KEYNOTE ADDRESS AT THE 2015 PUBLIC SERVICE EXECELLENCE AWARD
GERARD ST.C FARARA QC
A Bi-Metal Strip: What Is Our Coefficient Of Linear Expansion?
Good Evening. I wish to recognise His Excellency the Governor, John S. Duncan OBE, Acting Premier Dr. the Honourable Kedrick Pickering, other Ministers of Government and Members of the House of Assembly, the Deputy Governor Mrs V. Inez Archibald, CBE, Permanent Secretaries and other top managers in the Public Service, recipients of the award of Excellence and other members of the Public Service of the Virgin Islands present here today.
It is an honour to have been asked to deliver the Keynote Address at this important event - the 2015 Public Service Excellence Awards. I am particularly pleased to have been invited since I am not a member of the Public Service, and my tour of duty as a member of the Public Service of the Virgin Islands dates back to the late 1970’s, times very different from those prevailing today, and it only lasted a mere 9 months.
Such was my experience in the then Public Service that I seized the opportunity to leave when an attractive offer was made to me, and to begin my career in the private practice of law. This decision was, for me, timely and significant in my development as a lawyer and advocate. But like most decisions it carried with it some consequences, not least of which was that I was the first, and perhaps the only B.V. Islander, who has been made to repay, to the Government, the cost for their education as stated in their Bond.
Repayment was demanded and enforced, even though I had every intention of remaining and working in the BVI. Indeed, the record will show that I have remained and worked in the BVI continuously for all of my 37 plus years of professional life. During the period, I have freely given of what expertise I possess, to the benefit of the Public Service and the wider British Virgin Islands. I was pleased to see that, several years later this imprudent and undesirable practice was changed to permit persons to be bonded to work in the BVI.
This sort of practice is merely one example of imprudent or outdated policies and rules which have been adopted over the years, some of which serve, in different ways, to further limit and discourage the development of our own people and, in other respects, to hinder the implementation of desirable initiatives and policies designed to further develop these Virgin Islands, and to bring greater prosperity.
I mention my example, not to seek a refund of what I had to pay back, especially since I had by signing the Bond, obligated myself to repay the monies expended on my education were I to leave the Public Service before the prescribed minimum period of employment has expired, but simply to illustrate the point that too often our prevailing culture and practice is focused more on the strict enforcement of rules, than on the exercise of good judgment and discretion in the delivery of the service to the public.
Service is not about servitude, it is not about blind application of rules and guidelines, but about facilitation with the object of enabling the desired result to be achieved, once it is lawful and permissible. I say this not to say that rules and policies do not have their place in the orderly working of our Public Service, and indeed the wider society, but to make the point that in today’s BVI, there is a need for a somewhat different approach or way of thinking to service, and to the way we view both the public and private sectors, how they relate one to the other, and what ought to be our role in each of them.
What then qualifies me to speak to you today on these matters, you the members of the Public Service of the Virgin Islands whose high level of performance and delivery of service in your respective areas and industries, is being appropriately recognised at this event. I am a product of these Virgin Islands, in every sense of the word. I was born here, nurtured here, educated here and have worked here all of my 37 plus years of professional life. But that is not what qualifies me as your keynote speaker. The simple answer to that question is that I am a member of ‘the public’, one who relies upon your service and one who directly and indirectly contributes to your remuneration. In short, as a member of that very broad and diverse group called ‘the public’, whom you have taken an oath to serve, I am qualified to speak to you about your role and the kind of service needed in a 21st century BVI. But my case does not rest there. To do so would be to adopt too simplistic an approach. I actually come with a few more relevant credentials.
I am a lawyer and Queens Counsel. I have practiced law here for over 37 years and have interfaced with the Public Service on occasions too numerous to mention. I am pleased to say that most of my experiences have been both pleasant and productive, but not always timely. I have attributed this success in large measure to the way I would approach or interface with the appropriate officer concerning the matter at hand. I do not subscribe to going over the head of junior or mid-management officers, to their Head of Department or higher, and certainly not to the politicians. Furthermore, I have served as a member of the Public Service Commission. I have over the years played a role in the preparation of instruments essential to good governance in the BVI, most notably as Chairman of the 2005 Constitutional Review Commission and as a member of the negotiating team which led to the drafting and promulgation of the Virgin Islands Constitutional Order, 2007. I have reviewed and made recommendations on the issue of belonger status, both under the Constitution and the Immigration and Passport Act.
