Set them free, let them fly
I experienced the telecommunications revolution first hand in Bermuda, working for the incumbent at the time when the local market deregulated from a duopoly in 1997. In preparation for competition, I recall a consultant’s comments during a workshop he conducted for both management and staff. He insinuated that although we were doing all the right things in trying to get everyone prepared for competition, we were not going to be ready for it.
This was not owing to a lack of planning on our behalf. After all, the company did hire him to train us, a professor who consulted such companies as AT&T during the deregulation of the US market. We also, among other things, focused on our strategies, scenario planned and changed some of our processes.
The reason for his prediction was because of our working environment, which was a typical one of a monopoly. In other words, no matter how much the company prepared, or what the qualifications and experience the employees had, the embedded culture of an organisation that operates as a monopoly often inhibits one to become a smarter, more creative and more valuable version of themselves.
When the competition wave first hit us, we were constantly one or two steps behind the new entrant. The good professor knew what he was talking about. Eventually, we adapted to the new business challenges. By doing so, communication between departments and coworkers became more open and the information flow between management and staff vastly improved.
Competition forced us to change. Decisions had to be made faster and the delegation of tasks was broadened; the staff became more empowered and were trusted more to take the initiative. The new entrant offered lower rates and we could not respond in kind because the Government froze our pricing; the staff had to be become more creative and were forced to think differently. To survive the initial onslaught, it was all hands on deck, and everyone had to do their part; the staff had to become more determined and accountable.
It is difficult for both management and staff to reach their optimal performance level working in a monopolistic environment. This poses an ongoing challenge for the Government, in particular the Civil Service, as most services provided are monopolies such as public education and transportation.
To be clear, the abilities of those in the Civil Service should not be questioned. After all, they have the necessary qualifications and are hired to do the job like anyone else in the private sector. The question remains, though, how does an employer (the Government) get its staff (the Civil Service) to carry out their roles and responsibilities dynamically and efficiently, as if they were in a non-monopoly and competitive environment?
The Government already has an answer to this. In fact, its most successful working solution, whether intended or not, was established more than 50 years ago in 1969. While the Bermuda Tourism Authority has attracted plenty of attention and scrutiny, its older cousin, the Bermuda Monetary Authority, continues to successfully carry out its remit of regulating the island’s financial services sector with little to no public fanfare.
Many do not realise the BMA is a government agency, although it operates as an independent organisation. The Premier and Minister of Finance recently referred to the BMA as “one of the top regulators on the planet”. Patrick Tannock, the chief executive of Axa XL’s Bermuda Insurance Operations, and the chairman of Association of Bermuda International Companies, stated about the BMA, “We have an internationally credible regulator with a track record of accommodating innovation with less red tape.” The BMA is well respected around the world.
Owing to its success, the BMA should be seen as the working example to follow. One of the glaring differences that stands out at present between it and the BTA is the amount of independence that it is afforded. If the BMA can be trusted to regulate Bermuda’s No 1 sector — international business — that directly contributes 25 per cent to the island’s GDP, surely the BTA can be trusted to fully manage independently the tourism sector that directly contributes much less to the GDP at 5 per cent.
In that vein, there should be no ministers or members of parliament appointed to the Board of any government agency that is funded by the public purse. It is not personal, nor it reflects on their abilities or qualifications. It is simply to avoid any appearance of political interference, or the perception of it.
I am optimistic the Minister of Education will follow the example of the BMA as far as independence. During a Budget debate he did state the Education Authority will be set up differently to the BTA and that the EA “will operate at arm’s length from government”. The structure of the EA will indeed be key along with, perhaps more importantly, how much autonomy it will give to the schools under their umbrella.
The regulation of our international business sector and the management of tourism and public education deserve to be under their own authorities as they all have national importance. Other departments within the Civil Service that should operate at an arm’s length from the central government should include the following:
I have already stated in a previous article Bermuda’s public transportation service is not reaching its potential to enable fully the many benefits it should present, which includes alleviation of road congestion, safety on our roads, helping the environment and reducing the cost of living.
Waste and Water Management Authority
Waste management is a global problem, not just in Bermuda. The challenges we have with our ageing Tynes Bay waste treatment facility are well chronicled. It is time for a CEO and an executive team to be given the task of facing these challenges along with seizing the opportunities waste management presents.
Water scarcity owing to climate change and other factors is predicted to be a major concern in the future. Although we cannot live without water, it is a resource that has been taken for granted around the world, including Bermuda.
Social Services Authority
Many families have been going through difficult times, our social problems are evident for all to see. It is time to put health and wellbeing to the forefront. The No 1 aim of social services is to improve people’s lives. If this was more of a priority in the past, it can be argued we would not be faced with the severity of the gang violence we have today.
There has been much focus on the declining birthrate in Bermuda and in countries mainly in the West, but not enough on the predicted global population growth. The United Nations has forecast the world’s population will grow by 10 per cent by 2030, and 44 per cent by 2050. Although the bulk of this growth will be in Africa and Asia, there will be an increase in international migration to countries in the West as a result. According to US Census, the population in America is projected to surpass 400 million people over the next four decades. A growth rate of 23 per cent which will mostly be fuelled by immigration.
Predictions of Bermuda’s population growth have not accounted for this as it is difficult to forecast. However, if desired, it is conceivable Bermuda’s population could grow up to between 70,000 and 80,000 by the year 2050.
This is another reason why government services that are of national importance should operate independently. There needs to be long-term plans put in place and sustained, no matter which party is in government. The BMA has operated through governments led by three different political parties since 1969, but its strategy and focus has remained constant throughout.
Authorities that are run independently would increase the trust of the people it serves. What is the evidence? I cue up the Department of Statistics which calculates the consumer price index for inflation, although the political party that leads the Government gets the blame for it being “too low”.
It is time to independently run government’s national services that act in the public’s interests and task them to become more innovative, efficient and agile to respond to the island’s needs. Each authority would have a mission, vision, business plan and produce annual reports. Trust the people hired to do a job, set them free and let them fly.
• Malcolm Raynor has worked in the telecommunications industry in Bermuda for more than 30 years. Benefiting from Cable & Wireless’s internal training and education programmes held in Bermuda, Barbados, St Lucia (The University of the West Indies) and Britain, he rose to the level as senior vice-president. An independent thinker possessing a moderate ideology, his opinions are influenced by principle, data and trends