Address by Cabinet Secretary, Dr. James Fletcher on the occasion of Public Sector Modernization
Chairman of CARICAD, Mr. Douglas Wattley, Executive Director of CARICAD, Mrs. Jennifer Astaphan, Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Labour Relations, Public Service and Cooperatives, Mr. Mark Louis, Mr. Richard Madavo of CARICAD, Ms. Cathy Higgins of DFID, distinguished invited guests, officers of the Government Information Service, ladies and gentlemen.
I wish to apologize for the absence of the Prime Minister, who cannot be with us today because of commitments that have taken him to Spain and Vienna.
When the Prime Minister asked me to deliver the Feature Address on his behalf, I instinctively turned to my copies of The New Public Management – Improving Research and Policy Dialogue, by Michael Barzelay, Radical Reform of the Civil Service, by Stephen Condrey and Robert Maranto, The New Public Service, Serving not Steering, by Janet V. Denhardt and Robert B. Denhardt, and Administrative Reform in Developing Nations, by Ali Farazmand, among others, to place my address within the proper theoretical and philosophical framework.
However, I was not too far into conceptualizing my address when I decided to abandon that approach and speak to you, instead, about the modernization of the Public Service that I know and in which I work in Saint Lucia; a Public Service that I am sure is not different to the one in which most, if not all, of you work. So, Mr. Chairman, today I will speak about the shortcomings of the public service in which I work and the modernization imperatives facing that institution.
Streamlining the Work of Cabinet
Let me start my address by focusing on what I believe is the first fundamental flaw of modernization approaches in the Caribbean – modernization very often starts from the bottom up and does not also start at the top, where it should. It is my firm belief modernization of the public service must start with that the ultimate policy and decision making body in the Public Service – the Cabinet. Cabinet articulates and defines the policy environment within which the public sector must operate. It is expected to provide overall management of the various agencies in the public service and establish a forum for the chief policy makers in these agencies to meet regularly and establish synergies in the operations of their Ministries. Cabinet should be a body where policy proposals are researched before they become a decision of Cabinet, and monitored and periodically evaluated after they are put into effect.
Sadly, however, Cabinet often finds itself pre-occupied with mundane activities, such as determining which private sector companies get concessions and the extent of these concessions, how many and which public servants get Study Leave with Pay, and which company or individual is eligible to receive an Alien’s Landholding License. The reluctance to devolve the decision-making process in areas such as these to the line ministries means that over fifty percent of the time of the ultimate policy making body in the country is spent deliberating on routine matters that impact relatively minimally on the viability of the country. Therefore, Mr. Chairman, the first step in public sector modernization must start with the operations of the Cabinet of Ministers. Cabinet needs to devolve more authority to line ministries, and even more importantly, these ministries, in turn, must be willing to take greater responsibility for decision-making.
In Saint Lucia, we have started this process by strengthening the policy research and dialogue functions of the Cabinet Office. The appointment of a Cabinet Policy Analyst two years ago, and the recent activation of a Cabinet secretariat position with responsibility for the monitoring and evaluation of Cabinet decisions, are both steps aimed at enhancing the policy assessment process. However, there is still a serious need for the streamlining of the functions of Cabinet so that it spends more time developing, defining and articulating policy and less time dispensing concessions and study awards, and this is an area where an organization like CARICAD can carve out a niche for itself.
Review of Organizational Structure
The second area on which I would like to touch is that of the structure of the public service. In Saint Lucia, despite a restructuring exercise that may be of more recent vintage than that which obtains in other jurisdictions, we still have Ministries whose organizational structure constrains them from functioning efficiently and responding effectively to the needs of their clients. The presence of rigid, one-size-fits-all structures comprising Permanent Secretaries, Deputy Permanent Secretaries, Assistant Secretaries, Accountants, Administrative Assistants, Senior Executive Officers, etc., regardless of the role or responsibility of the Ministry sometimes militates against the effective operation of the agency. We must recognize that the clients that some agencies have to service are changing, the needs are evolving, and the environment in which they are operating is becoming more complex. Therefore, the structure of the agency must be allowed to change, if necessary, to adjust to these transformations.
Enactment of Public Service Legislation
Another area desperately in need of attention is the legislative environment within which the Public Service operates. In many instances, and Saint Lucia is a prime example, we have Staff Orders that are expected to govern the behaviour of Public Officers. These Staff Orders, however, are dated and consequently, conspicuously silent on a number of critical issues. For example, and this is a matter that unfortunately I have had to deal with very recently, the Staff Orders are silent on issues of Sexual Harassment and provide no guidance in dealing with a situation where a female employee feels threatened or violated as a result of unsolicited and unwelcome sexual advances by a co-worker or supervisor. Surely, this glaring deficiency cannot and should not be allowed to continue. The Staff Orders are also mute on the use of technology in the work place. Therefore, the inappropriate use of a computer, cell phone, PDA, or any device of recent technological vintage is unaddressed in Staff Orders. The Staff Orders also prescribe boundaries for the involvement of public officers in political activity, but these prescriptions are increasingly being honoured more in breach than in observance, to the chagrin and discomfort of those who are charged with the responsibility to maintain discipline in the Public Service.
Consequently, we need to move to a situation where clearly
defined Public Service Acts and Regulations govern the behaviour of public
officers. I am aware that CARICAD initiated work in the development of a new
Public Service Act, which I believe got as far as the development of
instructions to drafters. In Saint Lucia, we have used this initial effort and
draft Public Sector legislation produced by our Prime Minister in a former life
to develop a draft Public Sector Act. I would strongly recommend that other
Governments move speedily in this direction.
