Who Should Go Home?

Central Bank Governor has been asked to resign.  From published reports, it appears that the Board members disagreed with the Governor’s plans to improve the management of the Bank.  If this is the only reason, and if this will be the new criterion for dismissing those responsible for managing public services, then the National Insurance Scheme should prepare themselves for applications for unemployment benefits from most chief executive officers of statutory corporations, and heads of government departments, in the coming weeks.

Perhaps the most important Board activities are to set attainable performance standards for the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) to meet, and then monitoring the CEO’s performance with effective accountability measures.  To reduce the risk of a CEO misleading the Board, one of the first responsibilities of any Board of public services is to specify a management system within which the Government service will be developed and delivered, and the performance standards attained.

Given the frequent complaints about poor government services, it seems that our CEOs and department managers have not established an effective management system.  If this is true, then the Boards are not performing their most basic function.

There is a basic international standard for managing an organisation.  The Quality Management System’s reference is ISO 9001 and it is available to the Government of Barbados.  Those Boards who have failed to direct their Chief Executive Officers to implement the ISO 9001 Quality Management System have done the Statutory Corporation’s longsuffering employees, and frustrated customers, a grave disservice.

When management of specific government services was transferred from Permanent Secretaries to Boards, the principal assumption was that placing public services under private sector influenced Board management would result in the improved management of the government services.  However, those public services that remained within government departments, and were managed by Permanent Secretaries, appear to offer no worse a quality of service.  Therefore, the experiment with Boards has failed to significantly improve the management of public services in Barbados, and those Permanent Secretaries who were relieved of their responsibilities can feel vindicated.

The principal reason for Boards’ relative ineffectiveness appears to be that Board members were selected by the measure of their loyalty to the political party in power – a proven recipe for failure.

So what should we do right now.  First, all Boards that have not directed their CEOs to implement the ISO 9001 quality management system have demonstrated an intolerable level of incompetence.  Therefore, they should be dissolved immediately, and the management authority should be reverted to the relevant Permanent Secretaries.

Second, all Permanent Secretaries should direct all Statutory Corporation CEO’s and department managers to implement the ISO 9001 Quality Management System with dispatch.  Third, CEOs and managers who delay the implementation of the ISO 9001 Quality Management System are harming public sector employees and frustrating the public, and should be directed to seek their fortune elsewhere.

Barbados public employees can thrive within a properly managed work environment, but they are being held back.  Barbados has wasted at least 20 years unnecessarily keeping public sector employees down, while other countries have improved.  An example in a paper titled “ISO 9000 and the public sector” by Dr. Lawrence Eicher, ISO Secretary-General, should suffice.

In 1997, the customs department in El Salvador was very poorly managed, with “problems relating to sanitary conditions, delays in customs proceedings, unduly long merchandise dispatch times, abuses of confidence, accumulation of merchandise in holds and hundreds of tonnes of abandoned goods.”

“In response, the top management of the Ministry of Finance launched a rigorous clean-up plan in June 1997, which included ISO 9000 implementation.  As a result, the customs service has been transformed into the most modern in the region with much faster enquiry response times, dramatically improved efficiency, practically no complaints and increased customer satisfaction.

The change for the better has been such that Salvadoran Customs is visited by delegations from Latin American countries to analyse the impact of ISO 9000. The programme was so successful that it was followed up with others in the Directorate General of Internal Taxes and the Internal Tax Court of Appeals.”

“Perhaps the most spectacular feature of the Salvadoran project for deep cultural change in an organization, is that it was implemented without dismissing a single employee, many of whom had worked in the Ministry of Finance for more than 20 years and were over 50 years of age.”

So, rather than planning to send home another few thousand public employees, try keeping the employees, changing the management system, and dismissing the managers who attempt to frustrate the process.

Grenville Phillips II is the founder of Solutions Barbados and can be reached at NextParty246@gmail.com

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