The first round of layoffs in the public sector is almost at an end, and for the country at large it has been an unpleasant exercise.
There really is no easy way to dull the pain of sending workers to the proverbial breadline.
We commiserate with those who have lost their jobs, even as we hope that beyond these grim tasks lies a greater good.
But job cuts are more often than not at the centre of an austerity drive.
In our case, the Government is executing its International Monetary Fund-supported economic recovery and transformation plan, which includes restructuring the public service in order to slash spending.
We have been here before in 1991 and 2013. What we hope is not lost this time around is the fundamental issue that has bedeviled governments since independence – public sector reform.
No one wants to see anybody lose their jobs. But no one should be content with waste and mismanagement in Government, which affect revenue and retard economic growth. There is no symbiosis between mediocrity and robust economic growth.
This is not an attempt to bash public servants, not in the least.
We acknowledge that Barbados has thrived on the backs of public servants whose competence, industry, professionalism and devotion to duty under difficult circumstances have been nothing short of sterling, enabling this nation to punch above its weight class in international affairs in the region and beyond.
Equally, it is public knowledge and common experience that too many public workers are quite happy to expend a maximum of effort to achieve a minimum of effect, often indifferent to the inconvenience and frustration experienced by both citizens and private interests seeking to do business with the state.
And the public service has not kept pace with technological developments to better respond in a fast-changing world.
But the blame does not lie solely with public servants but also with their political masters.
The political directorate has long talked the talk of public sector reform – the very words even making it to Government stationery, complete with logo since 1994. Yet in the last 24 years, no administration has had the intestinal fortitude to reduce Government’s intestinal magnitude – to tackle, once and for all, wastage and duplication in the public service.
Politics somehow gets in the way and the status quo remains. The lines have often been blurred between the politician who is expected to set policy and the public servant who is responsible for executing that policy.
But given the perilous state of our economy, Barbados has no choice but to take on the elephant in the room.
Public sector reform is not merely about reducing a burdensome wage bill. It should be based on the development of a skilled workforce that facilitates investors foreign and domestic in the delivery of services.
Hence the Mia Mottley administration must be decisive about this restructuring exercise and its pledge to retool and retrain workers. Barbadians are anxious for tangible action to remove the bureaucracy and the dead weight hindering the essential public service.
A good start we suggest is a revamp of the Public Services Commission to ensure it operates on the basis of greater transparency and efficiency, free of any political interference.
Serious steps must also be taken to ensure that Permanent Secretaries and heads of departments do their jobs. Public leaders must be able to demonstrate a clear understanding and explicit commitment to the reform programme and how the efficient provision of public services can make a world of difference.
Crying out for the change too is the lack of empowerment of public servants. The resistance observed in the public service is due to many a complaint that civil servants hardly get the opportunity to openly share ideas and evoke change within their work environment. As a result, many have become stuck in their ways, merely quoting “procedure” or sticking to the letter of the law but ignoring its spirit. Many subscribe to the opinion that ‘if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it’, thereby creating a culture in which inefficiency becomes the norm.
There is no singular quick fix to this business of public sector reform. But what is clearly required is political will and a partnership with labour and other key stakeholders to get the job of reform done.