A group of Consultants with links to the Washington-based International Monetary Fund (IMF) has cautioned the Keith Mitchell-led government in St. George’s against turning the Government Information Service (GIS) into a statutory body.
A report from the consultants who operate under the banner of CARTAC was presented to the two year old administration which dealt with the status of GIS, the Government Printery and the Central Statistical Office.
Within weeks of winning the February 2013 general elections, Prime Minister Mitchell had met with staffers at the Government Printery and informed them that he was committed to carry through on his 2003-08 policy of removing the Printery as a Department within the Ministry of Finance and turning it into a full-fledged statutory body.
Well-placed sources told THE NEW TODAY newspaper that during the meeting PM Mitchell did not outline a strategic plan for the future status of the Printery and did not entertain any questions from staffers.
According to a well-placed source, the government employees are rather cautious of the move in light of the fact that most of its printing is done for Government Ministries and Departments with no financial transactions involved.
He said the workers are fearful that if the Printery is privatised that they might not be able to collect monies due to them on time from government ministries to run their operations including paying staffers.
In addition, the Printery workers are said to be concerned about their retirement benefits from the State.
The CARTAC consultants is suggesting to the Mitchell-led administration that the Government Printery should instead be privatised rather than established as a separate entity.
As a public service, THE NEW TODAY highlights the points made by CARTAC on the operations of GIS, Government Printery and Statistics Ofice:
Government Information Service (GIS)
The Government Information Service is currently a Department within the Office of the Prime Minister, with the Director of Information as head. GIS provides media services across television, radio, print and the Internet. It also provides media services to Ministries and Parliamentary recording.
Across many jurisdictions, government owned media corporations are established as independent bodies. Usually this is designed principally to preserve their editorial independence, particularly in relation to news services.
Separately governments have media and communications units that deal with the internal media needs of Government, and these are usually retained within Government.
As such, there would be limited rationale to corporatize the elements of GIS’ business that provides media and communications services to Government.
To the extent that the broadcasting functions are designed to be editorially independent, there would be some justification for corporatization, but this would mean splitting the existing function and would involve substantial costs.
In summary, it is unlikely that there is sufficient need or benefit from establishing the GIS as a separate statutory body.
The rationale for establishing statistical authorities as independent entities is that it seeks to maintain the independence of the publication of national statistics, and in doing so promote confidence in the quality and reliability of published statistics.
The approach to organising national statistics offices varies considerably. The UK, for instance, established an independent authority in 2008, although all staff remain as public servants.
In New Zealand, Statistics New Zealand is a separate government department and all staff are public sector employees, although the Government Statistician is a statutory position, whose independence is guaranteed by legislation.
Australia operates a separate Bureau of Statistics, with an independent Government Statistician, but again all staff of the Bureau are public sector employees.
Bureau of Statistics, with an independent Government Statistician, but again all staff of the Bureau are public sector employees.
The role of the Statistician has similarities to other checks and balances of government, such as the National Audit Office and the Ombudsman. It is a role that requires functional independence but this does not necessarily mean administrative independence.
It is usually sufficient that the statutory office of the Government Statistician has their independence guaranteed by legislation, but that they remain within the public sector.
It is unlikely that the costs of establishing a separate statutory authority in Grenada for the statistics office could be warranted by sufficient offsetting benefits.
The Government Printery has “tied clients” in the sense that Ministries are obliged to use the Government Printery for certain products and equally the Printery is limited to serving clients within Government.
This is not uncommon: the logic of such arrangements is normally defined around the need for confidentiality and service quality.
However, these requirements are usually overstated, with many governments now relying solely on the private sector for printing services.
Where commercialization of government printing services has taken place elsewhere it has usually involved unwinding both of the market constraints: the printing office is enabled to seek alternative clients, and Ministries are able to source competitive bids.
Printing offices are often corporatized as part of this process to improve their commercial focus. The history of such reforms is mixed, with private sector entrants usually more responsive to the market and better equipped to compete.
Grenada’s experience with other statutory corporations operating in competitive markets (the Housing Authority; Gravel and Concrete; MNIB) would suggest the prospects of the Printery successfully competing are limited.
If reform is contemplated in this area, then the most feasible option is for the Government to move to private supply of printing services and privatise the existing Printery.
Recommendation: The Government Information Service and Statistics Grenada not be established as separate statutory authorities. The Government Printery to be privatized rather than established as a separate entity.