for the Prime Minister to leave a legacy.