Focus | We need to increase our brainpower
If we will do bold things in our nation, we must change in profound ways. One of those ways in which we must change is to respect the value of brainpower. We are a small country, but our problems are as complex as those of large countries. In fact, some of our problems do not exist in large countries because they are large. Large countries do not have the issue of lack of economies of scale that gives rise to relatively higher cost and lower profits for commercial activity. Whatever our problems, big or small, we need to know that it will require serious brain work to address them effectively.
We do not like to hear it, but too many of us underestimate the value of education, higher education, and training, serious training. We need to have more Bahamians steeped in the deep knowledge and experience of problem solving in a variety of areas, not least of which include governance, public policy, development economics, finance, engineering, social engineering, public health, education, environmental science, marine science, intellectual property, sociology, information technology, software engineering, agro-science and analytics. This is not an exhaustive list but does include many of the critical areas upon which we need to focus attention. In these areas we need people with earned masters and PhDs, as well as in-kind experience in the same. We need their brainpower to be continually applied to the development of policies, laws, procedures, processes, projects, systems and programs to address the many issues we have in these areas.
I do not subscribe to the view that only people with degrees can address the issues that confront us. I am also not one of those who believe that we should ignore the extent to which such people, potentially representing genuinely good and great thinking, can be immensely helpful to our cause. We should find as many Bahamians – and where necessary, non-Bahamians – as we can to populate areas of our public service, and to some degree, our private sector. They can apply themselves to the stubborn challenges we should find. In addition to finding them, we should invest in their proper compensation to keep them here in The Bahamas comfortable and motivated.
The public service of The Bahamas has many fantastic Bahamians who contribute wonderfully to the stability, growth and development of the country. However, many Bahamians believe that we are not getting $700 million worth of value out of the 20,000-plus employees who collect that money annually. There can be no transformation of The Bahamian society without a fundamental improvement in the value extracted from the huge investment Bahamians make in the public servants of the country.
In 10 years we will spend more than $7 billion on the employees in the public service. Imagine starting an enterprise in which you were told that you could hire $7 billion worth of employees over the next 10 years. What would you do with that? Who and what kind of staff would you look for? How many low-skilled workers would you get? How many with degrees at each level would you get? What types of skills would be sought? What terms of employ would you give them? Whatever your answer to these questions, this much I know: We would hire different kinds of people in many areas and higher educated and trained persons in many more.
In some ways politics has bastardized some parts of the public service. Patronage has populated some areas with people simple collecting a paycheck. I say this not to condemn politicians, as many simply gave their voting base what they requested, nay demanded. But enough is enough! We need to be courageous enough now to say to the people, ‘We must do what is best for all the people’. If you qualify to add value in an area, then you should rightly seek engagement. However, if you are not, then don’t.
This may be a broad change too difficult to execute, but for goodness sake, let’s at least do it at those levels in the nation where real brainpower is needed. Let’s not let political considerations keep intelligent, capable and necessary Bahamians from contributing to their country’s development. Don’t let politics, finances or envy do so. Bahamians are out there. They are trained. They are eager, and they are ready to contribute. Let’s let them, lest we lose them to others.
• Zhivargo Laing is a Bahamian economic consultant and former Cabinet minister who represented the Marco City constituency in the House of Assembly.