Public Sector Reform

Dear Readers:

Public sector reform is a government initiative that includes training government employees to make them more responsive to Barbados’ development needs. Today, we shall place the public sector reform initiative in the balance.

Having interacted with public servants in various government departments over the past 15 years, I have identified two types of individuals. These types are based on the two conflicting attitudes that I have encountered. The first type appears to understand the challenges that private sector professionals face, and in response, do all within their power to facilitate their progress through the government’s bureaucratic process.

The second type seems to be under the misguided notion that all private sector professionals are very wealthy. They seem to despise them and appear to do all within their power to frustrate their progress. This type appears not to appreciate the risks, responsibilities and stresses associated with continuously trying to obtain and complete work in a timely manner, in order to support the company, including all of its employees. This type of public servant simply receives the taxpayers’ money on payday, seemingly oblivious as to where it comes from.

While the popular descriptions of public servants as: lazy, rude, uncaring, and sabotaging the growth of various businesses are unfair generalizations, there are not unfounded for this type. They appear to suffer from attitudinal problems that have not been corrected, despite the investments made in training such individuals through the public sector reform initiative.

Behavioural problems that are rooted in bad attitudes cannot be solved simply with customer-relations type training. The prerequisite for such training to be beneficial to the government department making the investment, must be a genuine willingness on the part of the employee to want to change. Attitudinal changes must commence with realization followed by belief and acceptance.

Realization becomes possible when information is conveyed to and understood by the employee. If this knowledge is believed, then it paves the way for the employee to accept all of the responsibilities associated with their particular job. Once this happens, the trainee becomes fertile ground for investment in training in personal development.

Admittedly it is difficult to blame junior public servants who display poor work attitudes if they have been trained by senior public servants with similar attitudes. Such senior civil servants tend to perpetuate the divisive myth that the private sector is the enemy. Some sympathy can be found for such senior civil servants who have simply followed the directives of some politicians who have been known to denigrate successful professionals and businesses during political campaigns, and who promote policies that penalize success and reward failure.

Policies like the rising income tax rate is a classic case of penalizing success, where the more one earns, the higher the rate of income tax with which one is penalized. Eventually persons reach the situation where after claiming the $15,000 tax free deduction for basic necessities (2003 tax exemption), more than half of the remainder is taken by the government through NIS, VAT, and income, road, land, fuel and other taxes. A more equitable system would be for the income tax rate to be the same for everyone. In this way, those who earn more will always pay more tax than those who earn less, without being penalised for doing so.

It is also discouraging when large public contracts are essentially provided to individuals who simply do not have the capacity to perform the work. Such contracts should be provided to successful companies with the capacity to complete the work properly, and thus avoid potentially embarrassing results.

Public servants must understand, realize, believe and accept that their personal income depends on the success of the private sector. They must understand that we are all on the same side, and that the government and private sector must work together as one team to advance Barbados’ economy. Unfounded negative political statements made about businesses and professionals during the political election campaigns can undermine this concept.

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