Challenges in service delivery faced by regional corporations are only amplified by what is said to be a vacancy rate running as high as 50 per cent in these state bodies, which are charged with meeting the needs of communities. The challenges with employment are exacerbated by issues with promotions and performance appraisals, which were said to be slow in coming to the attention of the Service Commissions Department.
Acting director of personnel administration at the Service Commissions Department, Debra Parkinson, acknowledged that promotions are being made to fill vacancies with no performance appraisals available to guide reassignments. This has led to the astonishing practice of promotion and appointment pending receipt of performance appraisals.
The department is responsible for most regional corporations, overseeing employment at all except for Port of Spain, San Fernando, Arima and Point Fortin. Those large boroughs fall under the Statutory Authorities Service Commission, which is collecting performance appraisals but must fill 300 vacancies by the end of the year. The department is also challenged to meet technical vacancies, including critically needed engineers, the backbone of the practical, boots on the ground services that regional corporations deliver.
This state of affairs is reflected in the wider public service, where across 22 ministries, there were 13,000 vacancies reported to Parliament by Camille Robinson Regis in July, including worrying shortfalls in doctors. The communities that these regional corporations face, at best, haphazard execution and at worst, a collapse of process and procedure when the reality of execution rolls around each day. Even more troubling is a continuing disinterest by elected governments to address these shortfalls in employment, which serve to cripple the capacity of the public sector to do its assigned work.
In the Westminster system of government, the ruling party directs the policy of the day, giving high level guidance on the direction the country will take during their half-decade in power. The public sector is the execution arm of government and its local reputation for red tape was earned through increasingly dated and inefficient execution of its responsibility, to separate political advantage from service delivery.
At a ceremony at the St James Barracks last week, Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley described the Public Service as “the spinal cord of the new society,” that “delivers customer-sensitive service, adopts a culture of strategic planning, delivers prompt results and cost-effective projects.” Yet efforts at modernising and improving the quality of the institutional public sector have been haphazard and remain largely incomplete.
A weakened public sector does not serve TT in any sense. Chronic understaffing destroys both capacity and the motivation to improve while hampering the capacity of the public sector to do its work.
No responsible government should be comfortable with that.