Doing more with less

Source: Mr George M. Mangion¸ PKF Malta

Date: 12th of July 2013 

It was a sold –out event at the Chamber of Commerce in Valletta this week on the occasion of a lunch organized in honour of the Prime Minister. Almost 150 members had filled the hall adorned with solemn paintings of past presidents and recently refitted with air- conditioning equipment  which wafted cool air to delighted guests eating in the shadows of glowing crystal chandeliers. Yes the event went smoothly after an impromptu speech by Prime Minister Joseph Muscat who jokingly said that the catering potential of the Chamber is not to be overlooked ….much to the mirth of those attending. But seriously he spoke about his pet hate -that of controlling unnecessary red tape to the extent that if a job can be done better by the private sector he was not averse to outsource it.

Muscat said that even though “a social democrat at heart¸ we must accept to consider the private sector when it can do a better job than government: its involvement is no luxury but a necessity.” Naturally considering the government has inherited a respectable national debt ( close to 71 per cent of GDP )  there is very little leeway in the 2013 budget prepared by PN and adopted in full by PL to allow for new expenditure on innovation or even contemplate a stimulus to create new business . Certainly the desire to improve the sustainability of our finances is not a mere wish but a specific warning from the Commission to put our finances on an even keel. The real challenge is how to trim the fat without making the process unnaturally painful. Definitely this concept of doing more with less is a feature that has obsessed the mindset of private sector during the recessionary period but is this concept also adopted by the CEO’s and army of directors at government agencies ? One hopes that the message to be more productive moves gently down all public sector staff now enjoying the summer half day routine.  Yes every penny counts. Seeing idle staff at certain public sector offices is not conducive to impress public perception that productivity is at its peak.

It is all a matter of carrot and stick…just recall how the preceding government quietly signed a new collective agreement days before the March election giving more family friendly measures and improved pay scales. It is déjà vu all over – we have heard it so many times before that the three words ie.¸ efficiency¸ effectiveness and economy should be the  buzz words in the public service. Consider how the payroll cost of about euro 620 million is a heavy price to pay to govern and administer a tiny community which compares to a small city abroad. This high cost of governance if well administered  could lead us to achieve an increased productivity once the unions agree that doing more with less is not an option but a must. Paradoxically such a paradigm shift in thinking will not materialise overnight. Decreasing costs¸ achieving a better throughput to the public has been discussed and promised many times in past administrations. Ideally this motto starts being put into operation with earnest in the high spending departments like health and social services. Here procurement and supply chain functions across government departments can be studied to eliminate duplication and thus bene