A local consultant today decried Government for the “extraordinarily long” time it takes for professionals who provide expert services to Government departments to receive payment.
Executive Director of the Barbados Coalition of Service Industries (BCSI) Lisa Cummins complained that consultants are often made to wait three months, and sometimes up to a year before they are paid, even for projects for which funding has been secured from international agencies.
In addition to inconveniencing the professionals, the delays helped to perpetuate inefficiencies in the public service, the business support organization head said this morning at the signing of a memorandum of understanding between BCSI and the local chapter of the regional network of management consultants, the Caribbean Institute of Certified Management Consultants.
She said the problem has been a long running one, but there has seen “a major spike” in the last two years.
“We understand that there is a cash flow challenge at the level of Government, but in many instances we are talking about programmes that are externally funded by development partners and monies have already been paid, yet you are having consultants having to wait three months on average to be paid for services that have been provided,” she complained.
Cummins did not say what she thought was a reasonable period to be made to wait, but said those responsible for processing the payments must consider the fact that the consultants have staff who they pay either biweekly or monthly, as well as other obligations.
“Three months, four months or five months is not a reasonable time, is not appropriate in the context of business and it’s not humane for people who have no different obligations than our Government officers on a monthly basis.
“When in a Government context nothing has consequences, and especially financial consequences for your delays, you may be completely immune to the fact that someone else out there is waiting on a payment, because something is sitting on your desk for three months and you just haven’t gotten around to it [because] ‘oh I have lots of other things to do’. But your salary comes in every month, someone else has obligations just like you,” she stressed.
The BCSI executive said many of the experts did not speak out against the practice because they feared they would be blacklisted.
“We have contracts that are being extended for an extended period of time simply because of the inefficiencies on the part of Government officers. The work is being done by the consultant, they haven’t been paid, Government offices haven’t been responding on their side but they are extending contracts over extended periods of time, and consultants, out of fear of not having work again or not being called back again, are being put in a position where their time, which has a cost attached to it, is being used by Government department to, in effect, support inefficiency.” Cummins said such behaviour was not good business practice and she called on Government to lead by example as the country seeks to address issues of competitiveness, productivity and market expansion.
She made it clear the consultants were not asking for handouts and they deserved to be paid “at the earliest opportunity” after they complete their projects.
She described the tardiness as a serious concern and recommended that the BCSI partners with other agencies to organize a workshop for Government agencies, including involvement in procurement, accounts, finance and project administrations, in order to effect “some kind of behavioural change”.
The MOU between the two organizations is meant to enhance business and export development across services sector in Barbados and generate new business opportunities for the benefit of their members.
The deepened collaboration will see greater emphasis being placed on training and certification, research and development, capacity building and project identification and development