Friday, July 04, 2003

Defining Third World

Interacting with government agencies is one of the most frustrating activities one can face. Every time I face this ordeal it reminds me immediately of our third world status. The definition of third world in my mind does not have to do with the type of industries we have but the way we execute our socialization and business processes. We can be financially successful in any activity we choose but this depends significantly on the method of execution.

I had a recent experience with the tax office, which demonstrated only too clearly this concept. I went to replace a motor vehicle title that had been lost. The process started with a trip to the Half Way Tree police station to make a report. This was a rather pleasant experience. I was directed to the office responsible for this. On entering I was asked immediately by a lady what the problem was, who expeditiously dealt with my report. A few weeks after I made a trip to the tax office to complete the transaction and was told that the other person named on the title had to be there in person to sign the application. This of course meant waiting a few more weeks as it was difficult for the both of us to find the time. When this was finally possible, it was discovered that the person’s name had to be changed on the motor vehicle registration as the tax office had mistakenly left off the hyphenated extension to the person’s name. I was then sent to another desk to correct the error. On completion I was directed to another point to get a substitute document. On arriving there I was told that I had to pay a fee to correct a mistake made by the tax office. I protested on a point of principle as the documents were correctly presented to them and it was therefore their error, only to be told that the error was made by the Cross Roads office, which was separate from Constant Spring and if I didn’t want to pay I had to go back to Cross Roads. For your information, these are branches of the same agency.

After protest I eventually got the replacement done without being charged. I then had to go back to the original desk to have the documents stamped in order to pay the replacement fee at the cashier. When I got back to the cashier I was told that I needed to be in possession of the insurance certificate for the car, which did not exist because the insurance had been up on the car for a while. A supervisor came to my rescue and allowed the transaction to go through after much explanation. The end result of all of this is that a transaction that should have taken 15 minutes ended up lasting for one hour during which time I went though various emotional stages.

This experience prompted me to think that this is the reason why we are a third world country. The difference between a first and third world country has everything to do with the ease of carrying out transactions and daily living. How can we as a nation be serious about development when so much time is wasted with experiences such as these? At the same time I was there I heard a man cursing that he was just trying to pay some money to close down a business, as he was frustrated with the process, and even the act of paying much needed revenue to the government was difficult.

It is this bureaucracy that it helping to stifle our development. The problem I find is not necessarily with the people who carry out the daily functions at the government agencies. There has evidently been a wide scale introduction of people trained in customer service in the various government agencies. The problem is that these very same persons are restricted in what they can do by the rules and processes that act as a noose around their necks. They obviously do try to assist and the frustration is also evident on their faces. Very soon these people will fall into the mode of inefficiency and we will have to start all over again.

Customer service does not change because new computers and policy manuals are introduced. The most important part of any system or technological improvement depends on people. If we set up a system where the natural talent and discretion of employees are restricted by the rules then the system will be as inefficient as before the change. The problem in many instances is because the same administrators that existed before the changes are the same ones retained, with the same mind set in many cases. System improvement emanates primarily from a change in the way of thinking and skills. Our present government bureaucracy is based on the principle of “guilty until proven innocent”.

The same is true for the private sector. There are many companies that do not understand what service is. When you call them you get this new and improved telephone answering system that provides a grand tour of the office extensions and after you have wasted 15 minutes trying to get someone you are then placed on hold for another 5 minutes. At the end of it you feel as if you have just been afforded a privilege to spend your money.

This is the main distinction between today’s large organization and tomorrow’s international corporation, and is at the heart of our inability to compete internationally. The cumulative effect of the bureaucracy of government agencies and the internal inefficiencies of companies result in very high cost structures.

How then do companies such as Grace Kennedy and Jamaica Producers Group compete so effectively on an international scale? Only recently these companies were facing challenging times and have made remarkable recoveries. I also remember that it was on the basis of human capital that IBM saved itself from extinction. I know because I was working at IBM at the time of the reorganization.

The difference with these companies is that they hire and reward good human resources. This is the same model that can be found in the Fortune 500 companies around the globe. In today’s world it is the quality of the human resources that is going to give any company a competitive edge. If you can think of one good employee within your own company, think how difficult it is to replace that person and what it would be like if you could not rely on that person. The cost of sub-standard human resources is much higher than properly rewarding good people. Most persons will realize this only after the person has left the company.

The next time you think about why Jamaica is a third world country, it is because of the long approval process to start business, the dependence on personalities to complete transactions, the corruption that exists, the lack of service within private companies, the need to be aggressive on the roads, the frustration to pay taxes and the preference of a friend over expertise for a job. In short it is the lack of productive human capital and the resistances to properly reward excellence and build our organizations on human resource talent that make us third world.


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