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FOR WHAT IT’S WORTH: Can’t understand Bajans

DR FRANCES CHANDLER, [email protected]

FOR WHAT IT’S WORTH: Can’t understand Bajans

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WELL, THE LATEST UTTERANCE  from the Minister of the Environment is that you shouldn’t blame Government or the Sanitation Service Authority for garbage build-up: it’s the public’s poor waste management habits.

Few would disagree that household management of waste needs to be improved, but Government has done nothing about making separation mandatory. Furthermore, the unsightly bags of garbage by the roadside are encouraged by the fact that no one knows when the trucks are coming. Until the recent past, you knew which day your collection was.

Having said that, I can’t understand Bajans. They know governments in general operate like molasses running up a hill in winter, and this particular one that’s been inflicted on us by some misguided souls is ten times worse. Yet, when they finally make a good decision that could cure the serious garbage problem we’ve faced for so long, you’re hearing grumbling – particularly from the unions, it seems.

What are they concerned about? Why don’t they wait and see how it evolves? Contracting garbage collection to private companies shouldn’t necessarily mean job losses, except for those who’ve become so accustomed to relaxing and receiving a salary that they wouldn’t be able to adapt to actually working. Let’s hope the arrangement will be a permanent one and not only a crash programme to “spruce up” the country for Independence.

As many have noted, the private sector is much more efficient than the public sector at doing anything, the latest example being education. Admittedly, there are certain services, especially the regulatory ones like immigration and essential services like the police and fire service, that must be run by government but most others could be contracted to the private sector, with proper monitoring by government.

We should have access to reasonably priced or in some cases free health care, but couldn’t Government subsidise a privately run hospital to accommodate this? I’m sure it would cost less in subsidy than it costs now and there would be better staff attitudes, better maintenance of buildings and equipment and less wastage and leakage.

Similarly with public transport, which must be provided to all who don’t have their own transport and at a reasonable price. Here again, I’m sure it would be much cheaper for Government to lease its buses to the drivers or to others and work these in conjunction with the present privately owned fleet. You may have to get rid of those workers who don’t know how to behave, but from my observation, those vehicles in the present pilot system seem to be more orderly than the others. Even if Government subsidised the less lucrative routes and paid for the pensioners to travel free, I’m sure it would be much cheaper than the present system. And the buses would be properly maintained and last longer.

That’s not to say there isn’t wastage in the private sector – but it’s not taken for granted. Public sector workers seem to think that supplies fall like manna from Heaven, with the Lord footing the bill. The private and public sectors should register with Crime Stoppers for their Integrity Line, which takes anonymous tips on leakages in companies. We wonder why prices to consumers are so high. This is a significant part of the reason. It’s not only the high-level “white collar” crime; it’s also the constant erosion at lower levels.

But contractual arrangements have to be transparent and above board. And civil servants paid to scrutinise proposals before Government signs on the dotted line must be held accountable. For instance, you shouldn’t agree to pay for collecting/processing twice the amount of garbage than exists or much more desalinated water than you can distribute, with the taxpayers funding your mistakes.

As for the statutory corporations, we all remember Minister Sinckler’s comment in the 2012 Budget speech (“even a blind man on a trotting horse, sitting down backward, would be able to see that too many of these statutory boards have become too burdensome for the taxpayers to carry”), yet no one seems to have the intestinal fortitude to deal with it. Some, like the Barbados Agricultural Development and Marketing Corporation, have done good developmental work, but efforts should be made to commercialise these projects, then move on to others.

It’s pointless Government trying to do everything (even competing in some cases with the private sector) and doing nothing well at an exorbitant cost to taxpayers.

• Dr Frances Chandler is a former Independent senator. Email: [email protected]