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Engaging the public is a good start for SAGE

The SAGE Commission has been very wise — it is involving the people of Bermuda in coming up with ideas to improve government efficiency.

If you want to get buy-in, one of the best ways is to get people actively involved in a project. The key, of course, is to then actually implement the suggestion, not doing so only causes resentment and ultimately apathy. It will be interesting to see what ideas the people of Bermuda come up with and whether they can be realistically recommended for implementation.

However, what really caught this newspaper’s attention was the creation of a Privatisation and Outsourcing Committee and the involvement of former PLP Premier Dame Jennifer Smith who will chair a SAGE committee tasked with considering how to streamline government. It is interesting to see a labour politician involved in an area that is so often associated with cuts. Her involvement could also be seen as highly ironic given that it was her party’s profligacy that has prompted this Commission. What was Alaska Hall’s reaction?

A press release from the Commission said: “The Privatisation and Outsourcing Committee will identify Government services that may be better provided by the private sector.” Although common practice in other countries, privatisation of Government services is not common here and will immediately spark fears over job losses.

The issue of privatisation was also raised during a debate on the SAGE Commission in the Senate in March. This newspaper reported “Sen Fahy was repeatedly asked whether Government would accept any privatisation recommendations from SAGE, given the OBA’s election stance that it had no plans to privatise any part of Government. But the Minister would not be held to a firm commitment, instead he insisted that recommendations from SAGE would be looked at. Government makes its decisions based on the feedback from the community, the Minister said. All this Commission is doing is making recommendations”.

The SAGE Commission is engaging Bermuda’s best assets — her successful businesspeople who will bring with them vast knowledge of running successful operations and who also know a great deal about efficiency.

Although the SAGE Commission will only make recommendations to Government, it seems unlikely that having gone to such lengths to set up the organisation, Government will not act on what it says, at least to some extent. It has been suggested that the Commission has been set up to do a hatchet job that Government, itself, is loathe to do.

As a result it may feel to many — especially those working in the areas most easily privatised or outsourced — that the Sword of Damocles is hanging over them. There may be a lot of fear in the community about the outcomes of the Commission’s work.

While this newspaper fully supports the principles of the Commission and recognises the urgent need to reduce the size of the Government debt, it also knows that to ensure success there must be buy-in.

Earlier this month we reported: “Mr Duperreault said the Commission — which has been given six months to dig out inefficiencies — will now move quickly to finalise its structure and initiate discussions with Government ministries, members of the Civil Service, the unions and the general public.”

If Government is considering going down the privatisation route, consultation will be key, as will transparency. With the engagement of local businesspeople and the idea of asking the general public for ideas there has been a good start. The unions must be fully engaged and although it may be some time after the Commission’s findings that words are turned into action, collaboration and agreement now will save much pain later.

* What do you think? Follow me on Twitter and let me know: https://twitter.com/jeremydeacon1

SAGE Commission members: Left to right - Tom Conyers, Martha Dismont, Brian Duperreault, Dame Jennifer Smith, Henry Smith, Don Mackenzie and Cathy Duffy. (Photo by Akil Simmons)

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Published April 24, 2013 at 9:26 am (Updated April 24, 2013 at 9:25 am)

Engaging the public is a good start for SAGE

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