On Tuesday, leaders provided updates on various prongs of the ongoing Public Service Transformation Programme, including a $1.3 million grant for “SMART Schools,” the reaccreditation of the territory’s disaster management programme, a new Public Service Management Code, the launch of a Customer Service Framework, and more.
“A modern public service operating in accordance with international best practices in its service delivery is vital to the good administration of the [Virgin Islands],” Governor John Rankin said during a press conference. “So too is a public service that always upholds its core values of integrity, honesty, and impartiality.”
The origins of the “transformation” programme reach back to October 2017, when Cabinet approved a strategic direction for an improved public service following hurricanes Irma and Maria.
A model was subsequently developed that included eight broad initiatives: redesigning the public service, e-government, going green, private-sector collaboration, good governance, rebuilding security, alignment of statutory agencies, and customer service.
After a later review of the initiative, officials decided that it should be expanded into the Public Service Transformation Programme. A related framework was published 2019, and the programme officially launched in 2020. A “midterm review” was held last November, and the goals now extend into 2025.
On Tuesday, Mr. Rankin said he is fully committed to working with the Deputy Governor’s Office and the Premier’s Office to modernise the public service.
Among other initiatives, he highlighted the recently finalised Public Service Management Code.
That code — which guides the conditions of employment in the public service — replaces the General Orders of 1971, which were revised in 1982.
The governor said the document includes whistleblower protections; rules for clearly advertising vacancies; and guidelines for conduct and behaviour, among other provisions.
The conduct guidelines include a prohibition of discrimination; rules on proper use of social media; a requirement to report unethical or improper conduct; and guidance for effective performance management, according to Mr. Rankin.
“This has been a massive amount of work not just in bringing provisions together, but modernising them and making sure they’re fit for purpose,” he said.
Department of Human Resources acting Director Shavon Henley said the code was shaped by feedback drawn from consultations held over the course of several years.
“We never had one document that was comprehensive that spoke to all the changes within human resources,” she said. “That’s a lesson that we’ve learned moving forward. It’s a live document that we’ll update along the way.”
The “comprehensive” code consists of 17 chapters that “promote effectiveness and efficiency, promote the rights of employees, and update human resources policies,” according to Ms. Henley.
Though the code was “launched” on Tuesday, officials didn’t say when it will be publicly available.
On Tuesday, officials also touted a new customer service framework for the public service, which has not been provided to the public yet; a planned online tax administration system; a payment gateway in the Premier’s Office; and an app called BVIGOVReportIT.
According to Deputy Governor’s Office Director of Customer Service Kedimone Rubaine, the customer service framework sets standards across all public service agencies.
“Our goal will always be to ensure our clients are happy by delivering the same service our clients expect to receive,” she said.
She added that her position was established last year “with the vision of providing strategic and technical leadership to ensure services are being delivered to all customers.”
As the framework is implemented, she said, partnerships between the public and private sectors are being developed.
The BVIGOVReportIT app — which allows residents to report issues with the public service — was also demonstrated during the press briefing. It is designed to help the public report non-emergency issues such as potholes, according to Deputy Governor’s Office Customer Service Manager Abbarah Brown.
The app is available in the App Store and Google Play.
Other accomplishments celebrated on Tuesday resulted from a $1.3 million grant for the territory’s SMART Schools project from the European Union’s Resilience, Sustainable Energy and Marine Biodiversity Programme, officials said.
Ministry of Education, Youth Affairs and Sports Director of Planning Jillian Douglas-Phillip said RESEMBID signed an agreement in 2017 to fund the SMART Schools project.
Since then, she said, the grant has helped re-establish school gardens and on-campus recycling.
Soon, it will fund first aid training by the BVI Red Cross across 14 schools in the territory, as well as water and energy audits, she added.
“We can expect to see initiatives that will result in the participating schools becoming safe, green and smart,” Ms. Douglas-Phillip added.
Also during the press conference, leaders touted the territory’s January reaccreditation by the Emergency Management Accreditation Programme, a United States-based non-profit organisation that assesses disaster preparedness.
“The people of this territory know all too well that effective disaster preparation, disaster management and response is vital,” Mr. Rankin said. “After much good work and a detailed assessment, the Virgin Islands was reaccredited and listed among the ‘elite leaders in emergency management.’”
Unique in Caribbean
Department of Disaster Management Director Jasen Penn said the territory’s emergency management system is the only one in the Caribbean to receive the accreditation and one of only three countries to receive it outside the US and Canada.
Mr. Rankin added, “That was a significant achievement and clear example of what we want to achieve, what we can achieve, reviewing and updating our procedures, testing our procedures, and checking them against international best practice.”
Also on Tuesday, Premier’s Office Permanent Secretary Elvia Smith-Maduro said residents will soon be able to file taxes online with the SIGTAS 3.0 system.
“[You’ll soon be able to pay] your land tax, property taxes, your payroll tax from the comfort of your home or on the beach or somewhere in Paris or Milan,” she said.
Ms. Smith-Maduro promised the system — which was initially slated to launch this month — will come before the end of the year.
Deputy Governor David Archer said he was happy with the progress of the transformation programme so far.
“You don’t always see the journey; you tend to see the end result,” he said.