THE EDITOR: Having read and listened to the many opinions and responses to Prime Minister Rowley’s articulation about certain members of our public service, I have decided to throw my hat into this very sensitive and even volatile situation.
I must immediately state, that I have the highest regard for many of the public servants that I have worked with since 1999 to 2010; first as communication specialist at the Office of the President and then as manager of corporate communications with the Petroleum Company of TT (Petrotrin). The head of that list being Lenore Dorset and Gloria Nurse. However, it is reasonable to convey that I have also witnessed, at both institutions, public servants who demonstrated the lowest levels of competencies or desire to make a significant contribution to the business of governance.
On more than one occasion I have been told by senior public servants at President’s House that “governments come and go, but we will remain, they can’t change us”. While that may be very true, it does not augur well for healthy working relations between elected officials and other working members of the public service. Having said this, it is important that we search for the root-cause of these problems; and find the answers, which may not always be flattering.
It is my view that the genesis for many of the problems that exist within the public service, are systemic. There is evidence to suggest that the business of the day is being conducted in an environment that is void of necessary checks and balances. While performance appraisal mechanisms may exist, as they did at Petrotrin, they are usually ineffective. One of the reasons may be attributed to the fact that there are little consequences for poor performance or, on the other hand, there are few or not enough rewards for satisfactory performance.
Some of the daily routines that exist in our public service can be considered to be mundane and archaic. Even though that may be the case, it is incumbent on those in the public service to make recommendations to install new innovative systems – ones that would allow the entire system to function efficiently.
However, I have seen it many times with my staff at Petrotrin, when new things are introduced, some staffers consider it to be simply more work and not in their job descriptions. Their first step is usually to run to their union leaders. When management questions whether the same employee is doing what is outlined in their same job descriptions, the employee again, runs to their unions and use various reasons to file a grievance against management. This has been well documented.
I remember a particular incident that occurred with me at the state-owned company, when I introduced attendance time card readers at my office building. It was interpreted as though I had committed the most heinous crime against my staff. The same staff who would be seen eating breakfast at 9 am in a nearby canteen after having clocked into work at 7.30 am. Many would return well after 10 am. The same staff who would sneak out the back door to leave early, or to be undetected when they arrive late. When I changed the back door to an alarmed emergency exit door, the union picketed my office, and accused me of violating safety protocols.
This is one example, and I can list many more. It is reasonable to infer that similar circumstances prevail nationwide. But no one must speak about it. We must remain with our heads buried in the proverbial sand.
While this type of behaviour was demonstrated by approximately 30 per cent of the staff that I managed, it was chronic enough to have had a debilitating effect on the overall operations of the organisation. If this 30 per cent also existed throughout the organisation, we can only imagine how it would eventually erode the functionality of any organisation, in retrospect, as it did at Petrotrin.
We are living in difficult economic times, and worker efficiency and productivity are paramount if we are to emerge successfully through this period.
We are unfortunately living in a world where we expect our leaders to do their job, but we demand that they sugar-coat what they think and be painfully diplomatic about everything they say. The Prime Minister is well within his right to be candid in his views, especially when the entire public service has a critical role in delivering what is necessary to govern our country. Our dear Prime Minister will be held responsible by you the people to deliver our good fortune, so he too must be honest in his assessment of who may be contributing to our demise. The time for having our leaders walk on egg shells and tiptoe around issues pertaining to the major workforce in our country, I believe, is over. As caring citizens, when would we arrive at the place of maturity to understand and take some responsibility for our own inefficiencies? The sooner this is accomplished, the faster we can focus as a nation to move towards adopting a better work ethic, one that would inevitably be beneficial to the entire nation.