Plain-speaking Cabinet minister Donville Inniss is demanding greater accountability from public officers when the delivery of service to the Government’s clients, including businesses and the general public, falls below expectations.
Inniss, who holds the portfolios of trade, industry, international business and small business development, said public officers were often not held accountable for their failures and mistakes.
Inniss made his position known yesterday in remarks to the monthly business luncheon of the Barbados Chamber of Commerce and Industry (BCCI).
Speaking on the theme of the meeting –– Business Facilitation: Improving Barbados’ Competitiveness, Inniss went as far as to suggest that it was time to discipline those officers who were in breach of professional conduct.
“There must . . . be a greater level of accountability from my end in the public sector,” he said, adding: “I don’t believe there is enough accountability. Not enough . . . the people are not held accountable for their failures and mistakes too often from my end quite frankly.”
To illustrate an example, he drew a hypothetical case in the government sector which he believed reflected a level of unprofessionalism and inconsistency in applying the rules of engagement with the public.
“So, you go before an officer who has all the power to decide whether your application is processed or fees paid et cetera. That officer must exercise that power in a most judicious and fair manner. Not one where you beat your chest and say ‘well, the buck stops with me, so I will do this whether you like it or not,’” Inniss noted.
He made it clear there must be a level in consistency across-the-board in relation to everyone.
In their dealings with Government, Inniss believed business people and members of the general public deserved nothing less than respect, a high level of professionalism and clarity on matters.
“And where there is failure on my end to act accordingly, that you must be able to feel that you are empowered to escalate it up the chain and some action be taken,” he said. “Quite frankly, the issues that some of you will raise today are sometimes kept at a lower level and the managers sometimes are not aware of them.”
Inniss said he guessed it was because of fear.
“So we must ensure you feel free and are empowered to raise your concerns; but not just to have a listening ear, but for us to get back to you and say ‘ok, we made a mistake. We apologize. Here is how it will be dealt with . . . Or we were right. My officer was correct in his position and here is why. Or, the officer was totally out of place and here is the disciplinary action that has been taken. And I don’t think there is anything less you can ask for.”
Inniss said he was sensing that government officers do not understand what businesses go through daily.
“There is a failure on my end in the public sector sometimes to understand why or how our failure to respond to you with an application matter within a day or two affects your business. Because, as far as we are concerned, you are just another one to process. And tough luck, I may have other things to do, including taking a day off, sick leave or whatever,” the minister said.
Inniss said public officers must also recognize that the private sector pays their salaries but admitted that appreciation sometimes was lacking.
He also pointed to instances where business owners and the general public were given inconsistent responses by different officers. This, he said, was not fair and must end.