Fixing the public sector is a long and hard struggle
- public servants hear at GPSU’s consultation
Kaieteur News
June 18, 2004

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BLURRED lines of authority which impede planning, resources utilisation and accountability were listed as a major ‘disease that eats away’ at Guyana’s public sector fibre.

This was told to public servants yesterday, at the first phase in a series of countrywide consultations on the public sector modernisation reform. The session was held at the Guyana Public Service Union and was facilitated by Dr. Jim Armstrong, President of Governance Network, a Canadian-based Management Consultancy firm that focuses on public sector, governance issues and integrity programmes.

Dr. Armstrong pointed out that a non-existent management structure could only result in the eventual collapse of any organisation.

“There is no silver bullet that will fix the system overnight. It would be a long, hard struggle,” Armstrong said amidst applause.

Guyana is the first country, he noted, to have the Permanent Secretary disagree with the Minister of Government. He added that in Guyana’s context, employees are given two options, either support the minister or resign.

These unfair roles and responsibilities result in large bunches of employees, even in managerial positions, waiting for direction about what decisions to make for fear that their own initiative might be considered a wrong choice.

Armstrong said this situation only makes for a pretty ‘crappy’ work environment that is felt in almost every organisation in Guyana.

Evident to this, is the fact that an employer’s contemptuous attitude to employees can only produce contempt or malicious compliance. This in turn will determine and reflect the way customers and clients are treated.

These sharp comments were not made to offend Guyanese but were salient observations that were crucial to the designing of the modernisation reform project.

Referring to the “Mash day jail break,” Armstrong posits that it is not just a national security issue but also one of housing, employment opportunity, education and health care.

Public servants were reminded that because of these considerable limitations, there is need for pragmatic and realistic decisions on the way forward. Dr. Armstrong stated that Guyana faces several constraints including few qualified staff, migration, a high dependence on funding, political interference and overlapping demands.

However, the modernisation plan is about changing behaviour of the government and the working class people, the way they think and their attitudes.

Priority though, must be given to how people are managed, trained and dealt with since the increasingly huge migration of those with specified skills is crippling the economy.

“What Guyana needs to do is develop a human resource policy framework, employee and labour relations, improved working conditions, health and safety, training and work ethics,” Armstrong said.

If this is done, improved revenue generation, staff morale, openness to government, better utilisation of limited resources, better citizens servicing and clear lines of authority will be the benefits Guyana will receive through the implementation of the public sector modernisation plan. A revival of the public service human resources management, which Armstrong describes as broken, out of order and dead, is needed by Guyana.

Concerning the use and harnessing of limited resources, one union member made the observation about the duplication in government ministries.

He said that when the ruling party came into power in 1992 they decided that 18 ministries were too many.

The number was therefore dissolved to about a dozen but as time rolled on these ministries disintegrated to 22 ministries that Guyana now boasts.

The member said that there is a Ministry of Tourism, Industry and Commerce, Ministry of Foreign Trade and Economic Cooperation and a Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

“I see no reason why there should be an Amerindian Affairs Ministry, not denying that Amerindians should be given special treatment but a whole ministry is not needed to serve this purpose. Soon the Indians, blacks and Chinese will be calling for a ministry,” the union member said.

He added that another major problem faced by the union is one of insensitivity of government to union issues. In response to a question about government’s non-responsiveness to the needs of public servants, Armstrong commented in optimism that people could unlearn learnt behaviour.

He remarked that even Dr. Luncheon, whom he describes as ‘fixed in his ways’ now admits that the modernisation plan in necessary.

He added that when the modernisation plan was formulated, there was no Public Service Union and no talk that there would even be one.

“It is important therefore to try out the design to find out whether the plan is feasible and can aptly fit Guyana’s situation.”

The reform programme is scheduled to continue throughout the ten regions of Guyana, with the next two sessions slated for Mabaruma, Region One; and Linden, Region Ten. The other three are scheduled to be held in New Amsterdam, Region Six; Lethem, Region Nine; and Bartica, Region Seven.

- In the face of recent stalling of wage talks between the government and the Guyana Public Service Union, President Patrick Yarde has pulled off from the bargaining table but was seeking a way forward.