Sunday, November 26, 2006

Ireland 2006 - A Banjaxed System of Public Governance where the Buck Stops Nowhere

The sign "The Buck Stops Here" was on President Harry Truman's desk in the White House Oval Office (1945-1953). On the reverse side, i.e. the side that Truman saw, it was inscribed, "I'm from Missouri". That's a short form of "I'm from Missouri. Show me". Natives of that state (a.k.a. the Show Me State), which included Truman, were known for their skeptical nature. As President Truman said, "The President – whoever he is – has to decide. He can’t pass the buck to anybody. No one else can do the deciding for him. That’s his job."

The saying "the buck stops here" derives from the slang expression "pass the buck" which means passing the responsibility on to someone else. The latter expression is said to have originated with the game of poker, in which a marker or counter, frequently in frontier days a knife with a buckhorn handle, was used to indicate the person whose turn it was to deal. If the player did not wish to deal he could pass the responsibility by passing the "buck," as the counter came to be called, to the next player.

A friend who speaks Mandarin was recently in China and his driver said in relation to the rapid modernisation of the country, that while the hardware has improved a lot, the software has a long way to catch up.

The same could be said about Ireland and its pass-the-buck system of public governance that was developed when the donkey and cart was a symbol of society, rather than the computer.

The buck stops nowhere and there is very limited accountability at best.

A multiplicity of illustrations down to parish-pump level and the length of time that it can take to repair a cracked pavement, have the same overarching factor in common. Nobody takes responsibility. It impacts so much in society and the issue of nursing home abuse is one of the recent examples.

The default option for ministers is to commission a report. The gulf in terms of what is expected of a person of management calibre in the private sector - accountability, responsibility and ability to make decisions - with their public counterparts, is stunningly wide.

Nevertheless, the issue of reform isn't on the agenda and while partisans can battle over laundry lists of self-styled achievements and plans, the parliament sits for only 90 days and it takes years for urgent issues to be tackled.

It for example has required a public tribunal, the involvement of the former Boston police chief and 2 reports on Garda (police) structural reform to come forward with basic management system changes and nobody can honestly say when the changes will be implemented.

In a simple word, the public system is BANJAXED.

The Irish economy has come a long way since the bleak 1980's when Ireland's legendary (I'm usually frugal my superlatives) broadcaster Gay Byrne, said the "country is banjaxed!"

Despite the misnamed "benchmarking" system which gave ministers a double special payment and other public servants a special payment of an average of 10%, there has been no change in the pass-the-blame-system where ministers and well-paid senior civil servants accept no responsibility for the many disasters that are a regular staple of Irish public governance.

Last Wednesday, Dublin's principal motorway, the M50, was turned into a car park for several hours because of a water pipe leak and all it elicits from government, is a shrug of the shoulders.

The following comments were published in Ireland's two principal dailies on Saturday:

Irish Independent:

Transport planners

Five ministers were on hand to reveal plans for a fabulous new Dublin Metro line. On the same day, commuters witnessed the biggest traffic jam in Irish history.

Thanks to a spot of bother with a pipe, motorists were stuck in a snarl-up for up to seven hours. Lots of time to unwind.

Bertie Ahern

The sage of Drumcondra said he hoped some day to spend more time tending to plants.

Doesn't he have enough vegetables in the Cabinet already?

Irish Times:

Stephen Collins on the Register of Electors-

The worrying aspect of the problem is that politicians and civil servants knew about it and did absolutely nothing to sort it out.

It represents another example of the inertia that appears to grip the decision-making process in this country on all sorts of issues, from the country's energy requirements to pensions. It is only when a crisis point is reached that action is taken.

Irish Economy 2006 and Future of the Celtic Tiger: Putting a brass knocker on a barn door!