Differential Approaches to Human Resource Management Reform : In the Public Services of Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago

By Bissessar, Ann Marie | Public Personnel Management, Winter 2001 | Go to article overview

Differential Approaches to Human Resource Management Reform : In the Public Services of Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago


Bissessar, Ann Marie, Public Personnel Management


The introduction of New Public Management in the public services of many countries brought with it not only changes in epistemology but new methods and techniques for managing resources.[1, 2, 3, 4] With the advent of New Public Management, for instance, techniques such as contracting out, divestment, and the disaggregation of the public services into separate self contained units were employed by many governments to increase output and reduce cost in the public sector. However, it was also recognized that another resource, namely how employees are managed, needed to be reformed as well. This concern for proper management of human resources was implicit in one of the primary tenets of New Public Management, which stressed that managers should be "free to manage."[5] This "freedom to manage" principle involved more than changes in the process of decision-making. Indeed, it led to a radical attempt on the part of various states to replace the former systems of personnel administration with the "new" private sector system of human resource management. This article examines the attempts to reform human resource management systems in the public services of two of the larger countries in the Commonwealth Caribbean-- Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago. It argues that although these two countries share a remarkable commonality in terms of historical backgrounds, and political and economic developments, the human resource systems that were introduced under the wider ambit of administrative reform varied. Moreover, it was evident that Jamaica was far more successful in the actual implementation of human resource systems than Trinidad and Tobago. What is even more striking is the fact that reformers in both countries took only what they wanted from the reform package and in some cases amended them in the light of factors such as ethnicity, political culture, party dominance, or levels of economic development.

This article examines the attempts made in the public services of Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago to replace the traditional systems of personnel administration with new systems of human resource management. The article argues that even in countries that share a number of basic underlying values and traditions and where political and administrative institutions are similar, the kind of systems or mechanisms that may be implemented may vary due to factors such as ethnicity, political culture, party dominance or level of economic development. The article accordingly offers explanations for the different application of human resource management systems in Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago.

Both Jamaica and the twin Island State of Trinidad and Tobago were formerly under British rule, or what were commonly referred to as Crown Colonies. The legacy left by the departing colonials was found not only in the political system, the Westminster Whitehall model, but was also duplicated in the administrative systems and institutions as well. Indeed, one of the lasting legacies of Colonial Administration was the Public Service Commission that had been introduced in the Caribbean in the 1950s, and today is still the most important institution with responsibility for the management of employees in the wider public services.

In both countries, the critical impetus for reform was to a large extent due to external pressures. Indeed, as another study pointed out, comprehensive reform of the public services was not internally driven but rather was one of the conditions imposed by the international lending agencies, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.[6] La Guerre also noted that while structural adjustment conditions involved economic reform, it also included reform of the public services as well.[7] The reforms in both countries were comprehensive and included budgetary and financial, structural, legislative, and relational reforms. The attempt to redefine the responsibilities of the various actors accordingly called for changes in the personnel systems as well. …

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