Loss of Innocence
David and Goliath
He Who Pays the Piper
Future of Colin Powell
Requiem for Broken Dream
Gifts from Paradise
War On Iraq
Bush One, Saddam One
Remember J. Merridith
State of In-Betweenity
Words Do Matter
The Lynching of Iraq
Before the Riots Begin
A Dog's Life
Passing of PM Charles
Fin. & Econ. Survival
In Walks 'Madam Hawke'
Impressions - 05 Elections
Deep Throat Revealed
Beyond The Pale
Gospel of Judas
Rise of Barack Obama
© J.B. Sampson
BEFORE THE RIOTS BEGIN
(February 24, 2003)
About 40 years ago the late Malcolm X said of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy: "The chickens have come home to roost".
The militant black leader was severely criticized for his apparent lack of sensitivity at a time of national tragedy. But what he was in fact saying was that violence was endemic in American society and that the nation should not have been all that surprised that it reached the very top of that society.
Let's focus the microscope for a moment on our own socio-economic conditions in Dominica and pose the question: Have the chickens come home to roost? And relatedly, who is responsible for the mess we seem to be in right now and are there solutions that transcend political party considerations and even narrow Public Service Union interests?
The current stand off between government and the Public Service Union has been in the making for a very long time. Government wants what translates into a ten percent cut in public sector wages. Public servants are balking and point to previous austerity measures and question whether the sacrifices called for to bridge the fiscal gap unfairly penalizes them. Though public sympathy, by and large, seems to be on the side of public servants, they appear to have ceded the moral high ground when they took the untenable position last week that it is not their role, but government's to issue counter proposals. Common sense, which may not be very common these days, appears to be emerging as the leaders of the PSU are reportedly meeting with President Shaw as we write, in an effort to break the impasse.
It is easy to understand why public sympathy may be on the side of the PSU. After all, they are our neighbours, our friends and associates. When they hurt, we all hurt. When they are forced to cut back on their spending, their local supermarkets feel the pain where it hurts most. They have children to provide for, mortgages to meet and car payments to make. This is the emotional side. The rational side of the dispute is entirely different.
The public's mood is perhaps best described by a comment made to me last week end by someone in the village of Mahaut: "It is government's fault; it is their responsibility to go overseas and find money to pay civil servants and if they are not up to the job, let another government step in." Although this may be a naïve and uninformed viewpoint, it is significant in that it betrays a dependency complex which we have not gotten rid of after almost a quarter century of independence.
And I do not entirely blame those who hold this archaic view. I argued in a previous piece, "Requiem For A Broken Dream", that political and civic leaders in this country have failed to level with the public and sensitize them to the need for change in their attitude to work and their overall responsibility as citizens of a sovereign nation. There has been too little emphasis on "merit pay" which is another way of saying that workers ideally ought to be compensated in relation to their productivity as opposed to a feeling of "entitlement". And forgive me for saying so, but this goes to the crux of the problem in the current impasse.
Governments all over the world have experimented in varying degrees with issues related to privatization, prodded by the IMF and the World Bank. If we really want to comprehend the real meaning of privatization we need to recall what happens when a private corporation encounters financial difficulty. They look at areas of inefficiency and they cut back, not necessarily across the board, but they make strategic choices in terms of which expenses are considered truly necessary to meet their revenue goals and how they should best allocate their capital budget to generate new revenues. Are there lessons to be learnt and applied to the current economic difficulties of Dominica? I submit that there are.
And this was a point of view expressed to me by the host of the local Television host of " What About", Lennox Linton, in an informal discussion at the Botanic Gardens last Saturday. The ten percent across the board cut makes no sense if the cut was not part of a strategic exercise in reducing expenditures in some areas while perhaps even increasing expenditure in some other critical areas so as to achieve net savings and boost performance as measured by Gross Domestic Production (GDP).
This seems to run contrary to reports of expected lay offs at the National Development Corporation. If it turns to be true that the Corporation, which is supposed to provide the engine for growth and development in critical sectors of the economy including tourism and industrial development, is about to be downsized, it is fair to say that national priorities are seriously misplaced. Or perhaps it might be just a statement about the effectiveness of that institution. In any case the way to deal with issues related to the success or otherwise of the NDC is not to gut it, but to take a hard look at how it can be beefed up to deliver on its promise of spurring the kind of growth we need going forward.
No one is suggesting that the civil service ought to be run on a strict private sector model. But there are elements of the private sector ethos that can be incorporated into the public service. Like promotions based on performance versus seniority. Like greater flexibility in terminating workers for chronic lackluster performance etc. There are numerous anecdotes of breakdown in discipline in the public service and the lack of resolve or the institutional framework to deal with these issues. If left unattended these issues can seriously erode morale and further complicate the task of correcting the inefficiencies in that sector.
The public service contains some of the brightest people in the country, and it does not require a leap of faith to believe that on a rational level, they ought to be comfortable with this concept.
There are numerous examples of countries that have hit the skids lately, Argentina being the most recent. Under the worst scenarios emotions boil over. Riots, and indiscriminate violence replace commonsense and thoughtful action. So before we march thoughtlessly towards this abyss it is necessary to realize that the current situation need not be permanent if corrective action is taken now.
Before the chickens really come home to roost!