I have also served in various capacities, including as chairman, on several Boards, Committees and Statutory Bodies. I have also served on interviewing panels for the short listing of candidates for the first Commercial Court judge, and more recently, for the posts of Attorney General and Complaints Commissioner. Finally, I previously delivered addresses on matters touching and concerning the proper functioning of the Public Service, including issues such as good governance, financial accountability, transparency and best practices, most notably, my delivery of the 2012 Frederick Pickering Memorial Lecture. As you can see, I have some relevant knowledge of the Public Service and I can appreciate some of the challenges which you have to face.
What then do I wish to speak to you about today? After some thought, I have chosen the topic: ‘A Bi-Metal Strip – What is our Coefficient of Linear Expansion’. A very strange topic indeed! One rooted in the principles of physics.
What is a ‘Bi-Metal Strip’? A loose definition is two different metallic strips bonded together to work as one for a common purpose or objective, each with a different coefficient of linear expansion. These are metals with different properties, different molecular properties, which causes them to respond differently or to bend to different degrees when heat or cold is applied from an external source. These differing responses of each of the two metal strips making up the bi-metal strip, is as a result of their different ‘coefficient of linear expansion’. Bi-metal stripes are used in many mechanical and electrical devices. The selection of the two metals to make up the bi-metal strip is crucial to the achievement of the desired function or task of the appliance or equipment.
In thinking about my address, I have chosen to liken the Public and Private Sectors to a Bi-Metal Strip, that is, two differently constituted but very important sectors, welded or bonded together to provide the backbone for the proper functioning and orderly development of the country. I think you will agree that both the public and private sectors contribute significantly to our economic success, growth and prosperity.
In my formulation of this topic, I have also likened each of us as individuals, whether in the public or private sector, to elements or molecules making- up each strip, thus giving each of the two sectors a ‘coefficient of linear expansion’ rating; its degree of expansion or contraction, rigidity or flexibility. And, finally, I have attributed to the bi-metal strip (the country) a resulting (and perhaps variable) performance level, depending at any given time on the operative ‘Coefficient of Linear Expansion’ of each sector. It is an indicator of the level of rigidity or adaptability to change or pressure from external sources which affect both sectors, and determines how successful our country will be in meeting those challenges.
An inappropriate ‘coefficient of linear expansion’ can lead to poor performance in one sector or the other and even to dysfunction, thereby adversely affecting the achievement of common goals and objectives for the development of the country.
That is all quite a mouth full and may be difficult to grasp immediately. If that is so, I urge you to give this concept further reflection and thought, and I am certain you will come to see how profound this analogy is. Put simply, the public and private sectors are intertwined and are part of the whole that makes up the backbone of both governance and economic activity. They are intertwined or interwoven in many ways. For example, as regards the financial services industry, government policy laws and regulations are as necessary and critical to the success and sustainability of this sector, as the role and function of the private practitioners who actually bring in the business and dispense the services. Likewise, in the tourism sector, government policy, its initiatives designed to protect and preserve the environment, its marketing and promotional activities designed to show the BVI as a premier tourism destination, are as crucial to the success of this sector as the various properties and players within this sector who actually provide the accommodations and services which go together to make up ‘the BVI Experience’. But one cannot work well or successfully without the other. It is critical for both sectors to interact and facilitate the other in the proper discharge of their role.
In my view, it is critical to the success of the BVI and to its future prosperity that the public and private sectors are viewed, not simply as two separate sectors, but as two parts of the whole, each integral to the performance and success of the other and hence the overall success and prosperity of the country. This must be the understanding and thinking of our political leaders and policy makers, and of each and every one of us who currently function or make our living in one sector or the other. To the extent that each of us, as individuals, continue to think differently, we alter the properties of each sector and hence its ‘coefficient of linear expansion’, thereby adversely affecting the ability of the bi-metal strip to function the way it should for the overall benefit of the country. The result is under performance, retardation in growth and poor economic figures.
