We were glad to hear the premier and governor promise that the hurricane recovery effort will include substantive public service reform.

However, this is not the first time we have heard such promises in recent decades, and action has been frustratingly slow to follow.

In the midst of the upheaval caused by Hurricane Irma, this time around must be different.

There is much to do. Though successive governments and governors have promised comprehensive reform for years, progress often has been limited to Band-Aid solutions that have not effectively tackled the inefficiency, disorganisation, wastage, politicisation and other problems that plague some sectors of the public service.

Perhaps this state of affairs is not surprising: Real reform will require painful decisions that could be politically costly, especially if they are not properly communicated to the electorate.

But now is the time to get serious. Given the devastation wrought by Irma, efficiency is paramount, and the territory cannot afford to waste even a penny of the limited available recovery funding.

The government is off to a good start by asking the public to submit input on reform, and we hope that residents will comply. A few public meetings also should be held on the topic, even though related suggestions have been aired during the recent discussions on the general recovery process.

At the same time, the governor, deputy governor and premier should provide more details about what specific reforms they have in mind. So far, they have said little outside of promising a “redesign” and “greening” of the public service; e-government initiatives; public- and private-sector collaboration; good-governance and security measures; and “statutory bodies realignment.”

In general, such goals seem laudable, but they also suggest that leaders have a much more detailed agenda than they’re disclosing. They should explain in full, particularly when it comes to the more ambiguous goals they have listed. What, for example, does it mean to “realign” statutory bodies?

Transparency is crucial as well. Past efforts at public service reform often have been shrouded in secrecy, as when KPMG conducted the $300,000 Jobs Analysis Project. The 2012 KPMG study — which assessed government’s human resources needs and job allocations, among other areas — was never released to the public even though it was funded by taxpayer dollars. As a result, it is unclear what the consultant recommended and whether or not its advice was followed.

Another example is the $1.15 million 2015 McKinsey & Company study on how to boost the financial services industry. Though the study was not released in full, a brief summary of it that was publicised recommended wise reforms to immigration and labour processes. Some of the suggested measures were launched pre-Irma, but they seem to have fallen by the wayside since then, to the great detriment of employers and employees alike.

As public service reform gets under way, such studies should be revisited — and provided to the public for consideration.

Ultimately, the reform process should transparently lay out quantifiable goals and specific timelines that will enable the community to hold elected leaders accountable across different governments.

Such measures have been a long time in coming.

 


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