Q2 with Hon. Carolyn Seepersad-Bachan

Hon. Carolyn Seepersad- Bachan
Hon. Carolyn Seepersad-Bachan is Minister of Public Administration, Trinidad and Tobago. An Engineer by profession, Hon. Seepersad-Bachan holds a Master of Science degree in Electrical Engineering. She is a former Lecturer in Engineering at the University of the West Indies, St. Augustine Campus and Member of the UWI Board of Engineering Institute. She has also served as Chairman of the National Petroleum Marketing Company of Trinidad and Tobago (NPMC) and has done consulting in the field of quality assurance. Mrs. Carolyn Seepersad-Bachan was appointed Trinidad and Tobago’s first female Minister of Energy and Energy Affairs and was later appointed Minister of Public Administration in June 2011. In that short space of time, she has achieved a firm grasp of the challenges facing the public sector and the required impetus needed to spur modernisation.


Question 1: In terms of public service transformation and modernization, how has Trinidad and Tobago confronted common barriers to adapting quickly to changing times (barriers may include focusing on the status quo, working in silos and limiting information sharing, or other)?
 
The need to “reform” the public service has been a continuing preoccupation of all governments of Trinidad and Tobago, in recognition of the fact that the demands which are placed on it constantly evolve over time.
 
What makes the task of reforming, transforming or modernising the “public service” particularly challenging is that it is not a single, unified entity, but rather a number of institutions that constitute the administrative machinery of the state. It incorporates the “Civil Service”, the Teaching Service, the Police Service, and the Judicial and Legal Service. Since each of these amorphous groupings, embedded in our constitution, operates under distinct regulatory frameworks, each requires a customised approach to affecting and managing change.
 
The Ministry of Public Administration (MPA) is spearheading a programme for the renewal and modernisation of the public service, branded, Journey from Gold to Diamond (G2D), which is meant to embody the journey from the Golden anniversary of the nation and its Public Service in 2012, to its Diamond anniversary in 2022. By that time, there will be in place a citizen-centric public service characterized by excellence in service delivery, geared to meet all the nation’s needs for public goods and services. This G2D journey has already begun and shows potential to succeed as it represents the convergence and synergistic interplay of five critical forces – political will, demand for customer service, availability of ICTs that allow for more sophistication, greater reach and 24/7 delivery, buy-in by public servants who see opportunities for personal and professional growth, and the utilization of appropriate governance arrangements.
 
For the barrier of outdated structures, one of the major initiatives of the G2D programme is a fundamental rethinking and redesigning of the structure of the public service, to improve its capacity to meet the increasing demands for value for money from the citizenry. The transformation from the traditional pyramid to a diamond-shaped structure will provide the structural basis for increased flexibility, autonomy and accountability as well as improved quality of decision making. The narrower base of the diamond structure will result in the creation of more meaningful, modern and integrated jobs through the Management Support Series (MSS), which will eventually replace the existing Clerical and Secretarial framework. The backbone of the new structure will thus be multi-skilled public servants with greater scope, competencies and autonomy. At the middle tier, new professional streams such as Facilities Management, Monitoring and Evaluation, etc., will be introduced to create the capacity and capability necessary to provide expertise and sound-decision making skills, and will allow the public service to be flexible enough to quickly adapt and respond to changing times.
 
The bureaucratic culture is another pervasive barrier that G2D seeks to overcome. Seniority continues to be a major factor in promotion within the present public service system, which not only  encourages  complacency, but serves to frustrate the talented and ambitious. A Competency Based Management Framework and legislative reforms are being introduced to reduce the levels of bureaucratic decision-making, improve efficiency, and provide opportunities for professional mobility within the system. This emphasis on talent, skills and competence will be bolstered by a new compensation policy, currently being undertaken, that will foster a culture of continuous learning and reward excellence in service delivery.
 
The fragmentation of the Human Resource Management function has also hindered effective transformation efforts. A Strategic Human Resource Management Council (SHRM) was established to provide oversight and chart the way forward for the collaborative modernization of the Human Resource Management (HRM) Architecture. Learning from the SHRM Council has facilitated a focus toward the institutional strengthening of the Central HR Agencies, in recognition that it will allow for better implementation of the initiatives in this modernization programme. In addition, the transformation of the public service cannot be sustained unless there is a sound and solid policy base. The Council, which is chaired by the Minister of Public Administration, functions strategically at the apex of the public service and brings together the leaders of the central HRM agencies with their deputies as well as a representative of the constitutionally protected Public Service Commission to guide change in a cohesive manner.
 