This phenomenon can manifest itself in many ways. These are some of the questions we must ask ourselves. Do we lack the training and ability to be effective in our assigned task? Are we unable to critically examine, set and reset the proper standards of performance and delivery of service necessary to provide the required services in a timely manner? Are we lacking in the necessary motivation and determination to do the job and to do it well? Are we lacking in the necessary flexibility of thinking and fresh ideas to be able to adapt to changing circumstances and situations to meet new and different problems, issues and challenges which confront our country and our area of responsibility. Are we unable to craft and implement new strategies and new approaches to meet those issues and problems?
Are we lacking in the kind of bold, forward thinking and innovative leadership that is required to surmount the obstacles to progress and growth? Are we sufficiently committed and driven to be the best we can be and to deliver the best service and results in our present post or area of responsibility or are we just coasting or marking time? Most importantly, by our actions or inaction, are we allowing what we do in our job to frustrate, limit or degrade the legitimate expectations within our sector, and what effect is that having on the ability of the private sector to realise its performance levels and its strategic goals and plans? Put simply, are we seeing ourselves and our role in a more panoramic perspective or are we still confined in our thinking and approach to our job, by the parameters of the task assigned to us to carry out?
And so I am here today really with one central message to you all. A message that is equally relevant and applicable to both the public and private sectors. It’s high time we change or update our thinking as it relates to the functioning of government in a modern 21st century. This cannot happen overnight. The dialogue should begin soon, if it has not already. It will require changes in many areas, the decisions regarding which do not fall within your purview or mine. We have all been trained to think and to function within a culture rooted on the complete separation of the Public and Private sectors. Thus Government is said to be concerned with governance and with revenue collection; with the implementation of infrastructural and social projects. The Public Sector is concerned with processing, regulating and enforcing, and with the issue licences and permits. But government and the Public Service must also be concerned with setting the climate and the parameters which enable the economy to function and to thrive, by which the private sector can with confidence invest and prosper.
In the discharge of these roles and functions, we have developed various processes and procedures, each with its own bureaucracy and documentation, without which nothing will be done to move the matter forward. This is part of the inheritance from the English civil service, although, in some areas, they have taken steps to modify or change their approach to governance in order meet the exigencies (there is an English civil service word) and challenges of a modern world.
In my view, a new approach is even more necessary in a small country such as the BVI, with very limited financial resources and human capital. We can least afford to adopt or to continue to adopt a rigid and sterile division between the public and private sectors. We simply do not have the number of persons or the resources to train all the persons required, in so many areas of expertise, to effectively and efficiently run a modern society such as ours. We have here a modern service based economy in many respects, one which interfaces on a daily basis with First World countries, particularly in the financial services sector, so critical to our sustained growth and standard of living, a standard of living which we have come to enjoy and must protect.
It is therefore of importance, as we go forward, to take a closer and more critical look at the roles and functions of both the public and private sectors, and to adopt a new approach to them and how they ought to interface with each other. For example, there should be greater flexibility in the movement of human resources across these two sectors, without loss of accrued benefits, so as to provide for a deeper or more profound exposure, experience and training of personnel in critical areas, leading to a greater understanding and appreciation of the role and functioning of each sector, and to improved knowledge, effectiveness and efficiency of our workers. This cross fertilization can be of critical importance, particularly where important new initiatives are being undertaken, especially within government, so as to ensure that we are able to bring to bear the best and most experienced among us for the overall success of the initiative, and the greater good. This approach will enable us to maximise the skills and expertise produced through our limited resources, and will go some way towards reducing our reliance on outside or foreign expertise.
I therefore urge you all to take a broad and modern view of your role as members of the Public Service and, in doing so, to come to the appreciation that in the end we are really one unified Service, one Bi-Metal Strip, made up of public and private. The success of one is directly linked to success of the other. This does not mean we are to completely marry both sectors creating only one sector. That would be impractical and unrealistic, and is not what I am advocating here tonight. Each sector is different in terms of its governing and decision-making structures, the applicable rules and procedures, and the terms and conditions of service or employment. But in the final analysis, we are and must be of one accord, that is, delivery of a professional and high level of service, thereby enhancing our collective ability to achieve the major goals and plans for the country, such as economic growth, continued self-sufficiency, a high standard of living for all, and sustained progress and prosperity. As such, we must have a deeper appreciation that what is done in one sector can have a direct bearing on the other. This understanding and approach is more critical today than it has ever been in the history of our country.
