“Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” – Albert Einstein
“One can be doing a lot of stuff to achieve an end, but the sad truth is that you are achieving nothing – you spinning top in mud.” – Trini.
“Failure will never overtake me if my determination to succeed is strong enough.” – Og Mandino
There is a growing backlog of undisbursed funds from the international lending agencies as project implementation rates in Barbados are below 35 per cent. What’s new? This has been the case since Independence, i.e. for more than 50 years. Furthermore, there is no comfort in the fact that our Caribbean neighbours have the same problem.
So what has been done over all this time?
1. Millions spent on public sector reform;
2. Transformation to new systems and procedures;
3. Project cycle management training;
4. Project capacity and institutional building et al.;
Did we not hear all these before? “Been there and done “all ah that over and over again” and achieved little – ask our Public Sector Reform Unit, which has been trying for more than 20 years. Unfortunately, the actions referred only address the symptoms of low productivity. So what if you have the best system? A Rolls Royce driven by a donkey is still only a donkey cart. In other words, no system can be better than the operator. People are far more crucial to productivity than systems. None of the foregoing activities have addressed the underlying cause(s) of poor productivity and implementation deficit in our public sector which are the lack of motivation and empowerment.
Motivation may be defined as the complex of forces initiating and promoting productivity. It is the discipline involving a “carrot or stick” without which employees do little more than “go through the motions” at work. There is neither reward for good performance nor sanction for poor performance in our public sector. Our public sector employees need motivation and the only way to achieve this is through a valid and effective performance evaluation system linked to reward and sanction. Our Public Sector Reform Unit recently tried to implement such a system. However, who do you think they started it with? Maids, messengers and drivers! The Maguffies do not want their performance to be evaluated! Who will bell that cat?
Then there is empowerment. No individual at a lower rung than Permanent secretary and chief technical officer is empowered to decide anything of importance in our centralized bureaucracy. “Project Manager” is a glorified title which means little more than “Gofer”. Planning, selection of staff, procurement, design decisions, financing, et al., are all beyond these “Gofers”. The responsibility matrix for project activities, if it is ever prepared, seldom includes the project manager.
Would you believe that a Caribbean Development Bank staff member, a Caribbean national, prepared the first ever project management software system more than 20 years ago and long before Microsoft recognized the need for such a programme? It contained all the management tools and information that Microsoft’s “Project Manager” contains and that is being used across the world. We need to question why none of our project managers are required to (or have the motivation to) use “Project Manager” which would empower them significantly if they did. Round and round we go!
Peter Webster is a retired Portfolio Manager of the Caribbean Development Bank and a former Senior Agricultural Officer in the Ministry of Agriculture.