HERALD WEEKLY ISSUE 570:29 June 2011

Public service review behind schedule

The Cook Islands Public Service looks likely to experience a major upheaval the likes of which have not been seen since 1996.
While the current review by an Asia Development Bank (ADB) Consultant of the public service is not based on downsizing, there is a strong possibility of redundancies given the number of public servants as a percentage to population, (over 15%) exceeds international best practice (10%) and with over 65% of the operations budget going on personnel, downsizing appears unavoidable.
That’s the feeling this writer gets after reading ADB Consultant Lyn Yeoman’s final report. Yeoman is carrying out a review of Public Finance Management and Public Service Performance. She is undertaking a functional analysis to redefine the size and scope of government. In May she presented her final inception report and preliminary findings.
However, the review has now run into difficulties and the timeframe for completion has been extended to 29 February 2012. Extra expertise is required with the project already a month behind schedule. The search is on for an international consultant to join the current team of two which Yeoman says should be four.
Yeoman’s report does not necessarily reflect the views of ADB or the Government and neither ADB nor the Government can be held liable for its contents.
In her Executive Summary Yeoman says, “the current review builds upon the previous overview and is based on performance improvement not downsizing. The ‘drivers’ of the process are therefore very different from the 1996 downsizing. Whilst the performance review may have implications for staffing, in both numbers of staff and skill requirements, it is not directed toward down-sizing as an end in itself. It is designed to primarily make recommendations on Government’s scope: what should be its key functions and how could it be better organised to improve outputs and efficiencies?
A longer term outcome of the review and its implementation will be to ensure that the design of the scope of Government recognises the importance of Private Sector growth and the requirement to ensure Government does ‘what it does best’ as well as acting as a facilitator for private sector development. “
The Summary states, “the purpose of the Review is to identify further performance improvement opportunities by first reviewing the scope and key functions of Government and then determining how best to structure Government functions to achieve defined outputs and improve performance and linkages at all levels.
Terms of Reference
a. Conduct a government-wide functional analysis;
b. Review how to include Crown Agencies under the performance elements of the Public Service Commissioner (PS Act, 2009);
c. Address Outer Islands Administration in terms of improving service delivery in an accountable manner;
d. Improve performance management so there is more collaboration between Ministries and Agencies and (develop) a simplified planning and monitoring process in line with the annual budget and eventually the medium-term budget framework and linked to the National Sustainable Development Plan (NSDP);
e. Develop a Public Service Policies, Standards, and Guidelines Manual. It will support the adjustments the OPSC is making to achieve its mandate and the regulatory framework, processes and procedures in place to advance Public Sector management and performance.
Scope of the Review
The review focuses on 4 key functional issues:
• What Government ‘does’
• What Government ‘must do’
• What Government ‘should do’
• What Government ‘should not’ do.
Review Stages
The Review process comprises three broad stages,
Stage 1: High level assessment of the legal mandates of Government (what Government ‘must do’ legally; and through International Conventions) and what ‘it must do’ in the interests of its citizens); review of the strategic direction of Government, as expressed in Te Kaveinga Nui (the National Sustainable Development Plan); Budget Policy Statements; and, Sector Strategies.
Stage 2: What Government ‘does’: assessment of Ministries and Agencies Business Plans against legal mandates and priorities; review of core and non-core functions within and across Ministries and Agencies and identification of gaps and overlaps.
Stage 3: Recommendations for a new function-based approach to the scope of Government and the way Government undertakes its business: what ‘should- and should not’ Government do, and how could it better group its functions to achieve its outputs?”
Too many public servants?
The report contains some interesting statistics which point to the Cook Islands being one of the most governed countries in the Pacific. As at 7 April 2011 there were 1,752 public servants in 16 Ministries, 10 outer island administration offices, 16 Crown Funded Agencies, 7 Ministerial Support Offices and 6 State Owned Enterprises. Surprisingly this figure is down on the number of public servants as at 30 September 2008. Back then there were 1,791.
As a percentage of the resident population, public servants make up 15.98 percent of the population. International best practice is 10%.
In 1996 before the major reduction occurred, the percentage of public servants to population was less at 15.71 (3,002 public servants). However, the resident population figure was higher than it is today.
According to the report, “Whilst the Public Service ratio to resident population is reaching ‘critical levels’; according to International indicators, these indicators do not take into consideration, the factors unique to very small Island Nations. Essential and social services; what Government is required to deliver irrespective of population size. Similarly, increases in tourist numbers require that more attention is given to infrastructure and maintenance of high standards of service in all downstream activities (Immigration Services; Airport; Police; Health, Culture, Port Authority; Public Transport etc). Planning and budgeting must consider the impact of both residents and tourist on Government services. Whilst the Review will identify many services that could be undertaken within the Private Sector, there is a critical minimum size required to maintain the core services of Government and cater to the additional requirements of increases in tourist numbers.”
In response to the issue of redundancies the report comments,” The purpose of the Functional Review is not to reduce staff as a cost cutting measure. However, changes in functions and grouping of functions will result in changes in organization structures, and therefore skill and performance requirements. Current staff will have to demonstrate they have the skills to fill the new roles. There may be a small pool of staff that will not be suited to new roles.
The issue of redundancies or other options will need to then be addressed within a skill context-rather than within the context of ‘downsizing’. The issue of whether redundancies are a likely outcome of the Review has been frequently raised by staff of Ministries as well as by the general public since the commencement of the Review. This has resulted in the preparation of a briefing paper on ‘what is a functional analysis?’ It is essential that the Public Service; the Private Sector and the general public understand that this is a strategic based Functional Review, aimed at performance improvement. It will require regrouping of functions and staff. It is not a cost-cutting, ‘downsizing’ exercise’, although it may indeed result in some redundancies as well as cost savings.
When will recommendations be implemented?
According to the report,” It will be important that the outcomes of the Functional Review can be transferred into the development of an implementation plan as soon in 2012 as practical. This is for two reasons:
(i) Government has a small window of opportunity in which to undertake such reforms. They must be largely underway within the second year of the term of Government. This is so with any Government. It is politically inexpedient to commence such a major upheaval in an election year and so some results of the implementation of the Functional Review must be visible by 2013.
(ii) It is very hard to retain momentum after the first wave of a functional review process. This is the stage at which many Governments’ recognize the extent of the work required and the upheaval implied by the options. It is at this stage too, that all options are likely to be shelved, with perhaps only some smaller changes endorsed. The commitment to a TA for implementation, which is ready to roll out by about March 2012 will mitigate the tendency for the process to stall.
It is recommended that as far as procedures allow, there is a seamless roll over into implementation.”
With much work remaining to be done on the review, the Herald will monitor and report on major developments as they arise.

Herald Issue 554 09 March
- Norm exposes Trio of Doom
- Briefs from PM’s media conference Tuesday
- Tourism Industry ponders $5 million draft strategy
- Norman George resigns from Cook Islands Party
- Letter of Resignation from CIP
- Norman selfish says Prime Minister

Copyright 2006 Cook Islands Herald online . All rights reserved.