Private sector is a problem too

Economics teaches us many things that suggest that enterprises, driven by the profit motive, will deliver many efficiencies. But, our daily lives tell us otherwise.

Jamaica is a country with an IMF arrangement. The government and central bank negotiate the details with the Fund and sign an agreement on behalf of the country. The message often given with such arrangements is that the government and public agencies are charged to do many things. The impression sometimes given us that the private sector, both firms and persons, are bystanders, usually suffering from a range of financial constraints and living with new laws.

People often see failures in public administration as the only problems to be corrected, and IMF arrangements tend to highlight these, making it seem that private business problems do not need to be addressed. Truthfully, the IMF does not have levers that can change many people’s behaviour in non-financial ways. But, bad or unhelpful business practices impose costs on us just as government inefficiency does.

Let’s just look at some common private sector problems in Jamaica.

You have some financial transactions to do and enter a bank and are guided to take a number to be served in order. During any given day, you may be behind 30 or more people. At least, this business has seen the benefits of single queues. However, you have some simple questions. But, the bank has no ‘Information’ counter; you must pose your questions to a teller. You may find that you cannot do what you want to because you lack some documents. But, to get to that point you’ve lined up for say 20 minutes. I really think it could be much more time, based on my experience. That’s a lot of time, though, especially if you consider what else may be involved in getting to and from the bank. But let’s say that a person needs to use their whole lunch hour to do banking. You can imagine how that time lost can ripple back to the person’s workplace.

Perhaps the bank has studied its customers and found that it’s more cost effective for THEM to organize things this way. Perhaps head office has sent instructions to branches and they are being applied nationally. There may be a process of assessing how the bank functions in the main banking hall.

Whatever their gains or savings, what has been imposed on the rest of us?

All I know is that for the past 30 years I’ve barely set foot in a bank to do transactions. I’ve been able to do them mostly online or electronically. Admitted, I’ve been living in the USA or UK. When I visit banks in either place I don’t see long lines.

Banks worldwide and in Jamaica are pressing customers to do more online, yet here I am stuck in lines.

For most transactions, I have to use cash. I can sometimes use a bank debit/credit card. Cheques may be accepted. I don’t want to walk around with tens of thousands in cash. It’s risky and makes little sense.

Part of the problem is on the bank side, part is a problem with other entities which may not facilitate electronic payment.

From what I can see, government has nothing to do with this situation. But the country may be much the worse for it in terms of wasted time, lost production, and lower productivity.

We could look at other aspects of any bank and how it functions; its administration; its accounting; its handling of personnel. Some things may work well in many senses, some may be on the verge of collapse. Hopefully, the good practices can spread and the poor ones get weeded out.

While the government and central bank are trying to get our macroeconomic state improved, we also need to work on fixing our microeconomics.

I’m not singling out banks, and could easily point my finger and several other sectors with whom I’ve come into contact recently.

I could cite almost every contact I’ve had with private companies in the past few months.

So, while we may gripe about the bloated civil service or bureaucratic red tape we have plenty of non governmental hurdles to cross.

Unfortunately, the spur for businesses may be profits and they may be fine. However, we’re all paying costs that could be lower or avoided.