The HRM modernization aspect of G2D spans the horizontal and top- down strategies and is a precursor to any other reform. Ultimately, however, the goal is improvement in service delivery and this requires a bottom-up strategy. This is the rationale for the flagship initiative of the transformation process, the Trinidad and Tobago Diamond Certification Programme (TTDS), launched in June 2013. The TTDS seeks to develop a customer-oriented approach to service delivery with defined performance standards in order to drive continuous improvement in the quality of services delivered by public sector organizations. This will enable the public sector to deliver services of the highest quality, in the shortest time at the lowest cost to the people of Trinidad and Tobago.
 
Other mechanisms for improving cohesion and coordination among the various government agencies and encouraging a horizontal, across-the-board, shared understanding of objectives and roles are the integration of services using a one stop shop philosophy, strengthening the Centre of Government, and Communities of Practice. The Ministry is spearheading an initiative to integrate services in the social sector; the aim being to achieve greater coordination, cohesion and effectiveness among social sector Ministries utilising a case management approach. The Ministry has been collaborating with the other central policy agencies viz the Office of the Prime Minister and the Ministry of Planning and Sustainable Development to shape a governance mechanism that will improve policy making and implementation. This will entail movement away from the current minimalist model for Cabinet decision making and the role of the Head of the Public Service to the expansionist side of the spectrum and the defining of a strategy for securing commitment to move in that direction.

Finally the Ministry is promoting the adoption of Communities of Practice in an effort to reduce the tendency to operate in silos. Opportunities for collaboration within functional areas across the public service allow for the sharing of ideas and networking amongst practitioners in an environment that promotes continuous learning.
 
Question 2: What are some of the lessons learned along the way? Were there, or will there be, any major course changes or ‘better’ ideas along the way?’
 
The Trinidad and Tobago Public Service has seen many reform efforts in its 52-year history. The purpose has always been to enable the public service to effectively deliver services to citizens. However, these reforms have all taken place within a framework which existed since the 1960s at the time of the country’s independence from Great Britain. Despite the many efforts, the civil service structure has largely remained the same; organised within a Classification and Compensation System which was developed in the mid-1960s and with few changes, it is still being used today. Laws and regulations related to the civil service have been amended over the years on a piecemeal basis. Because of this antiquated structure and the inflexible compensation arrangements it has been unable to attract and retain the very human resources required to undertake the modernisation programmes. As a result none of the efforts have been successful perhaps because the process should have been holistic, lateral and not linear, and should have involved the citizens, users or clients in all stages and at all levels.
 
Reform attempts in the past were specialised and symptomatic, targeting isolated problems rather than part of a planned, comprehensive and phased programme of change. The approach being pursued in the Journey from Gold to Diamond (G2D) builds on the convergence of five key forces and the synergy that they could generate if successfully understood and applied.  These are:
 Five Forces

Added to these five variables is an ongoing recognition that a mix of approaches that are both top down and bottom up need to be adopted. In the case of our G2D journey, the top down approach recognizes that effective Human Resource Management is a prerequisite for all other reforms, but its impact is diluted because of the fragmentation of the function amongst three central agencies and the absence of a cohesive modern policy environment. The bottom up approach focuses on the actual delivery of service to citizens and led to the introduction of the Trinidad and Tobago Diamond Certification Programme which challenges agencies to identify and improve those services which have high customer impact, and present them for assessment and certification. This strategy is already increasing the demand for reform, stimulating innovation and encouraging higher aspirations on the part of agencies towards quality customer service delivery.
 
During the journey thus far, we have also identified some common truths. The implementation of the reform strategies must be carefully monitored to ensure that the expected outcomes are achieved. In essence, baseline data on output and performance must be established so that improvements might be tracked and course corrections introduced if necessary.
 
The hallmark of the Diamond approach is three dimensional: Capability, Connectedness and Culture. We have seen that the focused strengthening of the skills and abilities of our civil servants, the improvement of the work processes and systems and the introduction of robust policies impact on the capability dimension. Changes to the physical environment have acted as a catalyst for changed behaviour; this along with a strategy of engagement and continuous communication, the reinforcing of positive behaviours through the introduction of the Diamond Awards for Excellence and effective marketing and branding have resulted in heightened awareness of organisational purpose as well customer needs and this has led to the fuelling of new energy which is manifesting itself in diverse ways, all leading to improved performance.
 
The Diamond Standard requires a mindset that recognizes that while there might be no wrong door, there might be wrong directions and that continuous assessment of the results, especially when milestones are reached, and open discussions by all stakeholders on the options available, must be a permanent and ongoing feature of the G2D.
 
Effective modernization programmes should be sustainable. This requires strong capable institutions. Research undertaken on other reform initiatives which bore the hallmarks of innovative thinking, entrepreneurial leadership and political will indicate that while all of these are critical elements for reform, they will not suffice without a strong policy framework - governance is the key to sustainability.