Having to endure less than desirable service is an experience of the past for most citizens when dealing with many Government departments and agencies. This is as a result of the new dispensation of efficiency, swift processing time and the friendly and professional customer service emanating from the Public Sector Modernisation Programme (PSMP).
The culture of many public sector entities have changed and continue to be transformed in keeping with government’s emphasis on operational efficiency and income generation, particularly for Executive Agencies, under the PSMP. In a JIS News interview, Cabinet Secretary, Dr. Carlton Davis says the creation of Executive Agencies has proven to be very successful in the thrust to modernise the public sector. “The creation of Executive Agencies was of course a major reform under public sector modernization, and the improvement of customer service across the public sector was another. There is no question that the Executive Agencies have been a success, for example, the Jamaica Information Service, which has been responding constructively. The Registrar General’s Department (RGD), despite criticisms from time to time, is a far more improved place than it used to be. As a matter of fact, they work all of 22 hours per day,” he notes.
Chief Executive Officer of the Registrar General’s Department, Dr. Patricia Holness.
“The Child Development Agency (CDA) is one of the more recent ones, which is trying to integrate the actions by the state to protect our children, and they are making great progress in this regard,” Dr. Davis adds. Citing other agencies, such as the Companies Office of Jamaica (COJ), the National Land Agency (NLA), and the Management Institute for National Development (MIND), he says that, “all of these agencies have demonstrated that the reforms have been working.”
“I accept that there is still a lot to do, but when you compare this with the performances of these agencies in the past, there is no question that they have been successful. Generally, you get better customer service all around,” he adds.
He points out that a recent telephone survey of just over 1,000 persons found that 60 per cent gave the public sector a positive rating. “That’s as good as you are likely to get, so overall, I am satisfied that we are making significant progress. Obviously, we are setting new bars and the society, once it gets used to these new bars, expect better performance, so we can’t rest on our laurels,” he says.
Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the NLA, Elizabeth Stair, expresses confidence in the Executive Agency model and says that despite the challenges of transformation, for her agency, this was a step in the right direction. “We are now into a performance culture. The transition period was a little rough. The whole matter of change is something that people don’t adapt to easily…and it was changing them 360 degrees,” she says.
Chief Executive Officer of the National Land Agency, Elizabeth Stair.
Mrs. Stair explains that, “what we actually did was ask all persons (prospective employees) who want to come into the agency to do an assessment, which took the form of a written assessment as well as interviews. More than 1,000 persons were interviewed for the 591 approved posts. Because we needed to ensure that we got the best person for the post, we ensured that the person who got the post fits the post.” More than 50 per cent of the original staff was retained, while the agency was able to attract persons from other government agencies as well as the private sector.
With the change came the upgrading of all of the NLA’s services. Perhaps the most significant addition was elandjamaica, which allows the land agency to offer a slew of services online, saving customers time and travel expenses.
“elandjamaica is really pulling together all aspects of the agency where the information is available on the Internet, so you can download land information. That is a subscription-based service. We have also been pushing our maps. We completed a new Portmore map and we are actually working on Kingston at the moment. This comes out of the merger of our services. We are about to introduce tracking for land title documents, so once you have lodged documents at the Land Titles (Division), you can go on our website and put in the document number and you are able to access the status of your document,” the CEO explains.
The agency plans to launch Phase two of elandjamaica soon. “It is going to increase access to service. Persons will be able to do many more things for themselves, such as: check accounts online, mapping services, and make payments with credit cards. The whole user-friendly nature of the new system will be of good benefit to customers,” she says.
Another testament of the vastly enhanced efficiency of the NLA, is that prior to achieving Executive Agency status, it took an average 26 weeks to pre-check a survey plan. However, between April 2006 and February 2007, 76 per cent of plans were checked in 40 days.
According to surveys conducted by independent contractors, in 2001, the agency’s customer service index was 2.1 out of a maximum of 10 points, but by March 2005, this had moved to 8.1 points. “We are pleased with that and we are striving for the 10. I think we have done well. For six years we have done quite a bit,” the CEO notes.
Meanwhile, Judith Ramlogan Chung, CEO of the COJ, formerly the Office of the Registrar of Companies (ORC), says her agency has also been experiencing similar successes and improvements as an Executive Agency, including improved service standards and lower registration turn around time.
Chief Executive Officer of the Companies Office of Jamaica, Judith Ramlogan Chung.
“There are money back guarantees on our core services, which means that if we do not provide the service within a particular time, then the customer is entitled to ask for his or her money. The improved service standards have led to less delinquency where companies are concerned and increased customer satisfaction. Since becoming an Executive Agency (EA), we have been able to offer more electronic services. our website is now interactive,” she informs.
Outlining other new features and services of the agency, the CEO informs that basic free searches can be done on the COJ’s website. These include searches to find out if a company name is taken or whether or not a company is registered.
“There have been increased revenues and we have been a net contributor to the Consolidated Fund every year except the first year as EA. We were able to retain 50 per cent of our revenues (up to March 31, 2007). Now we can retain 100 per cent of our revenues to undertake projects for service improvement and any other capital project that we see fit,” she informs.
