Improved work ethic paramount for development

Barbudans who work for the council have come under scrutiny in the past weeks. Senator Arthur Nibbs, while conceding that a culture of inefficiency and low productivity has been allowed to develop, contended that a broad brush approach should not be used for all Barbudans, since there are many who have demonstrated an eagerness to work and who have displayed good work ethic.

While the finger-pointing on who is to be blamed for development and nurturing this culture continues among councilmen, any decision to effect change will rest on those who presently control council.

Some would like us to believe that the situation in Barbuda is worse than it is in Antigua, but until some empirical evidence shows otherwise, we maintain that inefficiency and low productivity among public servants are the same in the twin island state.

Public servants in Antigua have been described as clock-watchers who arrive late and leave early, sometimes for other jobs; abuse sick days; display discourteous behaviour to customers, yet are at the head of the line when it is pay time.

Perhaps the reason for this lackadaisical attitude among public servants in Antigua and Barbuda stems from the fact that Central Government and council are the largest employers and therefore are afraid to discipline negligent workers since this could result in loss of votes.

But where did this all begin? We hypothesise that its genesis was in the late 1970s, when Sir V C Bird institutionalised the category of non-established workers whose allegiance would be to the Antigua Labour Party (ALP) administration and specifically, the politician who gave them the job rather than their immediate supervisors.

The rationale behind this move was to create a voting base for the ALP among loyal public servants.

This created a division in the public service with non-established workers outnumbering established workers 60 per cent to 40 per cent. It caused a breakdown in the chain of command, where legitimate supervisors could no longer discipline this new category of workers and precipitated the inevitable slide into inefficiency and low productivity.

This attitude has become so ingrained in public servants in Antigua and Barbuda that any attempt to change it would be met with fierce resistance from the workers themselves and from the very politicians who nurtured it in the first place.

However, tough decisions will have to be made if the development plans for the twin-island state are to bear fruit.

A number of incentives would have to be considered to change the way public servants perform their duties. Increases in remuneration would be at the top of the list. However, with the current global meltdown and the fact that government has had to resort to approaching the International Monetary Fund for financial assistance, that option is definitely not viable at this time.

Also not viable would be any increases in perks like free utilities, rent, uncontrolled use of government vehicles or travel allowances. And particularly now, when politicians are being called upon to pay their own utilities, the same should be expected for those public servants who enjoy that privilege.

In fact, what is more likely at this time is that there would probably be a freeze on wages and salaries and a reduction in the size of the public sector.

One letter writer to The Daily OBSERVER expressed the view that with the IMF agreement imminent, she hopes this would force Central Government to pay attention to public sector reform which it has been mouthing since 2004, but which has been placed on the back burner.

With the exception of the Voluntary Separation Package (VSP) and a few in-house customer service seminars in the Ministry of Labour, not much has been done in this regard.

And even the VSP did not have the desired effect of ridding the public service of inefficient workers. Instead, as Prime Minister Baldwin Spencer recently lamented, it siphoned off some of the better-trained and experienced teachers, nurses, police officers and civil servants.

What therefore is the alternative?

While punitive measures cannot be the only other alternative, sanctions must be imposed against workers who fail to perform to required standards; and although it will be a tough sell for the United Progressive Party administration to try to motivate workers to do more with less, it is one that a rejuvenated party cannot ignore if its development plans for the twin-island state are to be realised.

Bearing in mind that money and perks are not the only incentives for workers, government should consider implementing non-material rewards such as Employee of the Month and other awards to help public servants realise their worth and the contributions to the development of the country as a long-term investment for themselves and their offspring.