There is, almost unrecognizable to all but the most discerning, an insidious assault on the working class of Jamaica, since the accession of the Jamaica Labour Party to government over a year ago. This assault operates under the guise of raising the efficiency of public sector entities. The efficiency mantra appears so intuitive and commonsensical that it hardly raises an eyebrow as the hatchet men wield their blunt instrument in the workplaces in Jamaica.
But is efficiency the ultimate organizing principle for all entities, organisms and mechanisms? I assert that it is not, and consequently the decimation in the public sector is underpinned by fallacious reasoning. What is this concept of efficiency that has become a mantra and weapon to bludgeon workers, over which the government has control?
In science the concept has numerous manifestations e.g. thermodynamic efficiency or volumetric efficiency etc., or in the business sphere, organizational efficiency. Is it the same measure in the private sector as in the public sector? I contend that it is not and like a square peg in a round hole it just does not fit. Secondly, is efficiency the ultimate benchmark parameter for a process, be it mechanical or organizational? I contend no.
As an example, over the 100 years of electricity generation and transmission, efficiency has peaked at 45 per cent. Nothing spectacular and actually meaning that some 55 per cent of the available energy in the fuel is wasted! Under the mantra that efficiency is the sine qua non, global electricity production ought to be banned! But this is not the case and modernity rests solidly on the foundation of a grossly inefficient process!
Regardless of flavor, efficiency is at bottom, a ratio, defined as one quantity divided by another. What is efficiency to a private sector entity, a fetish borrowed by the Golding administration from its private sector patrons? Ultimately, all must be reducible to output divided by input. Or the number of widgets produced divided by the capital, labour and services employed to produce the goods. Mathematically the only ways to raise this ratio, that is, to increase efficiency, is to increase the numerator and/or decrease the denominator.
Typically in the private sector it is the denominator, and in particular labor that is savaged by the mechanism of layoff and redundancies to make the organization leaner, meaner and — more efficient! With the workers on the streets and on their own the business entity has no further responsibility to them.
Now if we apply this model to the public sector as is slavishly being done by the Golding administration ostensibly to achieve efficiency gains, does the government’s responsibilities end when the discarded worker is ‘sent to im yard’? I think not. Are they entitled to hospital services, public secondary education, fire and police services, etc? So unlike the perspective of the private employer where the discarded worker is out of sight and mind, a government does not have that solace.
The discarded worker is still very much part of the equation! Hence government ought not simply to mindlessly replicate so called private sector models such as efficiency measures, even more so in the neolithic Jamaican political economy where no financial safety net such as unemployment insurance or welfare benefits exists.
And whilst we strive to raise efficiency one must note that it is preferable to have workers in the public sector inefficiently employed to being not employed at all, with the inevitable consequences of hopelessness, despair and crime, all more costly to society than inefficiency can ever be. In much the same way that inefficient electricity production and generation is preferable to darkness.
I hereby advocate that government stop this wanton decimation of the public sector under the guise of efficiency gains, that it begins to focus on the numerator of the efficiency ratio; that it begins to grow the economy by cherry-picking sectors to concentrate efforts. In this regard I continue to advocate that the energy sector is a ripe cherry for the picking, while reminding the leader of the Jamaica Labor Party that Labor is not only the party’s middle name but its very soul.
Trevor, the Energy Man, may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org