Dennis Jones is a Jamaican-born international economist, who has lived most of the time in the UK and USA, and latterly in Guinea, west Africa. He moved back to the Caribbean in 2007. This blog contains his observations on life on this small eastern Caribbean island, as well as views on life and issues on a broader landscape, especially the Caribbean and Africa.







**You may contact me by e-mail at livinginbarbados[at]gmail[dot]com**

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Are We Being Served?

Barbados' Health Minister, Donville Inniss, has thrown down the gauntlet to public sector workers (see Nation report April 21 2009), stating that they really are a shambles and great time wasters with little sense that they are both of these things. The Minister of Water had already sent out a warning salvo two weeks ago to those supervisors who basically appeared at work to start and end the day only (see previous blog post). Now, Minister Inniss has added some salient observations. I list the most significant:
  • The pace of a lot of the work in the public service is "frightfully slow"
  • The tardiness in the public service regarding many things, including appointing people and paying people; "... a very frustrating process to many individuals inside the public service and those outside of the service"
  • Generally, time did not seem to be of major importance. "People don't seem to realise that time is money"
This comes on the back of reports that the Barbados Association of Medical Practitioners may strike for not receiving payments for work done for some three years and doctors still awaiting contracts.

Pay in the public sector is clearly not related to work performance. I heard this week of a person who called a government office and got no reply. He let the phone ring and went to the office to find the line still ringing and the staff having a good old time chatting. I guess they were hearing challenged. I personally have little daily interaction with government departments but I have heard some horrible stories.

The problem of poor service is not confined to the public sector, as I have noted many times before. Interestingly, in this tourist-dependent economy, some of the most visible instances of poor service are in the hospitality industry. The columnist Stephen Alleyne expressed his frustration this weekend at going against his own better judgement, having "...vowed never again to patronise a South Coast restaurant following two separate instances of egregiously poor service that was dispensed to me and my guests." (see Advocate report April ...) It is instructive to read his whole story, and try not to boil over along with his retelling. Just a few extracts:
  • The waitress said “Good night. Wuh you’ll having to eat?” keeping her eyes fastened to the notepad on which she was writing the order. No name (she wore a name tag that did not show her name). No smile. No comforting words.
  • He marvelled at the style in which he and his guests were served their drinks: “Who ordered de rum ‘n’ coke? Who ordered de rum ‘n’ soda water? Who ordered de gin ‘n’ tonic".
Those of us who have lived here a while are quite familiar with this kind of story on one or several occasions in a restaurant. Either enough patrons are not making it clear that service like this stinks, or they are just not returning but being replaced by enough new customers, or the owners just don't give a whole heap of shaving cream.

I wonder if a psychologist needs to take a look at what is going on in the heads of people here. One argument I know may apply is the confusion about service and servitude. Coming from a slave history, it's understandable that the idea of voluntarily doing something well for someone else may not sit easily with many people. Is there a sense in which those who are supposed to serve feel that those they serve are beneath them? Is there the sense that providing service gives a considerable amount of control, by being an important 'gate keeper'--go through me or go nowhere, my friend.

My friends and acquaintances seem to think that the level of service offered by nationals is much poorer here than elsewhere in the region.


heaven said...

I read your blog very often and most of the time you have nothing good to say about Barbados.My question to you is, why don't you and your friends move to other islands in the region?

Dennis Jones said...

Dear heaven,

Most of what I write asks questions about why things are the way they are and also not to take a good part and ignore the less good whole. On the particular post, most oft the observations are not mine, but those of Bajans (Minister Inniss and columnist Stephen Alleyne) and I presumed that they knew of what they spoke and wrote about public and private sector service. I happen to agree on the private sector aspect. Sorry to say that many of the friend are Bajans, who have views based on where they have lived and travelled to, other than Barbados. Just having read today's papers, I suggest you take a read of them and figure if they need to leave the island too.