The cost of public sector inefficiency
If a random survey were to be conducted today among Barbadians to determine whether their preference for employment would be in the public or private sector, it is most likely that a majority would say the public sector, especially if they happen to be under 35 years old.
reasons which should be explored through deeper enquiry, the public sector somehow has come to be seen as a place where hard work is not required. As one young man put it the other day, it is a place to “breeze” and be rewarded at the end of the month with a guaranteed pay cheque for the least amount of effort.
The public sector, therefore, is seen as a haven for the lazy and unambitious. This perception stands in sharp contrast with, let’s say 30 years ago, when the dream of the average school leaver and university graduate looking to pursue a career outside of medicine or law, was to land a job in Government and contribute to national development.
The issue we are highlighting is not altogether new. Some politicians have spoken about it in frustration, mentioning cases where they were able to identify employment opportunities in the private sector for persons out of work in their constituencies and elsewhere, only to be told in some instances that their interest was in a Government job.
Whereas the private sector is seen as a place where persons have to work, deliver, abide by the rules or be let go, having a Government job, for many Barbadians, means you can arrive late for work, take a two-hour lunch break, another break sometimes if you have personal business to attend to, and then leave an hour or so before the end of the workday.
While this may be a bit of an exaggeration, it is the perception, nevertheless. Indeed, there have been stories about Government workers who reportedly showed up for work on mornings, left during the day to attend to businesses they operate on the side, and reappear in the afternoon. If this is the sort of work ethic that prevails in the public sector, it is little wonder that things generally take so long to happen, if they do happen at all.
But there is never such a thing as a free lunch. Someone ultimately has to pay and, in this particular case, it is the broad mass of taxpayers who find themselves saddled with a heavy burden of taxation to support a bureaucracy that is not delivering value for money. Indeed, it calls into question all the talk about public sector reform over the years. What really is there to show for these efforts?
Examining the performance of the Barbados economy during a recent nationally televised discussion sponsored by the Central Bank, Governor Dr DeLisle Worrell acknowledged that the public was not getting value for its tax dollars from the public sector.
“The public of Barbados is saying to me and to my colleagues in the Public Service, you are not giving us value for our taxes, and that is a prime issue
which we have to address,” he said.
Public sector inefficiency is costly all around. For example, it is undermining the possibility of higher economic growth because of the inordinate amount of time it often takes for key decisions to be made that have a direct impact on the private sector in carrying out its important role as the engine of growth.
It is also contributing to millions of dollars in wastage which are detailed year after year in the reports of the Auditor General. No one, it ever seems, is called to account.
The generally hardworking citizens of Barbados elect Governments every five years to provide solutions to the major issues facing the country; not to make excuses. Improving public sector efficiency is an issue which is crying out for urgent attention and requires political leadership that is not afraid to take the bull by the horns.
Real reform is needed to ensure that the public sector functions more as an asset, instead of a drain on the country.
Having said that, it must be acknowledged that Barbados owes its success, especially in the early years of Independence, to a Public Service which was highly respected across the Caribbean and beyond for its competence and professionalism. Remember when Barbados was considered the best managed country in the Caribbean?
We need to rediscover this “make-things-happen” public sector work ethic of the not too distant past. As the island observes its 50th anniversary of Independence and reflects on the lessons from this experience as it looks ahead to a brighter future, there could not be a better time. The contribution of the public sector remains as critical as ever.