Calls for improvement in productivity and service standards have been made in both the private and public sector over the past few years. But truth be told, there are thousands of hardworking Barbadians who pride themselves on the quality of their work and the service they present to the public. They are to be commended.
However, it can be argued that there is still an underlying laissez-faire attitude among too many citizens that threatens to undermine the efforts of those who take their responsibilities seriously. Unfortunately, it seems to be a cultural malaise where offenders often do not even realize or understand that they are offending. It seems that simply to spout the words “productivity” and “quality service” and to stress their importance, have lulled many into believing that the wider population is receiving the benefits of these mere words.
Many have used the mass layoffs in the public sector since May last year as an excuse why service at government institutions has dropped significantly. A shortage in personnel, it is being said, has led to long waits for service or no service at all. However, there are many who will also argue that service generally left a lot to be desired even when there was perceived saturation in government.
And if one needed proof that service in the public sector has taken a dip, the evidence abounds. Recently, one public service worker issued a release indicating proceeding on two-weeks convalescent leave and adding that during this absence the function she performed might basically be on hold. It was a most efficient undertaking to inform the intended recipients of her absence. But that it did not dawn on the communicator that a function within government should not stop because of her sick leave seemed unbelievable. Whither that service?
But it does not stop there. A visit to a suburban post office just a few weeks ago found all cashiers/tellers at lunch simultaneously, more than an hour before closing time, and with a security officer advising that a return on the following day might be the best bet. Again, that it did not dawn on government workers that service to the public should not stop because of lunch breaks seemed unbelievable. Whither that service?
Barbadians cannot and should not be paying additional taxes on their water bills but yet receiving increasingly poorer service, especially in rural communities. Barbadians should not be contributing monies extracted from them to go towards the upkeep of the Sanitation Service Authority but yet their garbage heaps are becoming pungent monuments outside their homes. Whither that service?
In June 2017, the Fair Trading Commission made a decision on the Barbados Water Authority Standards of Service 2018-2021. It outlined nine Guaranteed Standards and 12 overall standards that established minimum and mandatory levels of service for the Authority. The standards took effect from January 1, 2018, and under the guaranteed standards were included installation of service; response to complaints; wrongful disconnections; repair/replacement of faulty meters; reconnection after payment of overdue amount and reconnection fee; and reliability of service.
Customer complaints had to be acknowledged within five working days, investigation and findings provided within 15 days, and failure to comply resulting in a $15 credit to residential bills and $30 credit to commercial customers. Additional credits to customers for failure to reconnect service in a timely fashion following settlement of overdue accounts were factored into the standards. Despite all this jargon about standards, the same Fair Trading Commission said last month the BWA was not obligated to compensate customers for interruption of service. Whither that service?
After three months of being deprived of their benefits, a number of Barbadians reportedly started to receive their full sums last month. But this was no favour done for them. This was correcting a situation where government lumped pensions and invalidity benefits into the same basket and caused vulnerable people significant anguish. Now there is a service due to the public that no one, to the best of our knowledge, has yet fulfilled. What about the money that was taken away from Barbadians between the months of June and August? Has it dawned on government that it is under a duty to reimburse those persons for that three-month period? That no one from the Ministry of Finance or the National Insurance Scheme has addressed this matter publicly is unbelievable. Whither that service?
The measure for proper and effective service should not be seasonal or conditioned by five-year tenure. The goal post should not shift from institution to institution, or from political figure to social leader to the average Joe. Compromise has its place but it can cause considerable confusion when it relates to maintaining high standards of service.