There has also been increased public education on what businesspeople need to know about companies and business names, as well as services offered by the Office. One such major public education initiative is ‘COJ mobile’, where the Office is “taken to the people” in the rural areas of the island.
The CEO says that implementing the necessary changes has been a challenge, and that even after eight years, the transition process continues. She discloses that the agency is working with the Tax Administration Services Department (TASD) to enable that department to access the COJ’s databases and that operation units are being re-organized to facilitate even better service to customers. “We have found that the structure we had in 1999 no longer works and so we have to re-organize to ensure that we provide the best customer service possible. As a result, there has to be continued staff training to ensure that we provide great customer service,” the CEO says. Another initiative is a special project to convert all manual files to digitized images, so that all files may be viewed on the website. Meanwhile, the website is also to be upgraded to facilitate online registration of documents.
Mrs. Ramlogan Chung notes that the agency will be implementing the Document Processing Management Information System (DPMIS), to facilitate more efficient registration of documents and greater compliance.
The RGD too has seen significant improvement in its operations and customer satisfaction rate, since becoming an Executive Agency.
Chief Executive Officer, Dr. Patricia Holness notes, for example, the significant reduction of errors on death and birth certificates.
“There used to be a number of errors on birth/death certificates.a lot of our local district registrars were not at the level of our normal employed individuals. They were just volunteers. So we are now employing our registration officers and they have to operate within the same standards in terms of qualification, so we find that spelling errors are a thing of the past,” she says.
“The individuals who are now registering births and deaths are in the hospitals and you find that our error rate will get even lower because registration officers are in the location,” she explains. Dr. Holness also points out that late registrations have been significantly reduced through the efforts of the RGD. “As a matter of fact, the late registration that we are having now are from earlier years, such as the 1960s and 1920s,” she points out. By March of this year, the Free First Birth Certificate initiative launched on January 1, had achieved success. According to Dr. Holness, “the challenge of having a large number of children without a name at the time of registration is really behind us. The incidents of late registration have been significantly reduced.”
In addition, more than 90 per cent of all babies registered had their fathers’ names on their birth certificates as a part of this initiative. For the same period, the number of children registered with a name increased from 79 per cent to 94 per cent, while the number of children born and registered in the same month increased from 70 per cent to 100 per cent. The number of certificates applied for at registration increased from 44 per cent to 100 per cent, as a direct result of the initiative.
In support of the RGD’s efforts to have every child registered, in August of 2006, the government underwrote more than $24 million to provide birth certificates for 18,000 children, whose names were not on birth records at the RGD. Since becoming an Executive Agency in 1999, the RGD has embarked on a number of public education campaigns to ensure that Jamaicans are aware of the importance of completing the birth registration process.
Other initiatives that have been implemented by the RGD over the years as an Executive Agency, include the establishment of branch offices across the island, mobile units, and outreach programmes to the Diaspora in North America and Europe, all of which have greatly reduced the time and cost to customers.
The RGD opened its ninth regional office in March of this year in May Pen, Clarendon and before that in Kingston, Portland, St. Ann’s Bay, Mandeville, St. Elizabeth, Westmoreland, St. James, and Portmore.
In its efforts to continuously develop innovative ways to serve and satisfy customers, the agency also implemented an online payment system on its interactive website, and instituted an express and seven-day service to benefit customers applying for Late Entry of Name, Correction of Error, Addition of Father’s Particulars, and Re-registration. The RGD saw some 600,000 customers during the 2006/07 financial year and received payment for approximately 348,000 applications. Of that number, 339,000 customers were satisfied and 348,000 certificates were delivered. The Executive Agencies Act was passed in 2002, the principal objects of which are: the establishment of Executive Agencies; the promotion of prudent, effective and efficient management in Executive Agencies; the provision of appropriate mechanisms for proper management, accountability and transparency in the operation of Executive Agencies; and the enhancement of the effective and efficient delivery of goods and services to the public. An Executive Agency is a semi-autonomous government agency. It remains a part of government but has more responsibility for its own management and performance. The primary aim is to reduce central control and delegate authority to the Chief Executive Officers in the various government institutions. Another aim is to substantially improve the quality and quantity of services provided by Government agencies. The CEO is given full autonomy over the management of their agencies’ financial and human resources. The CEO will be held responsible for performance targets developed and agreed on with the responsible Permanent Secretary.
In June 1998, the Cabinet approved the principles which governed the drafting of legislation to create Executive Agencies. It also approved using administrative procedures within the context of the Constitution on specific laws to create the agencies.On April 1, 1999 four organisations achieved Executive Agency status. These included the RGD; the Administrator General’s Department (AGD); MIND, and the COJ.
Currently, there are nine Executive Agencies – Registrar General’s Department, Administrator General’s Department, Management Institute for National Development, Companies Office of Jamaica, Jamaica Information Service, National Land Agency, National Works Agency, Child Development Agency and National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA). The Fisheries Department and the Department of Naturalization (Passport Office) are to be added this fiscal year.