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Enough suffering

Barbados’ civil servants, be they appointed or temporary, deserve better!

The uncertainty, ambiguity, and sheer confusion thousands of them have suffered leading up to and following the August 13 Financial Statement and Budgetary Proposals is simply unacceptable.

In recent years there has been a crescendo of criticism heaped on some of the island’s public servants, much of it for unacceptable productivity and worrying inefficiency and much of it deserved.

But surely the fact that the running of government administratively from the messenger to the Permanent Secretary has not ground to a halt should suggest that somebody is doing something right, even it seems public sector reform has been a figment of someone’s imagination.

Even when we take their shortcomings into consideration, however, Barbados’ public servants have been through a lot over the last five years.

Unfortunately, people tend to speak of the civil service in an abstract way, forgetting it is made up of regular Barbadians with food to buy, bills to pay, and children to school.

And like all other Barbadians working in the private sector or working for themselves they have had to do so in an environment of increased prices for all of these things and more, but they have also had to do so while contending with a wage freeze.

If that were not bad enough, then came the austerity measures in the recent Budget.

We agree totally with those in and out of the current administration who insist that all Barbadians have to share in the “pain” necessary for us to collectively benefit from a better economic future.

But the way things have unfolded around temporary civil servants and even their appointed colleagues in recent days does seem unreasonable.

It has been made worse by the uncertain and ambiguous nature of comments from people who should be doing the opposite.

Chief among them is Prime Minister Freundel Stuart, who has ultimate ministerial responsibility for the civil service.

Reacting last Friday to news that thousands of temporary public sector workers were unlikely to be paid, he said: “I do not know that the public service is in chaos.

“I met with all of the heads of department – permanent secretaries and persons of related grades who are attached to the Prime Minister’s Office and that number is not small.

“We had that meeting … and it was not my understanding that the public service was in any chaos. What I did understand was, because of the way Smart Stream functions, at a certain time, people are just cut off of the system, and have to be put back on because the computer does not ask any questions.”

And then there were the union leaders, the National Union of Public Workers General Secretary Dennis Clarke and his Barbados Workers Union counterpart Senator Sir Roy Trotman, saying they too were in the dark about pay issues and worker dislocation.

Whether these problems are located primarily in the statutory corporation or “central government” as Stuart implied is irrelevant, and based on the information made public so far it would seem that the problem is bigger than that.

It suggests that even before government’s $436 million fiscal consolidation plan really gets going that there are questions which can be fairly raised about its efficient implementation.

It also raises questions about whether Stuart, Minister of Finance and other senior government spokesmen have provided sufficient information about the real effect of these measures and related timelines.

The Prime Minister has promised to speak to Barbadians more frequently about the things that matter most to them.

These issues related to the civil service are a good place to start, and the sooner the better.

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