Bridging the Gap Between the Public Service and the People that they Serve

Duane HerpergerPresentation by the Hon. Philip J. Pierre, Deputy Prime Minister of Saint Lucia to the Public Sector Leadership Conference of the Cave Hill School of Business, University of the West Indies, Barbados, September 22, 2015

Let me congratulate the Cave Hill School of Business of the University of the West Indies for its pioneering role in education of our present and future public and private sector leaders in the ever- changing field of management of the public and private sector.
I have noted with satisfaction the focus of the conference is on implementation of decisions and plans in the public sector, and I note your ready admission in the language of your title “Overcoming the Implementation Deficit: From Planning to Performance that there remains, as far as our jurisdictions are concerned, challenges to public servants in your roles as planners of projects, negotiators of projects executors of projects and overseers of the effective completion of the implementation processes.

Let us start by defining a public servant in the context of the modern governmental systems that exist in the region. We can define three categories of public servants.
  1. The Conventional Public Servant working in the civil service for the government of the day.
  2. The Regional Public Servant working for regional institutions that impact on local governance, examples being the employees of Caribbean Development Bank (C.D.B), the Organisationof Eastern Caribbean States (O.E.C.S), Eastern Caribbean Central Bank (E.C.C.B), Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court (E.C.S.C.)
  3. The International Public Servant working for global institutions like theInternational Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank that deal directly with loans and grants to governments of the region.
This means that our public services in the region must not only have the specific knowledge pertinent to the discipline but have a responsibility to familiarize themselves not only with the new developments on the wider international issues, but familiarisation with the general and specific functioning and practices of these international institutions, since these entities in spite of their distance and global nature have a significant role to play in the delivery of services to governments and by extension the people of the country.
It would be opportune at this time if we find a definition for the public service: “A public service is a service which is provided by government to people living within its jurisdiction either directly through the public sector or by financing provision of service”. I have given a definition for the public servant. Now let us try to determine whom exactly does the public service “serve”. To my mind the public service provides a constitutional and continuing responsibility to the electorate who are the nationals of our countries, and to international institutions from which, as independent countries, we have negotiated and received loans or assistance in our development.

We can also determine that the public service, apart from providing these services to the electorate, also serves the elected or the political directorate chosen in our countries by elections held after a five-year term. Officials of the public service and the elected representatives sometimes come into conflict particularly when there is a change in administration. I will attempt to deal with the sources of these conflicts later in the presentation.
Public services in the region over the years have been called upon to perform tasks of increasing complexity, involving properly negotiating loans or grants and gaining quick familiarity with the methods, practices and procedures of representatives of countries and international institutions. It is in the negotiations for these grants and loans that the public service must gain a rapid and reasonably thorough grasp of their terms and conditions in order that it can remove doubts in the minds of the electorate as to whether the negotiations concluded, and the terms of arrangements made, are solid and beneficial to the country.
The issue of public debt is an emotional and controversial topic that is used by politicians to their political advantage depending on their position in government or opposition. By effectively and dispassionately communicating with the electorate on the terms, benefits and cost of these loans, a professional public service can reduce the doubts and suspicions of a sometimes sceptical public and help bridge the important information gap that I will speak to later.


