A voice crying in the wilderness

A recent report by Complaints Commissioner Elton Georges brought to light egregious problems with a government programme that subsidises new connections to the electricity grid.

We were greatly disappointed by the commissioner’s claim that the Ministry of Communications and Works has ignored his recommended solutions.

According to the report, the 20-year-old programme is arbitrary and lacks transparency. Though it uses several hundred thousand dollars each year, it is not governed by a policy or stated objectives. Aid applicants receive different levels of support without explanation, and responses often are delayed, if they come at all, the commissioner said.

Moreover, the subsidies apparently are publicised only through word of mouth among legislators and other residents, according to the report.

In other words, the programme is ripe for abuse. For example, what would prevent legislators from using their influence to award subsidies exclusively to their supporters?

The situation is particularly distressing because a draft policy for the programme was circulated in 2005, but was abandoned after the minister of the day — Paul Wattley — left office due to illness, the report notes.

The Complaints Commission made several recommendations that seem sound: reviewing the programme thoroughly; drafting written objectives; establishing clear criteria for applicants; and publicising the initiative. The ministry has not complied, according to the report.

This is a sad state of affairs. The recent establishment of the Office of the Complaints Commissioner was a major step in the right direction for this territory. The office is designed in large part to identify problems in the public service and to recommend solutions.

However, the commissioner has no power of enforcement. Thus, if the public service and elected leaders won’t listen, his work could be meaningless.

We call on the Ministry of Communications and Works to revisit the report’s recommendations immediately. Then, if it doesn’t implement them as soon as possible, it should publicly explain why not.

In recent months, leaders have been quick to bemoan wastage and inefficiency in the public service. Now a ministry is ignoring specific recommendations that would help tackle such problems.

In the future, when the complaints commissioner speaks, public servants and elected officials should listen.