Mon | Dec 18, 2017

Ronald Thwaites | Now the boss has spoken

Published:Monday | November 20, 2017 | 12:00 AM

For all nationalists, it should be profoundly embarrassing that it has taken the bosses of the International Monetary Fund to convince us of the home truths about public-sector reform.

First, it was the under-reported counsel of the deputy director, and last week the urbane boss lady herself, who has confirmed that there will likely and painfully have to be considerable job losses and a huge change in operating culture if Jamaica is to have a cost-efficient public bureaucracy with enough money left to meaningfully improve needed public services.

Compare their directness with the short-sighted circumlocution in Parliament last week, where the prime minister made heavy weather of the elimination of a relatively small agency, the Road Maintenance Fund, promising unrealistically that job losses will be made up by private-sector opportunities, while the Opposition does not yet seem to grasp the urgency and inevitability of radical reorganisation of public services.

Consider, also, the passion of Senator Kavan Gayle of the Bustamante Industrial Trade Union, complaining that some Bank of Jamaica staff are on contract rather than 'permanent'. Never mind that the bill on which he was talking was to effect the extension of contract, not the establishment of permanency, for the governor of the bank himself.

The scope of public-service reform that Mrs Lagarde is speaking nicely about will involve rethinking of the very notion of a permanent job. In any efficient organisation, a worker holds a position for as long as he or she performs at a highly productive level.

 

HOLNESS' HOPES LAUGHABLE

 

Neither double-speak nor shallow thinking can take us where we have to go. Andrew Holness is reported as hoping for a speedy settlement of public-sector wage claims when it is his administration that has delayed negotiations for between six and nine months and still appears unprepared. Just ask the teachers and police.

And it is futile for him to appeal to the workers to accept an offer that would probably not even cover the effects of inflation. This is contempt for competent and diligent public servants who should be paid far more for their labour, as it is an undeserved bonus for the surly time-servers with permanent appointments, not to mention the partisan satraps in the service who are frustrating development while chanting prosperity.

Talk to many ministers of government and they will tell you how difficult it is to advance their projects because of bureaucratic torpor. The tribalists among them think that the answer to that is to install rabid Labourites in place of anybody suspected of PNP pedigree.

Then, of course, there will be the reverse action when the politics shifts, except they don't see that, expecting as they do to rule forever.

It was to prevent that corrupt caprice of political manipulation that the protection of permanent appointments was developed.

Isn't it clear that our unnecessarily divisive political culture has backed us into the stalemate of inefficiency to which the IMF points?

 

GOV'T HAS NO PROPER PLANS

 

The Government has no blueprint for thoroughgoing public-sector reform. Answering recent questions in the House, Audley Shaw proferred fuzzy objectives and imprecise timelines that will ensure, given anticipated further wage increases, more attrition of the qualified, and slow, if any, real GDP growth, either a failure to achieve the nine per cent target by the close of 2019 or a set of frantic cuts, butchering people and efficiency alike, to meet the boss' deadline.

The nation's working classes led the movement from colonialism to Independence. Their sacrifice has helped disproportionately to bring about the level of fiscal sustainability that has been wrought over the past five years. Their unions and civil-society supporters ought to be leading the reform process rather than resisting change and then having rupture forced upon us all.

Now the boss has spoken, and given successive governments' indecisive and compromised positions, organised labour and other civic interests should step forward, linking with progressive political tendencies to cut what will be a difficult but practical path towards labour retraining and rationalisation in the public sector and, ultimately, to lead towards increasingly higher levels of national total factor productivity.

Any takers?

- Ronald Thwaites is member of parliament for Kingston Central and opposition spokesman on education and training. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.