Over the years Barbados’ public service and those who work within it have come in for considerable praise as well as condemnation.
There is more than enough written evidence to support the position that both of our major political parties have acknowledged that their success with the social and economic programmes that have transformed Barbados over the last half century in particular was due in large measure to the quality of the public servants involved in the implementation.
There can be no denying that our emphasis on the delivery of quality education to our people, and the recognition generally by the population that the one sure avenue to personal improvement was making full use of the education opportunities available, made for a quality public service.
At the same time, we would be less than genuine if we did not also point out that on too many occasions there has also been ample evidence that some of these same public servants have been afflicted by an illness that prevents them from seeing the importance of their contribution to national achievement.
In a sentence: They too often shortchange the taxpayers who keep them employed, by being unprofessional and failing to give an honest day’s work for the wages they receive. This practice is even more reprehensible when those who engage in the conduct are senior officers whose decision-making, or lack thereof, can seriously impact the livelihood of others.
That having been said though, it is also very clear that the quality of service given by our professional public officers can often be diminished by the policy direction and conduct of another breed of public servant known as the politician — and by extension the political party.
Regardless of which of our two main political parties is in Opposition, there is always a repeated area of grave concern about the way the Government conducts itself. But when sides change the conduct remains. We refer to the matter of budgeting.
We readily accept that no system, whether Government or private sector can be so precise, down to the last cent, when projecting spending for the year ahead — particularly when dealing with multiple areas and totals in the billions of dollars.
But one can’t help but conclude that there is some deliberateness to a system that year after year compels a minister to return to Parliament month after month for supplementary votes, at times in the tens of millions of dollars to keep government functioning.
Are the variables so huge from year to year that a Government would be so off in its estimate of what, for instance, the Transport Board would need that it has to seek an extra $10 million or $20 million in the middle of the year? Is it that it’s more palatable to show smaller numbers during the annual Estimates debate in Parliament?
There is no doubt, given the expertise in our public service and modern accounting practices, that we can do much better than we have done in recent years. How can we manage our financial affairs nationally if the picture painted of our expenditure needs is never a true reflection of reality?
A budget system that is so loose also allows our politicians to treat our national funds in ways that do not reflect the best thought, and can reasonably, in an election year, lead ordinary folks to believe that genuinely needed votes are really nothing more than spending to garner votes.
There will always be a need for our leaders to return to Parliament for funds as a result of unexpected occurrences, but there can be no excuse for supplementaries that become necessary for no other reason than Government’s laziness or political expediency.