Bold steps to move Jamaica forward

Published: Sunday | February 10, 2013 Comments 0
Robert Wynter
Robert Wynter

Robert Wynter, Contributor

The outgoing head of the Office of Utilities Regulation, Zia Mian, recently declared that the blame for our continued high energy cost must be placed squarely at the feet of Government as despite the many meetings and reports, successive administrations have failed to take action where action is needed.

This is just another reminder that as we await the inking of an International Monetary Fund deal, Jamaicans continue to grapple with an anaemic economy, high unemployment, high debt burden, a currency dwindling in value as our reserves shrink, poor education outcomes, a creaking infrastructure and health system. These conditions bring to mind the 'The Sinking Ship' by well-known Calypsonian Gypsy the chorus of which goes like this:

Captain, this ship is sinking;

Captain, these seas are rough, oh, yes

We gas tank almost empty; no electricity,

We oil pressure reading low

Shall we abandon ship? Or shall we stay on it and perish slow?

We doh know, we doh know;

Captain, you tell we what to do.

How did we get into this mess in the first place? And what can we do to get out of it and move forward?

NOT SHORT OF RESOURCES

I am now convinced more than ever that Jamaica is not short of resources; rather, it is our misallocation and underutilisation of resources that have got us into the mess. This is validated by the fact that productivity has declined or, at best, remained invariant over the past 30 years.

When a private-sector organisation misallocates or underutilises resources, market and competitive forces ensure that the organisation eventually goes out of business as consumers usually have a choice. When it happens in the public sector, such an organisation continues to be funded by taxpayers, who have no choice, and the entire government gets steeped in debt.

Our challenge, therefore, is to correct the misallocation and underutilisation by the public sector. Unlike Mr O'Neil Grant, the president of the Jamaica Civil Service Association, who believes we need more resources to better utilise our resources, I believe we need to be purpose-driven and to have good leadership and management.

John Kotter, in an article published in the Harvard Business Review, made clear the difference between management and leadership. According to Mr Kotter, management helps an organisation to cope with complexity, while leadership helps to cope with change. Mr Kotter explains that both are important; and very few individuals are competent at both.

My housekeeper is the only staff member at my home and, therefore, needs no management. Our public sector, on the other hand, with some 120,000 persons who cannot each operate independently as my housekeeper does, requires management to cope with its complexity.

However, the Public Service Commission, Cabinet Office and Ministry of Finance, along with the myriad of structures, procurement and other rules, report requirements, etc, all designed to cope with complexity, have only succeeded in choking the public-sector bodies, resulting in chaos, delays and poor performance generally. Our public sector is, therefore, overmanaged.

Successive Cabinets, expected to provide the leadership, vision, direction and strategy to enable the public sector to achieve high levels of performance, have failed to do so, and instead have contributed to it being overmanaged. The natural result of an underled and overmanaged public sector has been the mess in which we find ourselves.

RATIONALISATION PLAN

The Public Sector Transformation Unit published its latest Public Sector Rationalisation Plan in May 2011. The Plan recommends services to be contracted out and entities to be privatised, merged or abolished. The Plan also lists systematic areas for transformation; however, only devolution of authority appears to be transformative in nature.

My only challenge is that the Plan suggests that authority should be devolved to a select few entities. Instead, authority ought to be devolved to all ministers and permanent secretaries for the management of their respective ministries, and then they need to be held accountable for the ministry's purpose-driven performance.

This is in line with Section 94, Subsection 1 of the Jamaica Constitution as follows: "Where any minister has been charged with the responsibility for a subject or department of government, he shall exercise general direction and control over the work relating to that subject and over that department; and, subject as aforesaid and to such direction and control, the aforesaid work and the department shall be under the supervision of a permanent secretary appointed in accordance with the provisions of Section 126 of this Constitution."

Authority would then be devolved from the Public Service Commission, the Ministry of Finance, and the Cabinet Office for any hiring and firing; approval to expend funds once an overall ministry budget is approved; and from any approval of strategic, corporate or operational plans.

HOLDING LEADERS ACCOUNTABLE

I believe we are capable of much more than what we have achieved as a country, having an abundance of human, intellectual and social capital in all areas of society. It is precisely for that reason that I criticise (it is not simply my right, but, in fact, my duty to do so) our leaders as I know they can do much better.

The current People's National Party administration developed an excellent strategy and executed on that strategy to win the December 2011 general election. With many of us buying into that vision and its direction - people power! The purpose of that strategy was to influence voter behaviour, and it succeeded.

Having won the election, however, the administration has failed to realise that it is no longer voters' behaviour that needs influencing. Rather, it is those in the public sector who will, in turn, influence national behaviour: investors to kick-start the economy and create new jobs; parents, teachers and school leaders to focus on student learning in order to ramp up education outcomes; road users to behave with civility to reduce fatalities; the general public to honour their responsibilities by willingly paying to Caesar what is his, by obeying rules, protecting the environment and by being resilient to climate change.

This will require strategic thinking by the Cabinet, clarifying a vision and direction while aligning all members of the public sector to that vision and strategic direction.

THE WAY FORWARD

The prime minister, Cabinet and parliamentarians are capable of effecting reform in society, which will result in sustainable reduction in the debt, corruption, poverty and crime; and increased education outcomes, employment and quality of life.

I suggest they take the following bold steps as we approach the new administrative year and Budget process:

1. The prime minister to convene a strategic transformation retreat with Cabinet ministers, state ministers and permanent secretaries to: articulate a 2020 Vision, direction and strategy for the public sector to achieve that Vision; to clarify major five-year (2017-18) purpose-driven performance targets aligned to that Vision and assign those targets to the respective ministers and permanent secretaries.

2. The prime minister to direct ministers and permanent secretaries to articulate respective ministry strategic transformation plans (not corporate, business or operational plans) to achieve the respective five-year purpose-driven targets. Once targets are agreed, the format of these strategic transformation plans should be left entirely to the discretion of the ministry leadership.

3. The Parliament to direct the finance minister that each ministry's 2013-14 Budget be equal in total (recurrent plus capital) to that agreed after the first supplementary estimates for 2012-2013; and to empower the respective minister and permanent secretary to reallocate budgetary and other resources to maximise ministry performance without any interference from the Ministry of Finance.

4. The Parliament, on behalf of the people of Jamaica, to hold the prime minister, ministers and permanent secretaries accountable for the achievement of the performance targets through quarterly reports and using appropriate rewards and sanctions. Ministers and permanent secretaries to likewise hold board members, as well as ministry, department and agency staff, accountable, with appropriate rewards and sanctions.

Robert Wynter is the managing director of Strategic Alignment Limited, which facilitates organisational transformation and leadership development. Comments are welcome at columns@gleanerjm.com and rob.wyn@hotmail.com.



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