EDITORIAL: Engage all parties
THE POTENTIALLY EXPLOSIVE DISPUTE between the National Union of Public Workers and the Government over the partial, and supposedly temporary, privatisation of a portion of the garbage collection service in Barbados is yet another example of where poor leadership creates unnecessary problems.
For several years now the Sanitation Service Authority, once regarded as one of the more efficiently run statutory corporations in this country, has been doing a poor job in the carrying out of its mandate to the extent that we believe a significant portion of the population would welcome not just partial privatisation, but total divestment.
But the SSA did not arrive at this roadblock only as a result of its own actions. Under the leadership of then general manager Chris Griffith the agency did what was expected of it, and did so with the support of Barbadians. For all but a few months since his departure in 2004 the agency has been forced, as a result of what could only be described as poor leadership by the politicians in power, to operate without an appointed boss.
And that situation continues today, just that it has got worse, with almost an entire management corps of actors. That certainly cannot be the foundation on which you build a strong and efficient organisation.
So having virtually crippled the organisation with poor leadership, the Freundel Stuart government does something sensible – brings the private sector into the equation. But again, it bungles the matter from inception by not involving the very people who even the most neophyte among managers could have predicted would feel compromised by such a move and therefore react with suspicion and opposition.
Like the workers and the union, we can’t help but ask: Who selected the private operators? What was the process used? How did the Government arrive at the fees to be paid? Is this the most competitive approach? Why were St Lucy, St Peter, St John and St Philip selected as the pilot? Why not urban Barbados where the deficiency appeared greatest?
Government is also at this impasse with the union because again it has failed to treat such matters in a way that would suggest they are part of some sensible, well thought out, holistic plan to improve public sector efficiency and service to the country.
Thinking leaders don’t wake up one morning and announce privatisation in an environment where they have dismissed the concept almost every time someone else has suggested it as the way forward. But this is the whirlwind you reap when you sow discord purely for the purpose of political expediency.
No thinking Barbadian would believe that the country could continue to dodge the privatisation bullet with the economic situation that we have consistently faced for the past decade in particular, and sooner or later the NUPW will have to come around to this position.
In our considered opinion, in the end a lot more than the SSA will be affected. Transport, health care, highway construction and maintenance must all be viewed as fair targets, among others, if we are to maintain a high level of public services in the face of a declining public purse.
But the Freundel Stuart Government has to be open with the population. It cannot build confidence if it continuously portrays itself as haphazard and tentative in its decision-making and action. If privatisation of garbage collection is the most sensible option, while the State retains control of landfill services to guarantee certain standards in the best interest of the health of the population, then articulate it.
If its current and projected financial fortunes indicate clearly that over the next decade it just cannot afford to replace the fleet of the Transport Board and offer free rides to children and pensioners, while serving routes with limited clientèle, then say so and articulate an alternative approach.
Just don’t wait until the board is down to one third of the required fleet, as happened with the SSA, to rush some partial privatisation strategy that provokes suspicion and mistrust.