Covering the sore
A practice of covering festering sores will only lead to further debilitating illness.
We make bold that statement with respect to a public sector that has served Barbados relatively well, but, with better vision and management, could have seen Barbados even further along a path of development.
We applaud efforts at being NISE but must assert that almost at every level of our governance structure, a failure to take prompt remedial action, a reluctance to make tough, but necessary, decisions, an indifference toward facilitating punitive measures and a satisfaction with allowing the status quo to remain as it is, have done nothing to make our systems better.
Public sector reform is a terminology that has been bandied about for years. But in reality, the more things have changed, the more they have remained the same.
We look first at wastage and other nouns that could lead one to assert the necessity for legal intervention and quote respected Independent Senator Dean Emeritus Harold Crichlow:
“I don’t think that any Government, this present one included, should just be contented with the millions of dollars that the Auditor General said cannot be accounted for. This is the big problem that we need to tackle in this country. Granted the economic stress we’re having, I don’t think that we would be in as deep a problem now if those monies that the Auditor General spoke about, were repaid or reclaimed. We would be in a position to do so much.
”We agree with the goodly and Godly senator and ask what has our collecting agencies been doing that a cursory examination of the records at the Registry of the Supreme Court reveals a host of certificates of judgement lodged for unpaid dues to the State, some decades old, of amounts exceeding $400 million.
We examine the goings-on in our law courts and find that recent figures show that more than $4 million in fines are owed the state.
An audit of the Registration Department has found a lapse in the monitoring of the registration of hundreds of Barbadian professionals to the extent that more than $6 million is owed to the State.
We refer again to previous Auditor General Reports that have red- flagged projects undertaken by the National Conservation Commission, Coastal Zone Management Unit, Urban Development Commission and National Housing Corporation, where millions of taxpayer dollars are unaccounted for. The case of the construction of the Crab Hill Police Station, repeatedly referred to in the reporting of the Auditor General, is one of several instances of the plaster remaining firmly attached to the sore.
Official records indicate that a combined sum of about $500 million has been spent on the GEMS project and the construction of the Greenland Landfill. What has been the result and benefit of these investments to the Barbadian citizenry?
Reports emanating from the Barbados Water Authority, the Barbados Transport Board, and several statutory corporations, as highlighted in reports laid in the Parliament of Barbados, speak to wastage, disappearances, and indeed pilfering, on a scale large enough to reach that hallowed Chamber in the first place. What has resulted from bringing these infelicities to public attention? Nothing.
We are reminded of the $12 million owed to the Barbados Government by the Barbados Turf Club being written off by the state. Why was this done?
The story of expensive inefficiencies is one that is repeated every year and everywhere in the public sector.
Then there is the tale of our high food import bill.
Every social thinker, every politician, political aspirant, agriculturist, talk show host or mimic has made reference to this indisputable fact over the past 20 or more years. And what has been done? Nothing. We cover that with imported plaster too.
We say that no thought has been given to banning the importation of certain food items that can be produced locally, simply because it has not happened.
Then we look at stalled projects like the Four Seasons, unpaid bills like that of Al Barrack, and we wonder: “What if. . .?”
The point here is that real and meaningful public sector reform has been a monumental joke, in as much as promises of economic structural reform have been mere rum and coke banter prior to the relaxing stupor.
Both of our political parties have a lot to account for. Both have succeeded in moving Barbados forward in many ways, but both have been miserable failures in overseeing true public sector reform.
The body politic will survive, only because it must. But someone must be willing to remove the plaster and treat the sore.