Various writers have opined on the role and function of the public service in the public management environment. Matthew Flinders in his book, Defending Politics speaks of the “Public Service Ethos” and notes: “The Public Service Ethos is generally accepted to involve a combination of high ethical standards (trust, propriety etcetera) and a degree of altruism in which individuals commit to working within the public sector due to a sense of personal commitment and loyalty to collective action for which they will be rewarded with a secure job, moderate increase, and even the possibility of a public honour or distinction for senior or outstanding public service. Phrased in this way, the public service ethos can be interpreted as a form of cultural resource that promotes a high trust, high commitment workforce.”
Author Edgardo M. Favaro, in a World Bank publication entitled Small States, Smart Solutions – Improving Connectivity and Increasing the effectiveness of the Public Services, uses examples, discussing the utility of “outsourcing of government functions as a means of reducing the costs and improving the quality of some public goods and services.” He further advises on “policies, institutions and regulations designed to harness the power of information and telecommunications technology (ICT) to reduce the costs and improve the quality of connectivity with the rest of the world.” In other words Favaro is of the opinion that outsourcing and technology can reduce the practical knowledge gap and improve standards.
In the book, The Managerial State (1997) by John Clarke and Jaret Newman, the authors disagreed with Flinders’ notion of the Public Service Ethos as “a veil for the maintenance of a system in which public sector employees were able to persist in self-servicing forms of behaviour”. They instead agreed that the altering of incentives and sanctions framework for public service employees by opening their services to the discipline of the market and introducing new forms of performance related pay was viewed as a thoroughly “modern and appropriate response.” Flinders however maintains his position and believes that there is little hard evidence that New Public Management has actually delivered the efficiency and savings as promised. Other writers, ranging from the traditional (Flinders) to the modern (Favaro) have taken similar or varying positions on the role of management and effectiveness of the public service. The question is, which one of these two positions will indeed bridge that gap of differences in expectations in service delivery – since public officers are employed by governments to deliver a range of services to the general public through ministries and departments, while governments are elected by people to improve their quality of life by delivering better services, for example, financial, medical, material, employment, protection of life and property, defence and legal and opportunity, among others. These services are then transmitted via policy designed by politicians to the public service for delivery to the public. These considerations induce us to reflect on the changing conditions in which our public servants have been involved over the years as economic and physical planners, project preparation specialists and project negotiators. This reflection extends to government ministers as the holders of the central political responsibility for the delivery of efficient services.
We have spoken earlier on the different methods used by the public services to deliver to the public. Let us now examine cases of institutions that have to a large extent been obedient to the Favaro model. Two institutions that are examples of “regional solutions” or “outsourcing”, to become more effective or bridge the gap, are the Eastern Caribbean Central Bank (ECCB) and the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court (ECSC).


The Eastern Caribbean Central Bank is responsible for bank supervision in the Eastern Caribbean. The organisation has the effect of assuming [relinquishing] from individual governments responsibility for some national powers in the monetary affairs of their countries. Recently a new Banking Act has drawn even more power from Ministers of Finance in favour of the ECCB. Favaro believes that the ECCB has been largely the cause of the stability of the E.C. dollar and the management of, or even absence of, monetary tension in the Eastern Caribbean countries. This has been the result of “sensible rules” and “the enactment of a uniform legal framework for bank operation in the region which has been critical to the efficiency of the multi- country body.” Whereas the ECCB has been largely successful in its mission of maintaining stability and confidence in the currency, Favaro notes that the collaboration is not without its challenges. Foremost among these are the challenges associated with the regulation of non-bank financial intermediaries in the OECS.

The other example of pooling resources or outsourcing cited by Favaro is the “Regional Court System in the OECS”. This is described as “a pioneering example of outsourcing by individual sovereign countries of the provision of justice to a regional court”. The provision of justice, appointment of judges and magistrates is sensitive particularly in small states like the OECS. Removing these powers from individual to collective
governments has been based on the doctrine of separation of powers and has been largely responsible for the high level of legal services impartially dispensed in the OECS.
Favaro cites the more recently formed organisation, the Eastern Caribbean Telecommunication Authority (ECTEL) which in the year 2000 became the “world’s first multi-country regulatory telecommunication agency”, as an effective tool in the breakup of the monopoly in the delivery of ICT services in the Eastern Caribbean and the fostering of competition and regulation in the sector. The deregulation of the ICT sector was not without debate, and the concept of delegating executive power to a regional body had to be carefully designed. ECTEL was a hybrid and the organisation would “make regional decisions on an advisory basis, but power would still be formally vested at the national level”.

