By ALICIA WALLACE
At the G20-OECD conference, Executive Director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime Yury Fedotov said: “Corruption is a global threat. It is a serious roadblock to economic development. Corruption aggravates inequity and injustice and undermines stability, especially in the world’s most vulnerable regions.”
For us, corruption is an everyday reality and many of us participate in it. We do not think about the economic impact, or the ways it reinforces and deepens inequality. We do not stop to consider the wider effect of our selfish actions in our rush to satisfy our own needs.
This contributes to our vulnerability as a nation and the continued inefficiencies of the systems we endure instead of dismantling. You are watching ministers and MPs, but maybe you are corrupt too.
Why doesn’t anything work?
How many times have you asked or heard that question? Is there ever an answer?
We have become accustomed to a state of malfunction. In many respects, it is regarded as a norm. In fact, we are sometimes shocked to see something work. We spend far too much time and energy figuring out how to navigate systems that continue to fail us, and not enough time figuring out what is wrong and finding ways to make it all work.
Think about it. Do you know exactly where the potholes are on your way to and from work, so you can dodge them without actually seeing them? Have you figured out which branch has the fastest tellers, and the best time to go? Do you have a friend of a friend who takes care your car to be inspected and licenced on your behalf so you don’t have to be bothered? Do you know which department in a particular ministry you need to call if you want someone to answer the phone?
If so, congratulations. You are learning to function within dysfunction. Wouldn’t it be nice to get that time back?
Civil service sweet, eh!
Government services are notoriously inefficient. The simplest errand can quickly turn into the the loss of day’s productivity. You got the wrong information, filled out the old form, didn’t know you needed passport photos, spent 45 minutes looking for a parking space, encountered the most unhelpful person on the planet, and when you finally get to the right office they ask you for two forms of government-issued identification and you only have one. The options are clear. You have to fight three o’clock traffic to go home, grab another form of identification and get back there and hope to see the same person who seemed willing to help, try again tomorrow, or dig into your wallet to pay for mercy.
It is perplexing that so much misinformation comes out of government offices. We all know the employees have been there for decades. Why don’t they know the procedures? Maybe the better question is why don’t they give us all of the information the first time? It is possible employees only know what is required for their specific jobs and anything else, guesswork. It is also possible they create this kind of confusion to ensure their incomes are supplemented when tired, frustrated people stand before them. We may never know the truth.
What we do know is the existing system does not work. Too many of the people in the existing system do not work. Everyone sees the civil service as a free ride. Get there when you get there, shuffle papers around while you’re there, leave when you like and get pre-approved loans. It is comparable, in dream job status, with a job at Atlantis.
The government definitely employs too many people. Not only that, but it often employs the wrong people. It employs people for far too long. In fact, the government finds ways to bring back retired people, while paying them pensions. It is not serious about providing the best possible service to citizens.
If this was a priority, there would at least be performance data — including citizen feedback — and it would be used to redesign and improve operations. Services would centre the citizen and make it easy to access the departments and offices we need to sign off on everything to be able to do anything. Civil servants would be encouraged to up-skill by offering educational and training opportunities.
Keeping unemployment down
When we hear about job cuts, we get upset and understandably so. We are accustomed to things working in a certain way. The biggest perk of the government job is the certainty you have a job for life. When this is threatened, people feel deceived. They feel fear. They become angry. On the flip, however, the government is not a family business.
It cannot hold on to deadweight just because it has done just that for so long. It needs to watch how it spends our money, especially now we are paying VAT and can feel the taxation. We can see the connection between our money and the government’s spending. Consider how much the government spends on salaries and how long it takes you to get through to a government department. Consider how much the government spends on salaries and the level of service you receive when renewing your business licence or passport, or visiting a public clinic. Do we need all of those employees?
One of the issues that, whenever it is brought up, gets us going is corruption. We wonder how some of these people got these jobs in the first place. Who owed a favour to whom and why is the country returning it? We become enraged when someone reminds us MPs have not yet made their disclosures and none of the appropriate actions have been taken in response. We question every new deal, wondering who is going to get a cut. We are suspicious and that is because we have to be. Unfortunately, it rarely translates to real change because it takes us a long time to reach the level of rage that compels us to take action.
Looking out for number one
When are we most likely to change the way we do things? In too many cases, it is when we are in the middle of a process that does not work. It is at the point when we are exhausted and feel like we have tried every reasonable option. We change the way we do things when our lunch hour is almost up and we just need the thing to be done. That is when we look for Sands or Butler, or when in truly dire straits, Symonette or Lizzy. We use money to expedite the process. How else are we supposed to move things along? Too bad we fail to recognize this as corruption. We pay people to do the jobs they are already paid to do. We skip lines and call in favours because we are more important — or at least better placed — than whoever else is battling the same inefficient systems, except they started an hour, a day, or a week before us.
There is no shortage of valid complaints about government services. It is, as many people say, “the pits”. It would be difficult to find a more frustrating system to navigate. Our quick and easy fixes for the parts of this issue that affect us directly do not help to make it any better. We only temporarily dull our own paid. Last year, on The Ministry of Decolonization, Erin Greene warned against the culture of solving problems with money. “Unless you have enough money to solve everyone in the community’s problem […], you’re only solving your problem.” In this case, I find it necessary to add that you are also contributing to a problem, and one you likely claim you want solved.