Public Administration Minister Carolyn Seepersad-Bachan had signalled disappointment over reassignment away from the Energy portfolio. She may by now realise that the public administration portfolio presents more, and more far-reaching, challenges.
The minister last week gave voice to this as she addressed her ministry's "leadership and management development programme" aimed at grooming mid-level Public Service managers to meet the 21st-century demands of leadership.
In the energy sector, Ms Seepersad-Bachan got used to systems and managers geared to deliver at the level of cutting-edge international performance standards. Such standards apply also to national energy companies, obliged for international competitiveness to raise their game.
In contrast, the T&T Public Service has remained stagnated in a dysfunctional past. It has been deprived of critical resources, human and other, and become demotivated, condemned to low public esteem, low self-esteem and low achievement.
By comparison with local business, the Public Service shows marked underdevelopment in customer service and effectiveness. Noting this, the minister asked rhetorically: "What is our excuse for providing services that are...below the expectations of our clients and partners?"
One explanation, which she acknowledged, is that the private sector attracts most of the "best and brightest". One result has been widespread and critical Public Service vacancies.
The cumulative effect renders the quality of the Public Service management a weak link in the drive chain of modernisation of business and government operations in T&T. For private business, including investors, are disadvantaged and turned off by the slowness and unresponsiveness of archaic public administration operations.
Ordinary citizens seeking routine services, (passports, drivers' permit renewals, health services, requests for social relief, applications for scholarships, grants, and housing) are left frustrated. And with nowhere to turn but to the media which perform as vehicles for communicating bitter public complaint.
Fixing all this is not just a new challenge for the new minister. Ms Seepersad-Bachan recognised that administrative "transformation" (a term applied also to the Police Service) has been an "elusive dream."
Still, a start has to be made somewhere. Last week's programme marks another fresh initiative to change patterns and practices in work, in team building, and in leadership.
One expedient, tried in other countries, recommends itself for local experimentation. A programme of exchanges between public and private sector executives should be mutually beneficial. Private sector people, temporarily posted in the Public Service, stand to gain appreciation of how the government machinery operates, with all its legal and other constraints. Public Service executives, exposed to private operations, get to see firsthand how the world of business works, and what can be adapted to the benefit of their own operations.
The new minister is herself well-placed to bring to bear on the old Public Service systems her experiences with more advanced, real-world, principles and practices.