A truck collecting garbage from a St Michael district. (FILE)
Many Barbadians read with cautious excitement the news that there were twelve more Sanitation Service Authority (SSA) trucks on the way to Barbados, by latest October. We are now used to the fact that delays, whether justifiable or otherwise, have become a real and at times understandable possibility.
However, this should be a time to examine how we got to this point where the trucks on island were not sufficient to meet our needs. It is quite easy, but ultimately useless, to blame the last administration for our current state of affairs.
A deeper examination is required to ensure that sectors in the public service that are not profit driven due to their larger mandate to fulfill a societal need are operating at maximum efficiency to minimise losses and wastage.
There are several questions that require comprehensive answers, including:
- Have we identified the number of trucks required to meet the island’s needs? Is there also an ideal and bare minimum number and where do we stand in comparison to these targets? How long would it take to reach these goals?
- Have we determined how often garbage should be collected across the island to minimise the threat of disease and to keep the island clean and beautiful?
- Are we employing the right strategies to educate Barbadians on the consequences of littering or to deter these bad habits? Often, enforced consequences are the main tool that can effectively curb undesirable behavior.
- Is there a maintenance schedule established for these trucks to maximise their useful life? We may save money by extending or skipping a maintenance schedule but if that ultimately results in expensive parts replacements, downtime or permanent damage, have we really saved money?
- Is the maintenance scheduled in such a way that all trucks are not out at the same time so that we can reduce shortages on the island?
- Have we taken into consideration that the trucks that traverse more difficult terrain may require more frequent maintenance than those with easier terrain? If adequate records were maintained, have they been reviewed to identify the correlation between routes and instances of repairs so that we can employ pre-emptive measures to minimise these instances in the future? If these records were not maintained, do we have adequate systems to do so and is the staff adequately trained to prepare these types of reports and make these kinds of analyses?
- Are the drivers at Sanitation Services Authority trained to identify or recognise issues with the trucks outside of the maintenance schedule? Understandably, the persons that drive the trucks daily may be the best persons to identify potential issues before they compound into a more significant issue.
- What is the warranty available for these trucks? If we experience issues within the first six months, year or two years of ownership, is the responsibility for and expense of repair at us or the vendor?
- Have we submitted to tender the insurance contract for this fleet of trucks or have we gone with a vendor that has been used indefinitely without exploring potentially better offers?
- Are we properly documenting these assets to ensure that they are properly accounted for in the fixed asset register? Tracking these assets also helps to ensure that each truck is properly aged, depreciated and adequately scheduled for the previously mentioned maintenance.
- What controls have we put in place to ensure that expenses related to these trucks are legitimate? Are there adequate checks and balances to ensure that fraudulent transactions are not passed through the system?
- Do we have a long term plan in place to marry recycling efforts with the Sanitation Services Authority? Are we moving towards a system of separating garbage by type and having some type of reward/penalty system for those who choose to engage? If this is adopted, is there a plan to ensure that those who may not be able to afford what is required to separate garbage are not unfairly penalised?
These are just a few of the questions that would require careful consideration not only for the Sanitation Service Authority but many sectors across the public and private sectors. Many of these questions may highlight operational deficiencies and training requirements that would not be quick fixes.
However, if we want to get it right, these are the kind of long-term plans that could go a long way in improving the way business is done in Barbados.
*Krystle Howell, CPA, CIA, COSO, ALMI, ACS, aka Mavis, is an Internal Auditor by profession, avid artist and a lover of dance.