By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
The Road Traffic Department's driver licence woes demonstrate how the absence of public sector accountability threatens the "fabric of society", a governance reformer argued yesterday.
Robert Myers, the Organisation for Responsible Governance's principal, told Tribune Business it would send a dangerous message that "nobody cares" if the government failed to hold those responsible for running out of driver's licence cards accountable.
And he warned that the Bahamian public would also likely take their cue from this and fail to "uphold their end", thereby undermining compliance with the law and road safety and leading to "the fabric of society falling apart".
"Of course it speaks volumes to the ease of doing business here, but it speaks even greater volumes to the incompetence of the public sector," Mr Myers blasted of a situation that has already persisted for three weeks and could last until December.
"How in God's name does that happen? It's like me trying to run a food store without food on the shelves. How long could I stay in business like that? And what about the management I put in place to run it, oversee the inventory and stock? Would I hold them accountable or would I ignore it all?
"That's what we've [ORG] been saying for the past four years; there's no accountability in the public sector. If this country wants to improve the ease and cost of doing business, it's high time it created some accountability in the public sector, not just the private sector and its citizenry," Mr Myers continued.
"There's no amount of money you can take from the public in taxes that are going to pay for the incompetence in these state-owned enterprises (SOEs) and public sector agencies. You can keep raising taxes, but when you don't make people accountable in the public sector and curb spending in accordance with revenues, you're going to tax us into non-existence.'
Antoinette Thompson, permanent secretary at the Ministry of Transport and Local Government, told Tribune Business that technology "glitches" and a surge in applications were to blame for the driver's licence "backlog".
The woes could not have come at a worse time given the recent legal changes that require all motorists to possess a driver's licence on their person and immediately present it to a police officer upon request.
"Admittedly there has been a challenge with drivers licenses being issued," Ms Thompson told Tribune Business, "with the passage of the law on October 7, and the conversations around it over the last several months, leading up to the minister of transport delivering a communication and informed parliament on the changes of multiple road traffic laws.
"One of several things happened as a result of the announcement of the new road traffic laws. There was an increase in the number of applications over the summer for driver's licenses. That was one of the reasons for the Road Traffic Department running short of license cards.
"Also, there was a slight increase since the passage of the law on October 7. The increase created a backlog. Further compounding the increase of applicants, there was a glitch with the printing of the driver's licenses. When they were printed at that particular juncture of the increase in applicants, the signature was being super imposed over the face of the applicant."
While it could not be the Government's "exclusive focus", Mr Myers yesterday added: "One of the focus in getting the economy back on track is public sector reform, and not enough has been said about that. We've made that abundantly clear to politicians of both parties....
"If any politician is serious about improving the economy and socio-economy of The Bahamas then that has to be a significant consideration - public sector reform and management. It's not that everybody is doing a bad job, but you just don't have any accountability."
Mr Myers said ORG had presented politicians from both sides with a book laying out how New Zealand implemented and devised comprehensive public sector reform, including the development of a State Sectors Act that laid out the responsibilities of elected and public officials and held them accountable.
Questioning why anyone should go through the recent driver's licence "hassle", Mr Myers asked: "What in God's name happened and who is going to be held accountable? If there is no accountability, what is the message we are sending to the rest of the public sector and the public?
"The message is that we don't care, and if you don't care about these things why should we care about complying? If you don't have the cards in stock, why should we care about complying and paying for them?
"If you can't pay for the simplest items for me to adhere to the rule of law, why should I care about the rule of law? If you don't uphold your end, why uphold my end? The fabric of society falls apart and continues to erode because nobody seems to care.
"That's how it has a serious effect on the ease of doing business because it's an epidemic throughout the public sector with that lack of regard and accountability."