ECTEL was established under treaty signed on May 4, 2000. Its primary roles are “to design a transparent, objective, competitive and investor-friendly licensing and regulatory regime to be implemented at the national level, to manage numbers and frequency allocations in each of the member states, and to create a forum for coordination of OECS telecommunications policies and regulations”. The organisation is funded via spectrum and license fees, which were treated as a regional asset.
The birth of ECTEL was as a result of two significant events: Threats by Cable and Wireless to cut its service to Saint Lucia because of its failure to agree on new negotiating terms for its exclusive arrangement to provide services to Saint Lucia. Windward Island governments responded to the threat of withdrawal of service by Cable and Wireless by stating that the company would be forced to cease services in all the islands. The other event is known as the “Marpin Case” in Dominica where the Minister in Dominica ruled that Marpin’s license as a “broadcaster” allowed it to provide Internet services to the public. “Cable and Wireless objected to Marpin’s provision of internet services directly and withdrew its 800 dial up service that allowed Marpin customers to: dial up toll free in the Internet”. Legal action followed and the Privy Council ruled in favour of Marpin saying that “the company’s monopoly constituted an infringement of citizens’ constitutional rights to freedom of speech”. These two events effectively caused the dismantling of the ICT monopoly by Cable and Wireless and the introduction of competition in the ICT sector.
I have dealt in some depth on this issue because I believe that the ICT sector is one of the most effective, workable and tangible ways by which services delivery can be improved, expanded and the gap bridged in the delivery of services to the public. The collaboration between the islands of the OECS on ICT matters resulted in the removal of the monopoly, improved service delivery and are a positive demonstration of Favora Model. The role and importance of the regional public servant providing support to individual governments and to public servants in the individual countries is clearly illustrated in these examples. Another significant reason why the formation of ECTEL is important is that it opened up the possibilities of the use of E-Government in improving our systems and processes.
I referred earlier to the conflicts that exist between the public service and the political directorate, and how these may lead to a further widening of the gap in service delivery. Public services in the region are expected, at least on paper, to be neutral as far as partisan political behaviour is concerned. In an effort to sideline that convention, several elected governments have introduced a system of special advisors and consultants in the various ministries. The rationale for these appointments is based on the feeling that ministers (politicians) are more comfortable with individuals who understand their policies and are more willing to change with the times. In many instances these changes of personnel are characterized as victimization, payback and patronage. The jury is still out on the concept of neutrality and the ability of individuals at the highest administrative level to seamlessly shift from one administration to the other. Many say that there is no clear path to the resolution of these issues.
If one agrees with the Flinders concept of “Public Service Ethos” then one most concur that the concept of neutrality is alive and that the public service administrators will easily adjust to changes in the political directorate. On the other hand some say that it is difficult, if not impossible, for the upper echelons of public service to adapt to policy directives of a new and different political directorate, particularly if they were ultimately involved in the execution of these former policies and the new political directorate is demanding drastic changes.
Then there is the possibility of conflict in ideology and direction. The political directorate may want to take a certain path and the public service and advisors another. For example in Saint Lucia, the government, in an effort to curb rising unemployment particularly among the youth, embarked on a programme of employment called NICE (National Initiative to Create Employment) and STEP (Short- Term Employment Project). These projects used government funds to directly create government-funded employment at various government agencies. Millions of dollars have been expended and thousands of persons have been employed. But a difference of view became evident when certain sections of the public service asserted their belief that the money used can be best channelled for direct capital expenditure. This situation is an example of a direct policy difference between the elected and the public service.
Resolving these situations calls for senior public servants to have professional expertise that management of the public sector requires.  First that the managers must of necessity develop a sense of responsibility, a sense of the need for understanding and functioning within a context of sensibility to the perceptions and requirements of the new administration, and the flexibility to be able to explain to the public the policies which the new government has implemented, and for which it naturally claims responsibility. These conflicts demand that the public sector must acquire the scientific tools of management, and keep in mind that the final objective of such activities is the satisfaction of the public and the improvement of the quality of  life of the people – on the basis of a mandate that was given to the elected by the people and reflecting the notion of trust that politician must endeavour to keep with the electorate, and must be understood by the public servant.
Let us summarize by saying that the concept of neutrality can help bridge the gap between the two sets of actors involved, but can only be effective if it is grounded by a public service rooted in principle, professionalism, and high ethical standards. There must be an understanding that policy reflects the changing needs and aspirations of society and must be reviewed, updated and monitored continuously. This implies that the public sector must work together with the political directorate towards improving the political acceptability of new programmes and policies. We can summarize by saying that the concept of neutrality of the public service can bridge the gap, but it must be underpinned by a professional public service grounded in principle, professionalism and high ethical standards.
I have attempted so far to explain the nature, role and functions of the public service, and the possible modalities under which it operates including the relationship with the elected political directorship. We also identified some gaps between service and expectation and suggestions for its reduction. Going forward let us in a more specific and detailed manner examine some of these existing gaps and propose some measures to bridge these gaps. The fundamental reason for these gaps lies in differences in expectations between the perception of officials of the public service and the general expectations of the public as to what they deserve from the public service. We will discuss some practical examples by identifying these gaps, relate them to public expectation and suggest means of bridging them.
Legal Gap
The general public expectation is that government legislation and regulations should be published and copies made available to the general public. These should be explained in layman’s terms and understood by all. The gap exists because public service officials are usually more aware of provisions of the laws and regulations that govern the operations of respective ministries and departments, but some do not see the need to describe in detail these laws and regulations. To bridge the gap there must be ongoing review of the laws and regulations producing updates on changes, and public service officials should be designated to prepare and explain provisions to the public in a manner that can be understood by all. Communication must be regular and consistent.
Information Gap
General public expectation is that information should be made readily available as needed in a comprehensive manner. The public service is sometimes of the opinion that the public can make themselves more aware by doing research, reading publications and generally informing themselves on information that is available. To bridge that gap a more concerted effort must be made to bring information to the public in layman’s terms.
Knowledge Gap
The general public expectation is that it is possible that a quick and positive response to all requests for assistance from various public institutions should always be forthcoming. The public service believes that the public should understand that there are procedures to be adopted before implementation. To bridge the gap public education must be ongoing using all modern communication methods.
Process Gap
General public expectation is that officials will provide very simple interpretation of the processes leading to legislation, regulations and public policy. The gap exists because officials are aware of these processes and do not understand why the public have difficulty in understanding them. To bridge the gap the public must be provided with step-by-step written description of processes where necessary, and clear time-lines for their implementation.

