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It has become the accepted wisdom in the economic literature that the performance of developing countries is not just dependent on their terms of trade, aid inflows, exports, levels of foreign direct investments or preferential access arrangements.
A decisive factor is the quality and calibre of their human capital, particularly in the public sector.
Public sector reform has, therefore, been a key item on the agenda of developing countries as they seek to maximise productivity and efficiency. Jamaica, no less, has been engaged in this quest for improved institutional capacity-building and re-engineering. In 1996 the Government established the Public Sector Modernization Project (PSMP), aimed at transforming the public sector.
A major strategy under this programme has been the creation of Executive Agencies, which grant autonomy and authority to Chief Executive Officers (CEOs) in return for targeted performance and accountability. Complaints about civil service bureaucracy and red tape have been legendary. Which Jamaican citizen has not experienced delays and frustrations in dealing with the public sector? Who has not wished for a more efficient public sector, one more responsive to customer needs?
The Government has, since 1999, created 9 executive agencies from previously existing civil service entities. How have these entities performed and have they lived up to expectations? What were their experiences in the transition process? What lessons can be learned and how exactly have customers benefited from the reform process?
These are precisely the kinds of questions which the recently released Caribbean Journal of Public Sector Management attempts to answer. Published by an executive agency itself – the Management Institute for National Development (MIND) – the 87-page journal (Volume 6, Number 2) has articles dealing with the “agencification” experiences of MIND, the National Works Agency, the Office of the Registrar of Companies and the Registrar General’s Department.
If one needs an empirically-based review of the executive agency process in some key institutions, this is the journal to get. Each article dealing with an agency gives both the pre-agency and agency status, and the comparisons are fascinating. All written by the respective CEOS, the one on MIND is the most brutally – and sometimes humorously- frank. Former CEO, now Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Education, Youth and Culture, Maria Jones, says that in the pre-executive agency MIND, there was little regard for timeliness. And “the daily newspapers were pervasive”, she writes. The CEO enquired and learned that the Institute had subscription for about 20 copies of each newspaper. She immediately reduced the subscription to three.
She mentions that all senior and middle managers had straight lines and that there were more private lines than lines to the switchboard. She says that an early decision was made to transfer focus from “staff service to customer service”.
Consequently, most private lines were transferred to the switchboard and a toll call system that identified callers enabled payroll deductions for private calls. These simple changes made a major impact on the efficient use of resources and positively impacted productivity, too.
Mrs. Jones reports that staff attendance was “noticeably erratic and unreliable”. Regular departmental leave was abolished and was granted only for emergencies.
A major challenge was getting the client base to accept that payment now had to be made for the courses pursued. Yet, within three years the agency surpassed the formerly free Institute in both the number of courses delivered and the number of participants. What is gratifying in reading the MIND report is the honesty in admitting that not all targets were met. For example, while the modernization plan had projected that customized training would surpass scheduled participants within two years, this did not occur.
Mrs. Jones also admits frankly that “from the outset it was evident that the Curriculum Development Department possessed good training delivery skills but was generally weak at training management and administration. This weakness persisted throughout the first six years of executive agency status.” One is taken on an honest journey through “agencification” at MIND with a clear view to the many achievements along the way.
The Registrar General’s Department is no stranger to the average Jamaican, who is anything but indifferent to its performance. Some of the customer service challenges listed in the pre-executive agency days by CEO, Dr. Patricia Holness, were the following: only one per cent staff computer literacy; only one customer service representative; no change in the method of providing service in 30 years, and a backlog of 160,000 bills of sale applications for recording, covering some 18 years.
There is more. There was no customer outreach programmes; only one location islandwide, and no formal system to record customer transaction, interaction or communication. Small wonder the last annual report published before its April 1, 1999 executive agency birth was 1965. The Caribbean Journal of Public Sector Management details the many innovations at the RGD since it became an executive agency. Some of these have been: Genealogical research and printing of family trees; conducting registry weddings; the provision of an express service; the provision of online applications from anywhere in the world through its website; an electronic application tracking system, and an aggressive public education programme.
The Office of the Registrar of Companies is another public sector agency with which a number of Jamaicans interact. The efficiency of this organization is critical to Jamaica’s ability to attract foreign direct investment and to facilitate business expansion.
Chief Executive Officer, Judith Ramlogan-Change does an excellent job of showing exactly where the ORC is coming from and, by implication, how badly needed the changes were.
The achievements have been striking. In 1999 the ORC achieved executive agency status and since then new company registration has been reduced from 35 working days to five; business name registration has moved from 14 working days to 2, and certified copies of company documents can be done in 15 minutes, down from two working days.
Since 2000, the ORC’s revenues have consistently exceeded projections and except for the 2003/04 fiscal year, it has also consistently been able to cover all its operating expenses. Mrs. Ramlogan-Change sets out the organization and technical changes which have been made as well as the human resource (HR) initiatives which have been taken.
Staff benefits have increased markedly, but so has productivity. A great deal of attention is paid to how IT has transformed the ORC.
Every Jamaican would agree that if there was one department which needed “agencification” it was the former Public Works Department. Ivan Anderson, the CEO of the now renamed National Works Agency, which falls under the Ministry of Transport and Works, writes about ‘The Journey as an Executive Agency’. A journey which every Jamaican would be interested in undertaking.
One can skip the problems under the old system, for they are well-known. The National Works Agency was born in April 2001. Reporting an 82 per cent achievement of key performance indicators (KPIs) in the last fiscal year, Mr. Anderson notes that a customer satisfaction survey in 2004 indicated that, “the NWA staff is responsive and professional and generally there is satisfaction with usage experience, the quality and value for money in the work done by the agency”.
Mr. Anderson goes on to inform in his short but useful piece, that “the KPIs are included in the individual targets for senior management who in turn ‘break them out’ into specific targets for their subordinates. Senior managers are held accountable for the KPIs that are within their portfolio areas. An incentive scheme that recognizes what we categorise as ‘good’ and ‘excellent’ is in place.” The Caribbean Journal of Public Sector Management begins with an essay by Michael Wearne, International Co-ordinator and Advisor in Public Sector Reform at the Jamaican Cabinet Office. His piece, ‘The Executive Agency Model in Jamaica: New Public Management in the Caribbean’, gives the overarching background and context surrounding the executive agency concept. It is an excellent guide to the philosophy and methodology of executive agency management.
Overall, the latest Caribean Journal of Public Sector Management is a fitting tribute to MIND, one of the executive agencies covered. Readers should never be bored in going through this issue, which is chock-full of information, interestingly delivered and engagingly written.