Colin Bullock, Guest Columnist
"It is written" does not mean "so shall it be", and yet we repeatedly mistake intention for achievement. Socio-economic policy has been informed by the best of intentions, and yet we are still struggling with the same problems that confronted us in 1962.
There is still poverty (especially rural), unemployment, and extreme inequity in distribution of economic opportunity, resources and income.
In addition, the economy is not productive and is not growing and the sectoral drivers of growth 50 years ago are "falling by the wayside".
The current issue of the unpaid - traffic ticket database is symptomatic of the insufficiency of 'good intentions'. We are at a loss as to how a list could have been published without the obvious expedience of matching against a database of payments and judicial settlements.
Jamaica, from the 1980s, has been engaged in the process of public-sector reform and modernisation. Driven largely by the World Bank, this process was seen as being necessary, given increased exposure to international competition in a context of globalisation.
The Nettleford Committee in 1992 proposed that there should be clear assignment of responsibility for specific tasks and results to facilitate public officials being held accountable for their performance. In many instances, this ideal has not been achieved.
The failure to facilitate operational autonomy as a basis for accountability has been justified on various grounds. One such is "after nobody neva vote fi dem".
But what do we expect from politicians when we vote for them? To catch thieves and murderers? To pursue tax delinquents and collect taxes? Certainly not! And yet we expect our elected leaders to be directly involved in spending money, providing employment and providing benefits on an individual basis.
This blurring of the boundaries of responsibility between elected representatives and public servants effectively means that neither can really be held accountable.
Current trends in crime reduction were certainly facilitated by the resolution of the stand-off in west Kingston in May 2010. There is also a clear delegation of operational autonomy to the constabulary where the responsible minister, in response to queries on operational policy, said, "Ask the commissioner." By this we understand that an unshackled commissioner will keep his job on the basis of continuing operational success.
This understanding is in keeping with the even more extreme mode of operation of the acclaimed pioneer in public-sector administrative reform. In New Zealand, public servants operate on the basis of a literal contract to deliver agreed outputs on the basis of budgetary inputs.
The other side of "nobody voted for them" is what Carl Stone explored as Democracy and Clientelism two decades ago. Electoral success is on the basis of support from financier, organiser and voter, and the expected payback is 'let-off'.
The capacity to deliver school books and funeral grants assumes an importance at least equal to that of advancing a failing legislative agenda. The Constituency Development Fund, therefore, has overwhelming bipartisan support. Its opponents are either ignored or reminded that elected representatives are expected to 'do things', and that is the unchangeable nature of our reality. This direct intervention, though, undermines the role of the public service and of objectivity in the allocation of scarce public resources.
When we get past the lack of electoral credentials of public servants, we often hear, "After dem no good." There is nostalgia for the stature of the alumni of the colonial civil service: Sir Egerton Richardson and the 'Three Bs' (Brown, Barber and Bonnick). We then forget that in emerging from colonialism, those distinguished public servants had enjoyed greater operational autonomy and were allowed to serve with distinction across political jurisdictions.
There are elements of technical excellence in today's public service. The tendency to politicise the public service, culminating in the en bloc dismissal of the Public Service Commission, has discouraged the expression of technical excellence (for fear of offending the political leadership). This does not exonerate public servants from abdicating their responsibility for expenditure of public resources, as defined by law.
The tendency to chop and change at the top when there is a change of political regime deprives the service of experience, expertise and institutional memory. Precipitate and repeated removal of senior public servants often means accelerated promotion of excellent middle-level officers to leadership for which they have not been fully prepared.
Instability in public-sector employment, especially at the more senior levels, discourages many of the best and brightest of our youth from valuing and seeking careers in the public service.
Jamaica inherited a colonial civil service that had among its objectives, employment opportunities for products of our English-style, grammar-school education. This created a basis for overemployment and underpayment, further undermining the capacity for generalised excellence.
Reviews of our repeated administrative reform programmes have suggested increasing rewards at the top, failure to increase attractiveness at the bottom to facilitate recruitment, and a failure to engage the different levels of the public service in the process. The substitution of statutory bodies and, more recently, executive agencies has sought to go around the problem by creating capacity outside the formal civil service, doing little to enhance the capacity of the civil service itself.
The other means of working around the civil service has been through the use of advisers - local and international.
Indeed, in the case of glaring incapacities, either the Government has asked for, or foreign funding sources have insisted on, the funding of internationally sourced expertise.
Again, the constabulary is a case where this intervention is seen as being positively employed. In the face of concern regarding the necessity for such intervention, it is important that need and value for money are established and that there is a transfer of technology to enhance the capacity of the incumbents of the recipient institutions.
There is talk of an implementation deficit. Operational implementation is not the optimal role of elected representatives. Political appointees, by virtue of the source of appointment, do not have the appropriate incentives to ensure performance.
Effective implementation demands a professional public service, adequately trained and remunerated, with clear contractual obligations to deliver outputs in exchange for their pay and other budgetary inputs.
There are further hurdles, including addressing the size of the public sector and, indeed, the role, function and scope of government. Without this effective empowerment of the public service, however, we run the risk of continuing down a road paved with the illusion of good intentions.
Colin Bullock is an economist and adviser to Finance Minister Peter Phillips. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.