An experimenter puts five monkeys in a large cage. High up at the top of the cage, well beyond the reach of the monkeys, is a bunch of bananas. Underneath the bananas is a ladder.
The monkeys immediately spot the bananas and one begins to climb the ladder. As he does, however, the experimenter sprays him with a stream of cold water. Then, he proceeds to spray each of the other monkeys.
The monkey on the ladder scrambles off. And all five sit for a time on the floor, wet, cold, and bewildered. Soon, though, the temptation of the bananas is too great, and another monkey begins to climb the ladder. Again, the experimenter sprays the ambitious monkey with cold water and all the other monkeys as well. When a third monkey tries to climb the ladder, the other monkeys, wanting to avoid the cold spray, pull him off the ladder and beat him.
Now one monkey is removed and a new monkey is introduced to the cage. Spotting the bananas, he naively begins to climb the ladder. The other monkeys pull him off and beat him.
Here’s where it gets interesting. The experimenter removes a second one of the original monkeys from the cage and replaces him with a new monkey. Again, the new monkey begins to climb the ladder and, again, the other monkeys pull him off and beat him – including the monkey who had never been sprayed.
By the end of the experiment, none of the original monkeys were left and yet, despite none of them ever experiencing the cold, wet, spray, they had all learned never to try and go for the bananas.
That experiment has been used to explain if not excuse a wide swath of inexplicable human behavior including our inability to confront and resolve negative issues by thinking 'outside of the box.' We have become a people to whom 'it has always been so' is enough to keep us in line, regardless of the temptation to do better.
I use it today to confront a nagging national issue, the public service. What is the purpose of the public service? Where is it written that we have to have a public service? If the public service frustrates everyone from government officials to private citizens, why has it not been disbanded and discontinued with all of its workers redeployed? When will we ever have a government forward thinking enough to stop complaining and deal with this issue head on? Who has final responsibility to address this matter?
We have been dragging this same rotting corpse around with us since independence, complaining about the shoddy work ethic and poor customer service from these 'unmovable' workers, so why? Why do we continue to do this if it serves us no one any real purpose? Why has no government seen it fit to take the bull by the horns and disband the public service altogether? To bring the legislation required to make it easier to privatize everything from pillar to post and change the paradigm from 'job for life' to 'in service of the public?'
What makes little or no sense is this idea that the public service as set up is the obstacle to progress. If that were really the case, why has the government not taken steps to fix it? Why not bring legislation to the Parliament that re-invents how the business of government is done? I mean, this is the government that changed the way elections are run despite widespread disagreement, a clear demonstration of what could be accomplished if there is political will, so why not this?
And what of the opposition? Are they too not bothered by these same obstacles to progress? Wouldn't they have a vested interest in supporting legislation that makes the business of governing easier?
So why not fix it once and for all?
Clearly having a public service that prevents employees who demonstrably function as obstacles to progress from being removed from office could never be the intention, so again I ask, why has this not been changed?
I am loathe to end any column on a question but until we have information as to why governments complain about the public service but do nothing to re-invent it we have no choice. Perhaps that should become an issue on the campaign trail for the next general election, with the question being put to prospective candidates - “Do you support either the redevelopment or the removal of the public service altogether?”