Improved Performance Management
Mr. Chairman, the issue of performance management is one that concerns me greatly as a public sector manager. I find it inconceivable that an administrator can be asked to manage an agency with such poor and sometimes non-existent performance management tools. Every successful management system must operate with a system of rewards and penalties. Sadly, the Public Service appears to operate with only a system of rewards. Even more distressingly, the scores of quiet, unassuming, hard working public officers are seldom the ones who are rewarded. That benefit often falls to the louder, self-aggrandizing, credit-grabbing officers who know just where to pitch their claims.
Our system of assessing the performance of our public
officers does not lend itself towards the modernization or improvement of the
public service. Public Officers are often evaluated using a static and sometimes
irrelevant instrument that does not assess their ability to carry out the myriad
responsibilities of their position. When you compound this with an obvious
reluctance among many Public Sector managers to give a less than favourable
assessment of their subordinates, the result is a situation where almost
everybody is above average or exceptional.
We cannot continue to run a Public Service where
under-performing or incompetent Public Officers are not only sheltered by their
managers and the system, but are masqueraded as above average or exceptional. We
must find a way to deal with incompetence and inefficiency in the Public
Service. Sadly, in Saint Lucia, the way in which we have often dealt with this
problem has been to transfer the officer out of the Department where he or she
is underperforming into another. In almost every case where this has happened,
and I know of quite a few examples, the situation has not improved, and in some
instances it has worsened. Incompetence should not be transferred, it should be
dealt with. Our inability to address this situation is having a demoralizing
impact on the many Public Officers who strive to perform at a high level every
day, and is perpetuating the inaccurate perception that persons on the outside
looking in have of the Service.
Need to Innovate
Another imperative that I would like to touch on in this far from exhaustive list is the need for innovation. Too often, Public Officers take the standard, uninspired and pedestrian approach in dealing with an issue. It boggles the mind to see a Public Officer employ a modus operandi to deal with a problem that he or she knows has failed to yield results in the past, yet goes along and does it anyway. The reason often being that the Officer is reluctant to try something different for fear of being blamed if his or her attempt does not succeed. Managers are also very hesitant to encourage innovation or risk-taking among Public Officers, again out of fear that they will have to take ultimate responsibility for a less than successful outcome. Change or modernization in any endeavour requires a level of innovation, risk-taking or entrepreneurship. Public Officers must be urged to adopt these characteristics and managers must encourage these traits whenever they see them. In every instance that I have seen of positive change in the Public Service in Saint Lucia, there has been obvious entrepreneurship and innovation on the part of both the manager and staff. Unfortunately, we have become too comfortable with the ‘cut and paste’ approach to management and operation. We need to generate new ideas and concepts if we are to survive in an increasingly competitive regional and global marketplace. We must not be afraid to change and we must not shy away from initiating change, as long as that change is needed to improve the quality of our service delivery.
We cannot continue to quote the Singapore and the New Zealand models as if they are the panacea for all our ills. Neither should we expect success if we were to cut and paste those models, or elements of them, into our way of work and life.
We need to create a West Indian change model for our Public Service that recognizes our own unique attributes and norms, addresses our weaknesses, and builds on our many strengths. This is why I discarded my text books when I prepared for today’s address. I am not suggesting that we re-invent the wheel but, to extend the analogy, merely that we understand that low profile tyres may be inappropriate for navigating our robust terrain or that snow tyres or chains may slow us down and stifle the creativity for which we are known.
Developing Conflict Resolution and Negotiating Skills
Mr. Chairman, the modernization of the Public Service has inherent seeds of conflict that must be managed. Obviously, new ideas will compete with traditional norms, innovative processes will stand in opposition to outdated modes, and the agent of change will often be seen as a destabilizer, and a threat to a cozy and inefficient status quo.
In such a milieu, Public Officers who are charged with the responsibility for managing change must develop the skills of negotiation and conflict resolution, while remaining steadfast and resolute in their action. Senior Public Officers must, therefore, develop a high threshold for dealing with criticisms. They must be able to articulate the reasons for the decisions they have taken and the path that they are pursuing, while listening patiently to all contending viewpoints. However, they should not yield to any pressures to return to the status quo of inefficiency and ineptness. The public requires and expects a higher level of service delivery and the relentless pursuit of that goal should never be compromised.
Mr. Chairman, I want to conclude by stating unequivocally that I am highly optimistic about the future of the Public Service in the Caribbean. We have extremely talented and skilled Public Officers, many of whom are dedicated, hard working and conscientious. We also have a cadre of managers that is as good as or better than any equivalent group in the private sector. We need to create the environment in which such obvious talent can blossom and realize its full potential to work towards the betterment of our society. We need to address our inability to deal with the under-performing and inept and we must establish clear and unambiguous standards to govern performance and behaviour in the Service. Most importantly, we must streamline and modernize the operations of our highest decision-making bodies so that they may provide the policy direction and guidance required to mould the growth and development of the New Public Service. I am also hopeful that the New CARICAD will play an important role in helping to catalyse this exciting period of growth and development in our Caribbean Public Service, and I see this two-day Workshop as another step by CARICAD in the right direction.
It gives me great pleasure, therefore, to declare this Workshop on Public Sector Modernization open.
I thank you.
© 2013 Government of Saint Lucia. All rights reserved.