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Monday, February 26, 2024
Letter of the Week: We need to demand more accountability from public sector
Letter to the editor. File

Dear editor:

I must applaud columnist Brian Marshall for his insightful takedown of one of the foremost fads of the ’90s-era, dubbed “mergers” in business and “amalgamation” in the public realm, (“Health care and amalgamation show bigger is rarely better,” Jan. 25).

And I applaud him, in particular, for pointing out how a system supposedly based on public accountability has actually incorporated various end-runs around that pesky responsibility so that it can just keep doing what it’s been doing.

One noteworthy departure from his analysis I might take is that, in the business sector, the practice has long been to both set very explicit targets on multiple fronts and track/report on them going forward, with meaningful reckonings to be had for failures and corrective measures being demanded, where needed.

Granted, the practice can be uneven in application, but it is, nevertheless, expected and fairly widely enforced.

Not so in the public sector, however, as the author rightly points out.

In fact, the more ambitious (read costly) the proposal, the less likely the accountability and, likewise, the increased prospect of those senior staffers presiding over projects that hugely overshoot their budgets and schedules “failing up” into even more senior and influential roles.

If that were just an occasional phenomenon, one might reasonably chalk it up to chance and circumstance. But its near-reliability in the public sector exposes it as a systemic issue. Put another way, it’s not a fault; it’s a feature.

Now, I could go on at some length as to why these things are the way they are – none of it original to me and much of it already in print courtesy of far more capable scholars, analysts, journalists and commentators.

But letters columns are places best suited to brevity, so suffice it to say, here, that there is a pretty robust “Cui bono?” (who benefits?) element to it all, one that ascends well up and tends, almost unerringly, to bypass the folks whose funds finance it all, i.e., the likes of you, Dear Reader, and me.

That said, and given that the revealed pattern is likely to continue unless it’s duly addressed, it only makes sense that looking to its beneficiaries to rectify the status quo is a non-starter.

Instead, we the financiers of all these grand plans, policies and schemes need to borrow that attribute found commonly in business but currently MIA in the public sector: the setting of hard targets and effective accountability for hitting them.

For that, my friends, the looking needs to be in a mirror. It’s a task for us and us, alone.

And the more we shirk it or think to fob it off on others, the more we’re guaranteed to receive more of the same.

Anyone else interested in such an undertaking? Here’s a great place to raise your hand.

Bruce Dickson

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