De­lib­er­ate steps nec­es­sary to curb pub­lic-sec­tor waste – Fos­ter-Allen

Jamaica Gleaner - - FRONT PAGE - Ryon.jones@glean­erjm.com

WITH PUB­LIC sec­tor mod­erni­sa­tion in the air, Elaine FosterAllen, who served as per­ma­nent sec­re­tary (PS) in three dif­fer­ent min­istries and is now re­tir­ing from pub­lic ser­vice, feels that de­lib­er­ate steps need to be taken to rem­edy pub­lic-sec­tor waste.

Last week, Prime Min­is­ter An­drew Holness an­nounced a new Pub­lic Sec­tor Trans­for­ma­tion Over­sight Com­mit­tee cochaired by head of the Hugh Law­son Shearer Trade Union In­sti­tute and trade union­ist, Danny Roberts, and Cabi­net sec­re­tary, Am­bas­sador Dou­glas Saun­ders.

The for­ma­tion of the new com­mit­tee comes on the heels of re­search find­ings re­leased by the Ja­maica Civil So­ci­ety Coali­tion and the Caribbean Vul­ner­a­ble Com­mu­ni­ties Coali­tion, which deemed that waste in­ef­fi­ciency and gross non-com­pli­ance by gov­ern­ment min­istries and de­part­ments have cost Ja­maicans more than $6 bil­lion be­tween 2009 and 2012.

“I can see where there is waste and there are things that we could be do­ing and should be do­ing,” said Fos­ter-Allen, who served as PS in the Min­istry of Ed­u­ca­tion, Of­fice of the Prime Min­is­ter, and most re­cently, the Min­istry of Health be­fore re­tir­ing.

“Util­i­ties, for ex­am­ple. We find some­times that the min­istries are sup­port­ing com­mu­ni­ties, so you have com­mu­nity light and com­mu­nity wa­ter, and I think some­times there is in­ef­fi­ciency.”

I also think if we just had some stan­dard op­er­at­ing pro­ce­dures in place, we could cut out a lot of the wast­ing of time and the pub­lic would be bet­ter served.

LACK OF QUAL­I­FI­CA­TION

She also be­lieves more care must be taken in em­ploy­ing peo­ple to the var­i­ous min­istries, as too many come in with­out the req­ui­site qual­i­fi­ca­tions and, there­fore, not able to prop­erly un­der­take the job at hand.

“Part of the prob­lem we have with the pub­lic sec­tor, es­pe­cially at the level of the min­istries, is that we have too many peo­ple who re­ally do not fit. We need to get the peo­ple with the qual­i­fi­ca­tions to do the job we re­quire them to do,” Fos­ter-Allen shared with The Sun­day Gleaner in her exit in­ter­view.

“Peo­ple of­ten come to the min­istries on the ba­sis of just want­ing a job, and not nec­es­sar­ily look­ing a ca­reer. They come in hav­ing not got­ten all the qual­i­fi­ca­tions, and they stay and learn on the job and even­tu­ally get pro­moted through the sys­tem.”

She noted that while it was good that per­sons were be­ing pro­vided with jobs, it could not be at the ex­pense of qual­ity ser­vice to the pub­lic.

The for­mer prin­ci­pal of the Short­wood Teach­ers’ Col­lege also pointed out that elim­i­nat­ing some nu­ga­tory in­vest­ments and mak­ing other mi­nor ad­just­ments would go a far way in sav­ing the coun­try money in the long run.

“We have a prob­lem with main­te­nance in the pub­lic sec­tor. We also have a prob­lem with fin­ish­ing things we have started in a timely man­ner. If we have old equip­ment that’s break­ing down ev­ery so of­ten, you won’t get the work done and you are go­ing to waste peo­ple’s money,” Fos­ter-Allen said.

“I also think if we just had some stan­dard op­er­at­ing pro­ce­dures in place, we could cut out a lot of the wast­ing of time and the pub­lic would be bet­ter served.”

Fos­ter-Allen, who served in vary­ing ca­pac­i­ties across the ed­u­ca­tion sec­tor both lo­cally and in the United King­dom, where she was an in­spec­tor at­tached to Her Majesty’s in­spec­torate, and was the first black woman to be­come prin­ci­pal of a school in Birm­ing­ham, said she was sur­prised by what she found when she took up the post of PS in the Min­istry of Ed­u­ca­tion in 2013.

“At the Min­istry of Ed­u­ca­tion, I was very in­volved in modernising the min­istry; there were peo­ple work­ing with­out job de­scrip­tions for years. Job de­scrip­tions were writ­ten and we put the per­for­mance man­age­ment sys­tem in place,” Fos­ter-Allen said.

Dur­ing her ten­ure there, she worked with the Rev­erend Ron­ald Th­waites, who she de­scribed as the most dif­fi­cult min­is­ter and nick­named Un­cle Pharaoh, as he would de­mand things to be done im­me­di­ately.

She, how­ever, found her ten­ure at the Of­fice of the Prime Min­is­ter, which ran from Novem­ber 2015 to Au­gust 2016, as the most chal­leng­ing be­cause al­though she “had worked in ad­min­is­tra­tion for quite a long time, this was ad­min­is­tra­tion at a dif­fer­ent level.

“Maybe the most chal­leng­ing time for me over the past four years in the civil ser­vice was man­ag­ing the tran­si­tion from one ad­min­is­tra­tion to an­other be­cause, un­for­tu­nately, I think I felt a lit­tle un­easy that peo­ple may think that I am aligned to one ad­min­is­tra­tion and not an­other,” she shared.

Fos­ter-Allen, who will cel­e­brate her 63rd birth­day next Sun­day, is cur­rently on two weeks pre-re­tire­ment leave, and upon her re­turn from over­seas, plans on do­ing some more mis­sion­ary work, gar­den­ing, com­plet­ing writ­ing her book and do­ing more trav­el­ling.

FOS­TER-ALLEN

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