What does this approach require of you in practical terms? First and foremost it means that each of you must set personal standards and gaols by which you live and work. This is an imperative, regardless of which sector we currently work in. Here I am speaking to such standards as honesty and integrity, a culture of discipline and commitment to hard work and to achievements, a spirit of team work, and a no tolerance policy towards wrongdoing of any kind, be it dishonesty or conflict or interest or downright illegality. A simple litmus test of a conflict of interest is are you directly or indirectly present on both sides of a transaction or matter? If so, then you are conflicted. Even the appearance of a conflict, as distinct from an actual conflict, must be avoided.
I urge you to remember that you are first and foremost individuals with a conscience and with a good reputation. Do not allow anyone to cause you to do anything in the discharge of your duties which bring your integrity and reputation into question. Strive at all times to maintain and protect your good reputation and that of the Public Service, and be prepared to unearth and expose dishonesty and unethical behaviour of any kind.
Next you must understand and appreciate that whatever position or post you currently occupy, you have done so voluntarily and by choice. It has not been imposed or forced upon you, and whether you like where you are at or not, or whether it is or is not really what you want for yourself, it is what you have signed on for, at least for now. It therefore behoves each and every one of you to give it your all, to strive to give your best at all times, regardless of the frustrations or the personalities which you encounter. Such matters are not to be seen as excuses for poor performance or mediocrity. Remember, you will be judged for your next post or job based, in part, on your performance or the lack thereof in your current job.
Thirdly, your standards and hence that of the Public Service must be internationally accepted standards. Do not allow anyone to cause you to think or to perform otherwise, even if they are doing so themselves. In the BVI we deal, on a regular basis, with many governments, international corporations and individuals from across the globe, people from various counties and nationalities, and from differing professions and expertise. Our standard of professionalism and delivery of service cannot be based on what we think is acceptable locally or in the wider Caribbean for that matter. This includes punctuality and giving a full day’s work or working beyond the standard hours to get the job or task done. I get very cross when I hear people still speaking in these times of doing things on ‘Caribbean time’. This is unacceptable. I have never practiced it and neither should any of you. As regards standards specifically, a senior lawyer once cautioned me very early in my career, not to be or to think of myself as a BVI lawyer, and not to rely on the crutch: ‘I Born Here’, but to strive always to be a lawyer equal to the best in such places as New York or London, so that when you are called on the telephone by such a lawyer, they will understand immediately, that at the end of that line, is another professional lawyer of equal or comparable professionalism and competence. They must discern this, purely from the way you conduct yourself during that call.
What that lawyer told me in the 1970s has been one of the ‘guiding principles’ throughout my career and practice as a lawyer. The others I got principally from my father, who by the way was not a lawyer, but was a public servant throughout the 50 plus years that he lived and worked in the BVI. He was a man with an impeccable reputation for honesty and integrity, and, most importantly, for payment of his debts. The lesson here is that what you do outside your normal work matters to who you are on your regular job in the Public Service.
Never forget this, because we cannot conveniently compartmentalise our reputation according to whether we are speaking of our public duties or private business or other activities.
Of critical importance, and more so in today’s world, is self-improvement and advancement. You must prepare and continue to prepare and update yourself, in your chosen area. Keep abreast of developments in that area, so you are always up to date in your knowledge and information, and fully prepared at all times to render the best advice or to apply the best practices. This requires you to take full advantage of all training and educational opportunities available to you.
Be a team player, not a passive one but one who actually contributes to the team effort and initiative. Be constructive in your contributions, and make sure your ideas are well thought out and of practical value to the task or solution being worked on. In this regard, do not be deterred by negativity or unsolicited criticism. We have all had to deal with this from time to time in our careers. Take each constructive criticism on board and make a renewed effort to do better next time.
Remember, in each sector we all have clients or customers. The old adage is: ‘The customer is always right’. Frankly, this really is not a truism, but a cautionary guide to our performance and interaction with members of the public who help to pay our salaries or provide for our livelihood. Your approach to service must be that of a facilitator, a doer. This is a critical difference in approach and attitude. It means simply, find a legitimate way to enable the customer to obtain what they seek from the Government, whether they are entitled to it as of right or upon payment of a prescribed fee. Find a way to facilitate them and to deliver on that service in a timely manner.
Finally, courtesy is the best antidote for disappointment. Be polite and courteous, even when it is necessary in the discharge of your duties to be firm or to decline a request.
I wish congratulate all awardees and to wish you continued personal growth and development.
23rd July 2015