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Shaking up public sector reform


OLIVIA CHASE-SMITH

Shaking up   public sector reform

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GOVERNMENTS ACROSS THE GLOBE are undertaking several reform initiatives and actions to achieve their development objectives. Many of these strategies are in response to rapid changes taking place in global, socio-economic, geo-political and technological environments which almost seem to dictate that the public sector must be transformed into a more flexible and responsive governance unit, if it is to advance its pursuits of sustained economic growth and development.

It is now widely recognised, and accepted, that government must invent a radically different way of doing business in the public sector as well as a new structure for itself which allows this new business modality to take effect.

The public sector can no longer function in its traditional mode – paper-based, rigid structures, and non-accountability.

The new millennium will require a more agile institution where the emphasis must be on strategic approaches to planning and delivery of not only completed activities (outputs), but also results in a positive impact which is generated in society.

A reformed public sector therefore must be infused with new values, a higher sense of mission and purpose and be guided by a “spirit of new professionalism” focussed on customers and development.

This thinking supports the view of The Productivity Council, that productivity measurement is a central feature of a new set of values and a new culture to be pursued by the public service for improvement in its total work programme.

According to former Prime Minister Owen Arthur at the National Consultation on Refocusing Government in January 1995, “ . . . public sector reform must be characterised by genuine and persistent efforts which support the attainment of the Government’s macro-economic objectives.”

If we were were to attempt a diagnosis of some specific problem areas, or indeed, areas of challenge for public sector reformers, we will come up with about eight critical areas which public sector managers need to address.

The areas are: hierarchy and structure, operating mechanisms, performance measurement, standards and accountability, human resource management, financial management, planning and control and management information systems, and systematic monitoring and evaluation.

Many research papers also call for urgent reform attention to the following areas: human resource management practices, financial management, accountability and management flexibility, use of information technology in modern management practices, and proper information communication technology-networked relationships at the senior Government levels.

Other public sector agencies categorised as state enterprises and regulatory boards, while paying due regard to national reform efforts, are in a position to access reform expertise services appropriate to the nature and scope of their operations. Examples of such state enterprises would be the Barbados Revenue Authority, the Barbados National Oil Company and the Barbados Investment and Development Corporation. Indeed. most of these agencies are already undertaking programmes of re-engineering to transform them into effective and viable operations.

The important and critical factor is that the functioning of all agencies in the public sector ought to be reviewed and changed appropriately to achieve the transformation of the total public sector.

This reform should also be undertaken as a holistic project which seeks to reform fundamental governance structures across the public sector.

Government recognises that the deficiencies which help to undermine that attainment of organisational goals must be addressed.

Furthermore, experience has shown that the roles of many agencies are not clearly defined, occurring through ad hoc growth and a mix in the mandates of agencies.

The objectives are not specific and the planning and control mechanisms are generally weak, training is not undertaken or is inadequate for the circumstances, and the determination of a clear policy regarding the decentralisation of human resource management has not been achieved.

Tighter control over how the public sector departments are managed will result in a Government which uses resources more efficiently to get the job done. This does not curtail the need for reforms in public spending and the ways programmes are implemented for the benefit of the public.

Many reform initiatives are currently underway in the Barbados public sector, but the effectiveness of the efforts is undermined by lack of proper coordination of all the various activities under the oversight and project management of a single governance unit charged with their implementation  – since reform legislation is impractical unless all the structures to support the reform are in place.

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