It’s about time we had efficiency standards
One of the platform planks in my 2008 All Bermuda Congress thrust was the consideration of time as an essential element of all government applications. One may ask why time should be made to be of essence in all government applications? Or how is it even important at all? The simple answer is that it helps in establishing across-the-board fairness and accountability with the public.
We have established bodies such as the Human Rights Commission, the Office of the Ombudsman, and the Public Access to Information Act as watchdogs that safeguard the rights of persons, encouraging transparency and protection from government abuses. But there are avenues through which great harm can still be achieved, notwithstanding these agencies of justice.
While most would agree that malice is an offensive behaviour to be avoided, and one that no government department would like to admit to as a practice, it does happen.
Experience is the best form of empirical evidence and indeed it is the tool of political and legal evolution as we try to make the world more just and fair. We learn through tragedies and often the harms caused by constructs that allow for abuses to occur.
Let's take a local example. There was a matter against the position of a government minister, who is now deceased. The complainant lodged a complaint to the Human Rights Commission. The director of the HRC, also now deceased, gave the complaint to the newest employee of the commission, who obviously felt it was an intimidating task and right away asked the director why she was given this complaint of a high-profile individual against the minister as her first job, rather than a more senior staffer. The director's response was: “Put it at the bottom of your file and get to it when you get to it.”
In other words: take your sweet time, no hurry. (The director, perhaps also intimidated, avoided taking it on himself.)
Most have heard of someone of experience placing an application with a government department and it seeming to have taken for ever to be processed; and, oddly, some others have had similar applications move with the speed of light. How can you determine when there is malicious intent in the delay of an application without a statute on time for all applications?
We have heard of many Third World governments where the issue of maliciousness targeted at whole segments of populations or opposition parties is just the norm. While the tribe in power benefits, the others face exclusion and harm from bureaucracies infested with a culture of sectarian bias.
Does this happen in Bermuda? We know there is evidence of cases that are more likely the result of such malicious intent. The issue is proving them when deniability is easy and the only mechanism of proof, without standards of performance, is suspicion. Suspicion is not proof and the sad and additional problem is when civil servants know of the intended bias but, for their own job security, embrace the culture to be pleasing to the political powers of the day.
Even the banks of days gone by operated similarly. This form of bias also affects our country's progress in numerous ways and often was the bane retarding our economic growth over the years.
As we evolve politically and attempt to build a more just and inclusive society, we will need to employ the legislative tools that keep us open and honest. It may be impossible to legislate fairness because it does in many cases require pureness of hearts, but we can mitigate against its abuses by introducing time limits with enforceable penalties for unwarranted delays.
It is already a sad case for governments to be free from having clear legislation that requires them to maintain records efficiently. Left as current practice, it is as though they have no duty of care for the services they provide the public.
Not having standards for efficiency in timeliness only adds to unaccountability and facilitates a system that is vulnerable to abuse. This is one area that we can hope Lovitta Foggo, as the new Minister for Cabinet Office with Responsibility for Government Reform, can have some impact.