Monday, April 27, 2009

From Captain to Cook

By Sojourner

If there is one thing this economic recession should do for us here in Antigua and Barbuda, it is that we should look at how we view productivity in the public sector. The recession should help us do some should soul searching around our performance at work and the quality of the services we provide. Most importantly, no where should we benefit more from this collective introspection than from the examination of the Civil Service… and Civil Servants.

Just a few days ago the Government through its Ministry of Finance issued a declaration with respect to austerity measures that the Government and its agencies must take in order to survive these hard economic times. As hard as these measures may seem, the reality is that the Government is not taking in the kinds of revenues that are needed to sustain it. It does not have money to meet its expenses and to manage and carry out its programmes. It is having difficulties delivering on basic services. Therefore, some drastic measures must be taken: No hiring, no new contracts, no unnecessary spending and we must cut back on overtime.

Be that as it may, the reality is that Government must continue to be in business… it cannot declare bankruptcy… it cannot shut down for a month or two… and it cannot close all its offices. Teachers must teach… the police must walk their beat… sanitation workers must collect trash… And so instead of shutting down, the Government needs to seriously look at its operation and ask some very hard questions. Do we need this? What value do we derive from that? Do we need to cut here and then trim there?

For one thing, someone needs to look at the Civil Service objectively! Someone needs to lay things out schematically. How does the whole thing fit together? How does this agency/department /unit/division fit into the national development plan? What is its mandate? What is the present staff complement? Does each Civil Servant have a job description that fits into the department’s mandate? Do we have more people in a unit than necessary? What skills are needed in the department, and how does the present staff complement measure up? How are staff members performing and producing? What does each officer, from captain to cook, from permanent secretary to petty office - bring to the table? How many ‘officers’ does this unit or department really need? How many of the officers now employed put in an honest day’s work for their pay? How many of them fit the positions that they are in?

I propose that when such questions are asked… and honestly answered, it becomes clear what must be done.

I admit that this is a herculean task, and the individuals who are involved in the process must have armor like an armadillo. But desperate times deserve desperate measures… And, no one can doubt that these are desperate times… And desperate measures are needed NOW! As a matter of fact… these measures are long, long, long overdue...

  1. Some departments/divisions/units must go… They must be made redundant. Some of them simply do not serve any useful purpose, and now in these hard times… they represent a luxury we cannot afford. That may seem difficult to fathom… what audacity some might say! But when we look at the Civil Service, you have to wonder why a particular unit or department exists.
  2. Reduce the wage Bill… Cut staff!

    In our labour sensitive culture that may be political suicide. But this is one step that has to be – must be taken.

    The voluntary severance initiative was a humongous failure. This time we need to use more direct means of cutting staff… As a matter of fact… this time we need to cut the right staff members. The Civil Service is stuffed and packed like old-time sardine cans with ‘dead beats’- persons who are on the pay roll, but do nothing but show up to work, put in a few hours and at the end of the month or week they stretch their hands for the reward. And there are claims that we still have ghost workers on our payrolls.

    The truth is that Government pays out millions of dollars (reportedly over EC$30 Million dollars per month) for work not done... to people not seen. The truth also is that government pays people to be lazy, to be inefficient, and to be absent from the job. There is no accountability… and there are no consequences. There is no dressing up this truth. And these dead beats – who are unaccountable and unaccounted for - are all over the system, clogging it up like old grease and gunk in a kitchen sink!

    These dead beats can be found working as permanent secretaries, as directors, as accountants, as SEOs, as PASs; as Secretaries; as clerks, as petty officers, as cleaners, as drivers; as teachers; as police; and as nurses. They are technocrats and bureaucrats; they are consultants and special assistants; they are front line staff and “Top of the line” staff. They are everywhere. And continuing to pay these people is where Government is wasting a considerable amount of money... millions of dollars – each month.

  3. It stands to reason, therefore, that Government can save much by the proper management of its labour force:

    1. Performance appraisals are a must.

    2. Each Ministry must conduct a human resource audit. It must assess and examine its staffing needs and determine the criteria for each staffing position.

    3. Stream lining of departments so that there is adequate staff tooled with the necessary skills to do the task. This may mean that some officers will be transferred to areas where they would or could be more productive;

    4. Productivity and accountability should be core values and ingrained into the ethos of public service;

    5. A comprehensive training programme must be developed to tool the public sector to fulfill the Government’s mandate of national development and effectively deliver its programmes.

    6. Trimming the fat… Cutting those workers that are not needed, who do not add value and who do not work (yes there are many of these);

    7. Workers who have been found to be undermining the policies of the Government must be cut as well. And there are many of those too…..everywhere from captain to cook.

So our leaders have some hard decisions to make.

In reality, those hard decisions should have been made decades ago. But former administrations either did not have the courage or political will to so. And in the case of the Labour administration, they used the Civil Service as a political tool to get elected and re-elected. They also used this system of human resource mis-management to reward their political surrogates and hangers-on.

The current economic crisis has put all that behind us. If the current administration fails to act, Antigua will crash… harder than the Dow Jones stock market did!

It is important to recognize that these problems present us with hidden opportunities. This worsening economic problem has presented our leaders with the opportunity to make and foster significant changes… not just for this moment – but for the future… Not just in policies – but in practices and processes… not just in certain places… but everywhere…

Not just with the labourers, cleaners and messengers within the Civil Service… but from the top… From Captain to Cook!