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Bahama Pundit: The Dead Hand of The State
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Page 1 of 1Total of 1 messages
Posted by:Apr 20th 2008, 12:09:45 pm
Fig Tree News TeamThe Dead Hand of the State
by Simon,

•Simon is a young Bahamian with things on his mind who wishes to remain anonymous. His column 'Front Porch' is published every Tuesday in the Nassau Guardian. He can be reached at

A friend recently opened a letter sent to her father by the National Insurance Board. It seems that the Board is quite upset with her old man for not sending in his contributions for quite some time. So upset that they’re threatening legal action.

To help get her dad out of this jam, she intends to forward NIB her father’s new address: Woodlawn Cemetery. He’s been domiciled there now for over a decade.

Unfortunately, it seems that it’s not only the dead who are not allowed to rest in peace. Most pensioners receiving retirement benefits are required to travel to an NIB office every six months to confirm that they are still alive.

A key goal of this policy is curtailing fraudulent claims. Admirable goal: poor execution. For many the trek is a tiresome inconvenience. As the roll of retirees increases, scores more will have to endure this pension pilgrimage.

Moreover, for many ill and poorer beneficiaries, these check-ins are often burdensome. The current system wastes the time and resources of the general public and Board employees.

Perhaps a basic innovation can help NIB to stop sending letters to dead people while dramatically curbing the long lines of living pensioners streaming into their offices.

Every death recorded should include a National Insurance number. That database should be linked with other agencies, including NIB. This might also assist the Board in identifying those who may not have received death benefits owed them after a loved one has passed.

No system is fraud proof; and a revised one must address the matter of overseas pensioners. But it’s a start that should save NIB and ordinary citizens many headaches, backaches, gasoline -- and a fair amount of money.

Meanwhile, the state telecommunications monopoly, BTC, might consider using the tune “Christmas Coming” as the theme song for an ad campaign promoting fixed line service.

The egregious wait to have a hard line installed is like waiting for Christmas. In a twist of an old saying, the wait is somewhat tragic and at times quite funny.

After getting service -- after six weeks of frustration and tears -- another friend got a call from BTC. An employee telephoned to ask if BTC had gotten around to installing the very line on which the employee was calling!

My friend was quite certain that this was not a status check to see how her new service was working.

Even a charitable reading of this incident suggests that the right and left hands of BTC seem to adorn different bodies. Perhaps these excessive waiting periods could be mitigated by other service innovations. Finally, some good news.

While other advanced phone companies have provided residential voicemail for years, that modern convenience was only recently offered by BTC. Perhaps, they finally received the 911 calls from customers frustrated that such a basic service took so long to become a standard feature.

BTC, which also reacted in slow motion to platforms like Voice Over Internet Protocol and other innovations, advertises that it is “Your Connection to the World”.

However, many would be happy if it could also connect us to a loved one who moved into her house months ago and is still without a hard line.

BTC is not the only state enterprise beset by an often hidebound corporate culture. In what it suggested was a “significant” upgrade, the Bank of the Bahamas changed thousands of account numbers towards the end of 2007.

One would have thought that a “significant” public relations campaign would have preceded this undertaking. On its glitzy website under News, the Bank advertises its many accomplishments; yet it failed to provide advance warning of this major change on their website.

Instead, customers were treated to a paltry PR exercise, confusion and momentary panic. Branch managers confronted over this PR disaster assured irate clients that letters were on the way to explain the change. But the responsibility lay with corporate HQ.

They failed to understand that basic changes in how people live on a daily basis must often be accompanied by extraordinary efforts to publicize and explain that change.

This same tone deafness resulted in the Bank becoming one of the last major banks to introduce automated tellers. Even after the protracted wait to install the machines, once installed many sat idle for months mocking clients tired of standing on long lines inside.

As revealing, customers who travelled to BEC to pay bills in person, by credit or debit card, were unable to do so until around last year. While many small businesses saw the light, this major corporation was still in the dark regarding the credit card revolution.

Even when BEC would not take secured debit cards at their payment centres, they were quite content to allow cheque after cheque to bounce in and out of their cash registers and onto their “balanced” sheets.

The lag in innovation by state-owned institutions inconveniences individual clients. But because the state owns so much of the economy, the productivity of the entire country is depressed by these outdated mindsets and practices.

Of course, many private companies often lag behind and a number of state enterprises have introduced helpful innovations. But overall, many of our public corporations and quasi-governmental agencies, fail to recognize basic innovations which may help in restoring citizen and stakeholder confidence.

Perhaps they should consider regular innovation audits. Such audits will gather ideas from staff and clients on basic innovations these institutions may implement to add value, increase revenue and respond to a public desperate for better service.

Even as the debate continues on whether and how to privatize various public entities, there should be little debate on the dire need for basic innovations in our public enterprise systems.

Perhaps, in the not too distant future, the hurry up and wait attitude of some of these public entities will be replaced by a service with a smile corporate culture.

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