All sides, including the BLP, DLP, their local and international economic advisors and the IMF, agree that the way out of our economic challenges is economic growth. The same actors also agree that the key to economic growth is improved productivity. Therefore, our challenge is for our leaders to determine an effective manner of improving national productivity.
To their credit, past BLP and DLP administrations have funded several initiatives in their desperate attempts to improve national productivity. They include National Initiative of Service Excellence, National Productivity Council, Public Sector Reform, Barbados Institute of Management and Productivity, and Training Administration Division.
With Barbados’ economic ruin being certain if national productivity does not improve, the last administration established the Barbados Competitiveness Programme, sent home thousands of public workers, and designated 2017 as the National Year of Productivity. However, despite their best efforts, every single Government initiative over the past 20 years has failed to sustainably improve national productivity.
There is a silver lining to all of this failure – at least we know what has proven not to work and can finally focus on what may work. The obvious solution is better management. We need to better manage public workers, equipment, money, materials, and other government resources.
This is not a problem peculiar to Barbados. Other nations have faced similar challenges and have come to the same inescapable conclusion. The International Standards Organisation (ISO), of which Barbados is a member, provides international standards. They produced a management standard applicable to the public services of all nations. The ISO reference is 9001 and it is designed to exceed the expectations of all customers of government services.
Regrettably, the BLP administration was badly advised to reject this international standard in 2004 in favour of home-grown initiatives that were proven failures. The DLP administration also accepted the worst possible advice and rejected this international standard. Why? The simple answer is that our politicians only accept the advice of their favoured economic advisors.
Barbadian political operatives and economic advisors continue to ridicule this international standard, which has benefitted so many other nations. However, they never provide any effective alternative. What possible reason could there be for ridiculing an international standard that is the key to our economic growth? Why do economic advisors consistently provide our political leaders with such bad advice?
The only rational explanation based on over 20 years of evidence, is that our honourable leaders appear to believe that following bad advice is a virtue, so their favourite economic advisors oblige this lunacy.
The Government has a new set of economic advisors called the Barbados Economic Recovery Team or BERT. They have spent months trying to determine the most effective method of improving national productivity. As expected, their advice did not include better management to any international standard.
Instead, it contained the same failed methods tried by the DLP administration – send home public workers. It also included the same tired rhetoric used by the last administration: that they will help the dismissed workers to retool, and ensure that two people from the same household will not be sent home.
We have heard all of those broken promises before. Why not suggest an effective management system to ensure that it actually gets done? Why is that good advice so impossible for them to recommend? After actively engaging both administrations for the past 18 years, I think that I know why.
The economic advisors are prisoners to their traditional role and have offered the only type of advice that that role allows. It is now left to see whether our politicians will have the courage to request good advice, or settle for ‘virtue’. Like watching a Titanic movie, the tragic result is inevitable.
Grenville Phillips II is a Chartered Structural Engineer and the founder of Solutions Barbados. He can be reached at NextParty246@gmail.com