Friday, August 15, 2003

Towards Greater Efficiency

I have heard on occasions persons in the private sector refer, both publicly and privately, to the inefficiency of the various government processes. The word inefficiency seems to have become somewhat of a cliché for some people and is used freely to explain every situation. A recent experience I have had with two government ministries has led me to question the source of inefficiency.

Over the past few weeks, the Managing Director of my organization and I have had reasons to interact with the Ministries of Agriculture and Finance. On one of those occasions, he intimated that the reason for the seemingly inefficient operations in Government is, in many instances, a result of the behaviour of the private sector. This led me to reflect on what we had experienced over the preceding days in dealing with these ministries, which, for the most part, was pleasant and fulfilling. In fact, our particular problem emanated from inadequacies in the communication between the private companies involved, thus, causing us to call upon the Government for a speedy resolution at short notice.

Despite this short notice, the Government personnel were able to deal with our problem expeditiously without any complaints. I found that their willingness to meet our needs was driven by their desire to satisfy the market.

I thought about Government personnel with whom I have been in contact over the past two years and the professional and courteous manner in which they have dealt with various issues. I am in no way saying that the service level is where it should be but, in my opinion, that has more to do, today with the archaic systems than the personnel. The truth is that the Government bodies have been gaining in efficiency.

There is no doubt that the business processes in Jamaica require far too much interaction with Government bodies which, in many instances, have arduous rules to follow, but beneath all of that is a reason for the procedures. Much of the seemingly difficult rules put in place by the Government have resulted from the private sector’s own actions. In many cases, we try too much to “beat the system”, and many times boast about the successes in doing so.

Many will, no doubt, have heard references to persons who will try to “beat the gate”, even though the function being attended is free. This type of behaviour is not restricted only to the man on the street, as many businessmen will try to buy favours, even when it costs more, in the long run, to beat the system than to do the right thing first time around. They are always trying to get ahead by bending the rules in their favour but, if someone else tries to do the same thing, they themselves will publicly call for that person’s head. This is not the only source of inefficiencies in the systems, resulting from the “red tapes” put in place by Government, but also our lack of international competitiveness, as we do not seem to have what it takes to compete fairly.

My own experience with Government has also made me aware that the reason Government bodies put legislation and rules in place is to ensure that the private entities (companies and individuals) do not take unfair advantage of a situation. The problem with our society is that the “beat the system” mentality seems to be so (pervasive?) that it has become a way of life for many. To counter this type of behaviour, therefore, the Government, in many instances, has had to put procedures and rules in place to prevent the abuse of the system by some to the disadvantage of others. This has resulted in having processes, which are both time-consuming and inefficient. Hence, the build up of a slow-moving and unfriendly investment environment, which hinders serious investors.

Our private sector has called, time and time again, for protectionist policies and has only taken advantage of those policies without adding any real value to the economy, thus, questioning our inability to survive globally, when this protection is lifted. This is, however, not the case in all situations, as some industries do need protection but, in some cases, the intention is not about national development but rather self-interest. This type of behaviour develops from the individual level where, for example, we will go into a bank and head to the front of the line and ask our friend for a favour, or we speak highly against indiscipline but refuse to pay our monthly housing maintenance fees or rent.

One of the problems that have contributed to the proliferation of this type of behaviour is our outdated laws, which are unfriendly towards investment capital and, ultimately, development. Over the years, Governments have placed band-aid solutions on this by offering incentives to certain investments, but this will not work, if we are serious about development, as we need to apply fundamental changes to our underlying structures, if we are to effectively deal with the problems.

We have seen the benefits that can accrue to us from a competitive and well-regulated market from the examples of the telecommunications and media industries. The introduction of multiple players has resulted in increased economic activity and greater benefits for all. This would not have been possible, however, without the efforts of the Broadcasting and the Fair Trading Commissions to ensure that there is a level playing field for all players. These are the models that we need to emulate in the development of other sectors.

The Government must continue to lead the change process, as they have been doing, as the private sector may not be capable of doing this effectively, due to self-interest. The Government has begun the process of change and this is evident by the type of persons they employ and the increasingly efficient ways in which issues are addressed. There is still a need for improvement in many areas but, over the past few years, the wheels have been turning in the right direction.
The private sector needs to be cognisant of the role they must play in the country’s development and, in this process, towards greater efficiency.


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