Time Gap
General public expectation is that services should be assessed in a timely manner and processes, procedures and services should be instant. Officials, on the other hand, feel they try to assist but the public assesses the services available in an inappropriate manner and are impatient and intolerant. It is necessary to conduct business process reengineering to shorten the time needed for the public to access service.
Confidence Gap
The general public expectation, particularly in matters of law enforcement and health matters, requires prompt confidential service to protect their life and property. The public service on the other hand expects that the public should provide information and trust that professionalism and confidentially is a given. To bridge the gap, deliberate and tangible steps must be taken to rebuild the public’s trust and confidence in public service officials by ensuring accountability and confidentially from public officials and systems that provide feedback from the public.
Consultation Gap
General public expectation is to be responsive when urgent calls are made for assistance to protect life and property. The gap exists because the public wants more consultation but officials want to limit consultation in the interest of time. To bridge the gap we must mandate public service officials to consult the public before introducing public policy measures.
Communication Gap
The general public expectation is that officials should consult extensively on all national issues and facilitate full discussion on these matters. On the other hand the public service is if the opinion that, whereas communication is necessary, there are technical and confidential matters for which they should be allowed a degree of latitude to implement what is considered best. To bridge the gap public officials must consult the public extensively and find ways of describing public policy measures so that the public can partake in the discussion and subsequent decision making.
Power Gap
The general public expectation is that public officials should be considerate in the enforcement of the power afforded to them in the laws, regulations and policies that they administer. This is particularly true in law enforcement and other regulatory authorities. On the other hand, the gap exists because officials exercise the power afforded to them under the law and there is not the need to temper justice with mercy. To bridge the gap we must create an atmosphere where the public must not feel powerless at the hands of state officials. There must be sensitivity to the emotions of the public. It is necessary therefore that there is adequate training for officials in human rights and public relations.
The future of the public service is under intense scrutiny and review as to its effectiveness and whether it provides value for money spent by taxpayers. International organisations like the IMF constantly urge governments to reduce the size of the civil service. They see the civil service as large and bureaucratic serving as an employment agency rather than a provider of efficient services. In effect, the “Public Service Ethos” spoken to by Flinders is considered archaic and a model for disaster in the use of scarce financial resources. Governments therefore are under intense pressure to downsize, privatize and outsource its services as a means of reducing fiscal imbalances.
The public service provides important services ranging from the dissemination of information on government plans and projects. Provision of financial, medical and material assistance has now become a part of daily life. Documentation of entitlements, laws and public policy, and interpretation of provisions of existing legislation, advice and processing of procedures of civil society, protection of life and property and generally providing social and economic services to  a country: these are important functions which the public have come to expect over a period of time. We can assume that the provision of these services will continue in the future even while the debate continues. What is important for us in the region is that we develop an efficient professional public service that understands the changing environment as it relates to policy, and the vagaries of our democracy.
It is my belief that with training, professionalism and character, the public services in the region can be hybrid between Flinders “Public Service Ethos” and the modernity of Favora’s outsourcing and ICT adventure while still providing its needed services to our people.
I thank you.