By NATARIO McKENZIE
Tribune Business Reporter
THE Bahamian public service has failed to attract quality talent due to a “blurring of the lines” over how is intended to function, a top accountant says.
Gowon Bowe, the Bahamas Institute of Chartered Accountants (BICA) president, responding to a recently-published Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) assessment that gave The Bahamas a score of only 19 out of 100 for civil service development and quality, agreed that there was a need for more qualified persons within the sector.
“I think that what we have knows is that, unfortunately, while there are many competent persons within the civil service there is a recognition by both the policy makers and the general public that there are quite a number of bad apples that lead to spoiling the bunch in terms of reputation,” he said.
“When we look at the complexities of government today, and look at the Westminster system, really the civil service - and particularly the permanent secretary rank which they are very critical of - was effectively those persons that ran the Government.
“I think if you look at the way the Westminster system was designed, policymakers are the persons who devise the strategy and the civil servants, led by the permanent secretary, are the ones required to carry out the actual strategy and put in place the actual policies and procedures.”
Mr Bowe added: “I think what we have seen certainly is an element of blurring that line where we often see legislation and operation that is reposed in the hands of the minister, and because of that we have seen a reduction in the quality of civil servants because the persons attracted to the civil service are going to be changing because, if there is no ability to affect change, implement policy, if you were to exhibit professional skills, you are not likely to want to take on that role if it were to simply follow orders from a minister.
“I think over time what you have is several initiatives which have taken place. One is that the political directorate have unfortunately used it as a dumping ground for their constituents in terms of political favours, and the lack of responsibility and delegation has led to the deterioration of the calibre of persons being attracted to the service.”
The IDB report, The state of the civil service in The Bahamas, revealed that only Suriname’s civil service is performing worse than this nation’s public sector, which was ranked behind Jamaica, Barbados, Trinidad & Tobago and even Guyana on performance qualify. “A score of 19 out of 100 shows that The Bahamas has significant room for improvement,” it concluded.
Benchmarked against seven main performance indicators, The Bahamas came close to 50 percent on just one - merit - which assesses how professional the civil service is in practice, and its ability to remain free from corruption and political influence.”
“Whilst we have some persons with the necessary calibre of qualification in the various ministries, we don’t have enough. I think we try to compensate for that by bringing in more people, but the reality is that having more of the wrong skill set does not compensate for the right skill-set,” Mr Bowe said.
“Right now I think we lack the right skill set in terms of those areas where we have tried to compensate by throwing more bodies at it, and that has been a detriment because it has bloated the size of the civil service, stifled growth in the service and has stifled the productivity of the service.”