SOEs need to be more efficient
This week’s Estimates debate is an important reminder that Government needs to have money to provide for the public welfare and to manage the country in a responsible manner.
Current debates and speeches on the country’s financial and social problems, both inside and outside the Parliament, underline the comprehensive fiscal and social challenges which need to be dealt with, especially as they relate to social services.
The Barbados Economic Recovery and Transformation (BERT) Monitoring Committee on Friday last presented a Public Report which made it clear that challenges still exist concerning the financing models of the Queen Elizabeth Hospital (QEH) and the University of the West Indies.
Given the problems which this country faces with regard to the need to provide health care and the social benefits of free tertiary education, this report must cause national planners some episodes of head scratching.
The university and the hospital are critical to the social cohesion of the society, as the youth benefit greatly from the university, while the elderly and their remedial health needs place serious financial obligations on the QEH. In the current stringent climate, it is perhaps a good sign that to date transfers to these two institutions were $486 million as opposed to the limit of $498 million.
But that is not cause for complacency, for while the limit was not breached, it seems clear that we have to modify the financing models for these two institutions, which are money guzzlers. They must strive to be paragons of efficiency in their operations.
Inefficiency can be a major cost factor in large institutions, but efficiency can ensure competent delivery of high-quality service without causing the Government to go broke. That is a lesson which must be understood by all state-owned enterprises.
Government must be congratulated for reaching the majority of the IMF targets, as reported by the Monitoring Committee. But this achievement must be a spur to even greater application to duty, and management in the public service has to ensure that they have accurate information that will allow timely decisions for the benefit of their institutions.
We are astonished to hear, for example, that there is no functional contracts register at the QEH, but are relieved to hear that this problem is being put right. Information is power and is critical to proper decision making. One wonders what the position must be at other large SOEs.
It is equally alarming that the number of doctors in certain specialties at the QEH has not changed over 30 years, while the disease and epidemiology profile of the country has changed. We are calling on public service managers to bestir themselves to make sure the old ways of doing business are discarded for a newer and more efficient approach.
Last Friday, too, Minister in the Economic Affairs Ministry Marsha Caddle disclosed that under the BERT plan, Government had identified not just educational services and tourism, but research and development as high value-added areas that will contribute to a high-skill, high-income economy for our citizens.
We have no doubt that the Government’s head is in the right place on these topics, but we are equally clear that improved efficiency in the educational and medical services sector will conduce to a major contribution by those services to a high-skill, high-income economy for our people.