I would never forget a recent incident that I observed while standing in the vicinity of a particular government department. A lady was requesting information pertaining to a specific service; however, the civil servant with whom she interfaced appeared quite nonchalant and dismissive in fulfilling her duties. In fact, while this employee was at her desk serving the customer, she was chatting on the phone and casually browsing on facebook. Talk about multi-tasking for all the wrong reasons!
In any event, the lady got so infuriated by the inordinate delay that she proceeded to give this junior civil servant a good tongue-lashing and brought it to her attention that she had a packed agenda planned for the day. She was also sure to let her know that, “It is because of civil servants like you why the public service is the way it is and some of you need to be sent home!”
I am not aware if there was some history of personal animosity between both ladies but I was totally flabbergasted when the employee tersely responded, “Hush you d@%n mouth! You cyaan do a ting about it. Ah me Gowaament in Power!” The verbal brutality which the good lady suffered at the hands of this public servant was uncalled for, especially since it was her treasury-paid job to serve the customer and to serve the customer well!
There have also been other instances where I’ve frequented a certain government unit and been so turned off by the constant gossip and dialect that I hear from some officers, even in the presence of tourists! It troubles me because I believe that at this particularly entity, first and last impressions of a positive nature should be the order of the day. Instead, I am often forced to hang my head in shame because I know that what I habitually witness cannot be representative of the best of Nevis. Of course, they say experience is the wisest teacher and so naturally, I learnt my lesson from the experience of the poor lady at the previous department. I was very careful not to say anything that would be perceived as offensive by these officials, for I figured that I too would be made a victim of their heavy tongue, which would have probably uttered the words, “Me Gowaament in Power!”
I am certain that many can tell of a tale or two where they have witnessed other civil servants loitering on government’s time to the detriment of the people and the country which they are PAID to serve! Of course, you dare not be so bold as to try to show them the error of their ways. You dare not try to tell them that they are stealing from the government’s time and coffers, for they will readily put you in your place and let you know – “Me Gowaament in Power!”
This distasteful pattern of behaviour must be eradicated. ALL public servants must understand that the public service exists to serve the needs of the public! They must be made to understand that they are not just serving their party in office; they are serving the country and they need to learn to separate politics from professional duties. Ministers of Government must also take a much firmer stance and not allow partisan politics to compromise the integrity and effectiveness of the civil service!
Do not get me wrong; I am not solely apportioning blame to the present NRP led Government, for ALL the political parties which have held office at both the level of the Nevis Island Administration and the Federal Government have accepted this behaviour and sometimes, perpetuated it. We must now therefore direct our attention to fashioning sensible solutions to address this malady that continues to plague the civil service.
I believe that more civil servants need to be further exposed to frequent and intense training sessions in customer service, with a serious emphasis on proper communication. In fact, several of these sessions should consistently be made available to 5th and 6th formers who enter the workforce upon graduation. Hopefully, more civil servants would then understand that quality customer service ought not only to be confined to the Four Seasons Resort or the Nisbett Plantation Beach Club but must manifest itself in every sector of the Nevisian society.
Additionally, if this has not been done as yet, the Ministry of Human Resources should contemplate implementing a Performance Appraisal System to assess the performance of civil servants. This would entail a team of evaluators visiting the government departments, twice a year and without notice, under the guise of being regular customers. I would also suggest that external facilitators be used so as to inject some measure of impartiality into this process. Such an initiative must also be tied to a scheme that offers incentives for outstanding performers and disincentives for poor performers. After all, “Performance Matters” and even government workers should be judged by this standard!
Supervisors and Heads of Departments also need to exercise greater control and supervision over their staff, as I am sometimes left with the impression that some are a bit lax in this area. Granted, no supervisor can realistically be expected to babysit his/her staff 24:7 and they shouldn’t have to. Perhaps it may help if government offices are outfitted with cameras to better monitor the conduct of employees.
I remember a few weeks ago, I visited a café and requested a particular flavour of milkshake in a specific size. I was told by the employee that regulations did not permit her to sell the desired flavour in the requested size and she couldn’t break the rule, as the camera was on and she may be caught on tape by her manager. I believe if a similar initiative can be implemented, whereby civil servants are mindful of the fact that their actions are being closely scrutinized, then their conduct would be more befitting off the offices which they hold.
There are several other measures that need to be addressed, such as the composition of the Public Service Commission, whose members I believe the Prime Minister has too great a hand in selecting and which warrants greater involvement from special majorities of Parliament so as to afford increased functional independence to this body. I am therefore calling on the NIA to urgently undertake a comprehensive program of public sector reform; as I am persuaded that there are several other Nevisians out there who wish to bear witness to a civil service that is more customer and performance driven, while hearing fewer declarations of – “Me Gowaament in Power!”