Is it Time for Independent Auditors and Performance-Based Layoffs?
By Ryan Young
Inefficiencies said Dwight Ball. Streamlining said Cathy Bennett. Getting more for less was one of the only things the Liberals had to campaign on in-lieu of an actual platform during the general election last November. Surely that idea had been lost on the previous PC governments who, in contrast, embraced a less for more mentality by not only bloating the public service, but by increasing the amount the government spends on “professional services” to tell the bloated public service how to do their job. Dwight Ball promised over and over that a Liberal government would eliminate “inefficiencies” in the government sector that would provide “massive” savings for the province.
So far Premier Ball has asked his Ministers to look for 30% savings in each of their respective departments. While there are many inherent problems with this approach, let’s focus on just one aspect of how it will fail to produce results.
Most Ministers are currently saddled with several portfolios due to an ineffective gesture by the government to make it appear like it is saving taxpayer money by reducing the number of members in cabinet. In reality this is stretching the duties of the Ministers (See Christopher Mitchelmore and his 3 major portfolios) to the point that they are unable to effectively engage in the operations of any single portfolio. More plainly, it means that they can’t do a proper job as a Minister if they can only devote 30% of their time to any one department. Because of this, most of the real work within the departments is done by the bureaucrats. By asking departments to look within for 30% savings, the Premier is asking managers to identify friends and co-workers that may be expendable. Newfoundlanders are good hearted people by nature and dropping the ax on a friend whose job is redundant is not something that many managers will be happy to do. Even the fairest of managers in the group will have some bias. It is human nature and it would be foolish not to take this aspect into consideration. Certainly we need to find savings but maybe we need to look at a different approach. Instead of sticking with the status quo, wouldn’t it be fair to assume that in order to find real inefficiencies in the system, it might be wiser to take the responsibility of making cuts out of the bureaucrats and put it into the hands of independent auditors. These auditors would be given full access to each department and would compile comprehensive reports on how each department functions and provide recommendations on how to streamline services and become more cost-effective.
As part of this process it may also be time to take a look at performance-based layoffs as opposed to job losses based on seniority. I know at first glance that all of my union friends will cry foul at me, but it is no secret that there is a lot of dead weight in our public service. Anyone who has had to deal with the government bureaucracy will agree that our government sector could be performing better to serve the needs of the public. As JM pointed out in his “Decade of Squandered Opportunity,” no union boss or shop steward would ever publicly agree with performance-based layoffs, but if it were put to a private vote, most of the rank and file would rather trim the dead weight than let go of the fresh new hires that so often do the brunt of the work. If the decision is left to managers we will have a public service with just as many bureaucrats and less front line staff to actually get the work of running the province done.
We are in a deep hole financially but many still choose to bury their heads in the sand and think that our problems are all because of the price of oil. The media fails to report that the size of the public service has doubled in the past twenty years. Public sector salaries and benefits rose from $1.7 Billion in 1997 to nearly $4 Billion in 2013. Since the unions are nearly due for a raise and Premier Ball has repeatedly said that public service layoffs are “off the table,” we have to wonder who will take a leadership role and do what needs to be done to bring the public service back to a sustainable level.
None of us wants to see any person lose their job. We certainly understand the negative effects of cutting public-sector jobs, but if it has to be done, shouldn’t we make that decision in the best interest of the province instead of the best interest of the bureaucrats? Isn’t it better to trim dead weight than new growth? If we are ever going to get this ship back on track we need someone to show some courage and leadership, both of which seem to be currently in short supply. The time is now. The notion of big brother taking over our government if we can’t take care of ourselves should not be a foreign concept to any thinking Newfoundlander. They just have to ask themselves if that’s what they want to see happen or will they choose new ideas and demand real leadership to lead us through. I guess only time will tell.