Sun | Aug 20, 2017

Editorial | Civil service training and value for money

Published:Thursday | March 9, 2017 | 3:00 AM

If we understand how these things usually work, Wayne Jones is likely to have received a tongue-lashing from his principals at the finance ministry. Yet, Mr Jones performed a service for Jamaica, for which he should be commended.

By being honest, he has highlighted a significant gap in public-sector management in the context of the long-proposed overhaul of the State's bureaucracy, as well as the need for accountability when taxpayers' money is being spent, including ensuring that they get the best return on their investment.

This newspaper, by way of data received via an access to information requisition, determined that in the seven years between 2010 and 2017, inclusive, the Jamaican Government spent over J$1.4 billion on the training of 1,453 civil servants. This figure doesn't represent the entire expenditure on training throughout the public sector.

What is clear is that the Government has no idea how, and if, this spending on the education and training enhances the performance of these employees or, ultimately, the quality of service received by the public. There is no tracking of outcomes.

"I can't say that we have a system in place," said Mr Jones, a deputy financial secretary. "We're not as sophisticated in that process as we would like to be."

But it is not only in the measurement of post-training performance that the public sector falls short. There is no central database of the skills in which staff has been upgraded, so as to make it easier to match people with areas of need. Indeed, this newspaper was told that to know the specific areas in which staff had upgraded skills with government bursaries would require perusing the personnel file of each beneficiary.

Why it is all so surprising is that Jamaica has talked about transforming its public sector for the better part of two decades.

Successive administrations have established task forces, oversight groups and implementation czars and countless other arrangements to get the job done. The transformation hasn't happened, largely because reform, which might include displacing staff, is a politically unpopular matter.

It can cost government elections.

 

Mechanisms were expected

 

Nonetheless, we had expected that with all the reviews and analyses over many years there would be certain basic mechanisms in place such as a system to test how training staff affected the efficiency in a government ministry, department or agency. Further, such an instrument for benchmarking performance ought to have been deemed a matter of urgency, given that public-sector reform has been a critical undertaking in Jamaica's agreements with the International Monetary Fund since 2010 and marked for special attention under the current standby agreement agreed to last November.

Under the current arrangement, not only is the public sector wage projected to fall by about a percentage point to nine per cent of GDP by the 2018-19 fiscal year, there is to be a determination of what precisely is expected to be the role of the State and, therefore, the services the Government is expected to deliver. The consensus, on the face of it, is for a slimmed down, streamlined State, which performs core functions and facilitates the private sector in economic activity.

That requires an efficient bureaucracy, whose performance is appropriately measured beyond reliance on anecdotal information. Thanks to Mr Jones, we know that putting tools of measure in place is a matter of urgency.