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EDITORIAL: Reform must move past talk


EDITORIAL: Reform must move past talk

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ASK MOST BARBADIANS about public sector reform, and the likely response will be a broad grin or a long steups. Many people, including public officers, consider reform as nothing more than hot air. After all, transformation of the sector has been on the table for many years, with few tangible results to show.

So when the Congress of Trade Unions and Staff Associations suggested recently that there should be a revamp of the public sector and Prime Minister Freundel Stuart also indicated to the Barbados Union of Teachers that a major review was on the Government’s agenda, it appeared to be a fortuitous coincidence that the two sides share the same vision.

From state-owned enterprises with a reputation for inefficiency to an oversized central government, the need for change is real. So, whether it involves corporatisation, deregulation, privatisation, or a straightforward reduction in numbers, a range of things must be considered. The cost of government will largely determine the level of reform undertaken, but the state simply cannot continue to carry an unrealistic financial burden.

Both Stuart and the trade unions know that the entrenched practices, policies and organisational behaviour of the public workforce are unsustainable. The human resources issue must therefore be a priority. The reality is that the country has a coin with two things on the same side; a toss of that coin dictates that economic realities will drive reform.

Steeped in tradition

Barbados is steeped in the tradition of Westminster-style public services which should have a long-term strategic view while serving the elected government of the day. This needs to be taken forward with a new approach that demands results as a key objective for every public officer.

The existing deficiencies point to the need for greater emphasis to be placed on training and development along with having a meaningful performance management system in place. These systems must be measurable if the planned reforms are to achieve results which will redound to the benefit of the entire country.

That is why the issue of having higher levels of accountability is so critical. The gateway must include reviewing the appointment and governance of those at the level of permanent secretary or chief executive officer as well as the role and function of the Public Services Commission. At the same time, the establishment of an office of Contractor General will become a necessity as well as outlining a clear code of conduct for the public sector. In an age where the right to know is a real expectation, the enactment of a Freedom Of Information Act complemented by whistle-blower legislation can only strengthen any proposed reform.

Economic growth is tied up in this plan for reform and by extension the need to ensure the public sector can efficiently deliver a range of services. The opportunity to institute the required change must not be mere idle talk.