Missing bits

As is usual following the Policy Address by the Chief Executive the Legislative Assembly is now listening to the various Secretaries. The major topics in the last couple of days related to the reform or reorganisation of the public administration. It is not a new theme, but some specific operational objectives have been emphasised. Such was the case of the fusion of several services or the review of the Institute for Civil and Municipal Affairs (IACM) functions. All with the promise to keep the jobs of those affected by the restructurings and to increase the number of public servants. The restructuring of the municipal council has been a laboured process, which seems to be reaching the end now. The result appears less impressive than hinted at in earlier times. This is not some re-creation of the municipal bodies that existed before, which would suggest a kind of recognition that the setup of IACM and the extinction of those previous councils were possibly less than a full success. Also, if the current proposal under discussion at the Legislative Assembly is kept, as is likely to happen, the new functions will differ minimally from those set in the present version. One function will be eliminated, and another one will be added. The first and more political function will disappear: “To promote and execute cultural, leisure and sports policies”. If this is what developing municipal services without policy-setting powers means, then this is a positive development. Why an administrative municipal body should have powers that obviously duplicated those of other public bodies never seemed a neat or beneficial arrangement. The added function – the possibility of “providing services” to other government departments – is less obvious in its purpose. Wasn’t it already possible, is that express mention needed? Some may conclude that the added item may open the door for a less straightforward process than was originally intended. Restructuring issues aside, most of the talk is on administrative simplification and online services. One cannot be against that. But the details are wanting, the specific targets have not been stated unambiguously. Also, it was claimed that more public servants were needed; but the supporting arguments were not wholly persuasive. Absent was a mention of some of the most commonly heard complaints about a number of public services: first, that procedures are often obscure, not well defined and serve no discernible purpose; second, that internal regulations and procedural requests are sometimes contradictory and, at times, fail to comply with the applicable laws. There is anecdotal evidence of that, and several public bodies have, one time or another, mentioned the subject: the Public Procurator, the Audit Commission and the Commission Against Corruption, for example. Should not a proper audit of internal regulations and related procedures – plus the organizational arrangements that engender and sustain them – precede any assessment of the actual human resources’ needs of the administration?