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Public sector reforms: successes and failures

Published:Sunday | August 2, 2015 | 8:00 AMCarlton Davis, Contributor
Dr Carlton Davis

The following is Part One of a two-part article by Dr Carlton Davis on public sector reforms in Jamaica. See the conclusion next Sunday.

I read this newspaper's report of July 27, 2015, regarding CAPRI's report on Public Sector Reforms in Jamaica, which, to put it euphemistically, was less than impressed with the reforms undertaken so far. I do not know what data were available to CAPRI in producing its report; but as I was a key player in the efforts between 1995 and 2008, I thought I would present my perspectives based on a presentation I made to the Parliamentary Administrative and Accountability Committee, in September 2010.

I will structure my comments as follows:

(1) A quick review of reform efforts from the 1940s to the early 1990s.

(2) The local and international context which guided reform efforts on my watch and will have to guide efforts currently and in the medium to long term; including a look at what should be the role of the Jamaican State.

(3) The Reform Agenda - 1993-2008, and what we have learnt from the experience.

(4) Some recommendations which I made at the time and some of which are still relevant today.

A report by a Margaret Priestley, Administrative Reforms, 1942-1980, summarised the various measures by successive Jamaican governments ? colonial, internally self-governing, and politically independent, to improve the performance of the public service. She listed, among others, the following:

- 1940s - Report by Committee on the Public Service

- 1950s - Report by Working Party on Staffing and Salary Gradings

- 1960s - UN Report on Public Administration in Jamaica

- 1970s - Report on Training Requirements for Government Accountants and Auditors


New System of Classification and Pay


Creation of a Ministry of the Public Service (1973)

Report on Statutory Boards

Following the period covered by Priestley, we had, between 1980 and 1995, two administrative reform programmes called ARP I and ARP II, which comprised Programme Budgeting; Introduction of a Financial Management Programme; a Human Resource Management Information System and Corporate Planning; abolishing the Ministry of the Public Service and the absorption of the reform functions in the Cabinet Office and the establishment functions in the Ministry of Finance.

We also had, once in the 1980s and another in the early 1990s, two 'waves' of layoffs in the public service: an estimated 20,000 in 1984/85 and 1985/86, and some 10,000 in 1992.

Any reform programme of the State has to be framed in terms of the context in which it has to operate, and its roles.


The context in which the State has to operate


(1) A redefinition of its role such that it does not, under normal circumstances, involve itself in activities that could be more efficiently and effectively carried out by private enterprise, and the community (the Lester B. Pearson, International Airport in Toronto (is/was) an example of it) and where there is no substantial public interest to take into account.

(2) Fiscal austerity which has been with us for nearly four decades, but especially in the current global economic and financial environment and the inevitable changes that will be an outcome of this crisis.

(3) The rising expectations of our society for more and better services from the State; yet a resistance to increased taxes or fees to do it.

(4) The anaemic economic growth we have experienced for most of the last 40 years.

(5) The impact of globalisation in such areas as:

- The lowering of trade barriers

- Liberalisation of the world capital markets

- Increased competition for knowledge workers

- Human rights

- The Environment (Global Warming, etc)

(6) The importance and impact of information and communications technology (ICT) in areas such as the speed with which information (such as an unpleasant incident in our tourism sector) travels around the world; as an efficiency (and corruption reduction) tool, to facilitate education and health care and to manage our physical environment.

(7) The application of so-called New Public Management Principles in the operations of the State. These principles include:

n Shift in emphasis from command and control at the centre to delegation of authority on the theory that those nearest the area of operation are best able to manage it effectively and efficiently.

- The disaggregation of public bureaucracies into managerially autonomous units.

- A focus on performance management

- Placing much greater focus on quality services.

- A ?division of labour? (although impossible to be absolutely discrete) in the policy process with the central ministries focusing more on advisory, monitoring and evaluation functions and the agencies on implementation functions?.

(8) The recognition that New Public Management Principles should be supported by an appropriate ethical framework to ensure that the values characteristic of much of the old public service are not undermined.

(9) Dealing with a number of paradoxes in reforming the public service with which we are faced such as the following:

- Four important areas of Government, which account for more than 60 per cent of non-debt, but, efficiency considerations apart, are underfunded. These are Education, Security, Justice and Health. Everyone agrees, for example, that Jamaica could do with a higher number of police personnel per capita to counter the crime wave we have been experiencing over several years.

- Financial resources are needed to carry out reforms (not least of all in regard to ICT) on an effective and sustainable basis, but Government has, for the most part, been constrained in how much it can spend on reform initiatives (I do not know how much attention CAPRI paid to this consideration).

- While the laying-off of employees may have to be done in a public sector reform, modernisation or transformation process Government, unlike a private employer (and even here this is not always so) cannot be indifferent to the plight of those laid off, as in some way or the other it has to deal with at least some of the consequences.

- Government has to compete to attract and retain the ?best and the brightest? to work in the public service. (This is currently a huge challenge, given wage restraints and 'migrations' to the better-paying private sector and overseas).

- When an economy is in the doldrums there is more pressure on the State for service from the Government gratis or at minimum costs.

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