For Puerto Rico to stand on its feet and become stronger until it becomes competitive, it is essential that a culture that values and takes pride in working prevails. And this principle includes public service.
Statistics on high levels of government absenteeism tend to reveal an opposite pattern. On one hand, they point to a lack of commitment to work, and on the other, to a lack of efficient supervision and contempt for necessary accountability. Both aspects must be addressed as soon as possible to avoid the costs in services and productivity that these absences imply, as well as the lack of precise data that allows the island to understand how much money it loses due to a lack of internal control.
On average, 40 percent of public employees didn’t go to work in the first seven months of 2019. In 13 percent of the cases, employers don’t know the reason for those absences. Or worse, they can’t precise whether employees came to work or not.
Such a scenario derails the Puerto Rican aspirations for optimal development. Every absence in public service translates into deficiencies to provide the necessary services, especially to the most disadvantaged or to those who want to boost Puerto Rico through entrepreneurship.
Absences without explanation point to indiscipline and could involve corruption. This lack of a sense of duty is a symptom of a system that os sick, largely, due to politicization, which has put cronyism and partisan interests before the professionalization of public service.
This vicious climate discourages responsible workers with a public service mission.
Data fron the Office of the Administration and Transformation of Human Resources (OATRH, Spanish acronym), shows that absenteeism increases in the summer, Christmas season, Easter and Thanksgiving, however, during those periods, the need for services remains the same.
The official data is incomplete. It doesn’t specify, for example, which days of the week show a higher absenteeism rate or complete information of all public entities. It is important to know which health, physical or emotional conditions affect these employees to the point they cannot go to work. And what factors in the workplace discourage them from going to work.
The task becomes difficult when only 31 percent of the agencies – just 35 public entities – comply with submitting their reports to the OATRH. Key entities for government operation and services to the community are among those that do not meet this requirement.
Without this information, the government lacks the metrics to know how to invest and how cost-effective the budget distribution is. Nor does it have the tools to address and solve the situation.
The result shows in daily complaints of citizens who lose valuable time waiting to comply with agency requirements or explain errors. Economic losses have a multiplier effect for Puerto Rico: the higher the absenteeism, the more time citizens lose along with productivity in their jobs or businesses.
Rebuilding Puerto Rico involves changes that begin with every Puerto Rican. Valuing work is, above all, an ethical issue: it encourages personal development. It is a vehicle to accomplishment and service to society.
But in addition to the responsibility that falls on each individual, the State must model a culture of integrity, productivity, dedication to public service and pride in work.
There is little to do when those who are forced to set the example from their public positions seek their advantage and comfort before that of the people.
It is necessary to re-establish a merit system that recognizes professional efforts and dedication, and that places in high ranking positions those leaders capable of inspiring and reflecting responsibility and dedication into public service.