Some time ago, the Lithuanian Ministry of Energy issued recommendations for the public sector, households, and businesses on how to save energy. The recommendation was to disconnect hot water in administrative premises and reduce heating to 19 degrees and cooling to 27 degrees. They also advised public officials to work from home.
The Ministry received a political backlash for these recommendations. But instead of criticizing, politicians could apply the austerity paradigm in a broader context for a public administration reform. This reform was a priority of the legislature’s autumn session anyway.
If the ministry is proposing savings by using less energy to heat public administration and wash hands, then this idea, elevated to state thinking, would mean the following: let us not heat, not wash, not finance as soon as possible and let us simply do away with 20 or 30 percent of excessive public administration functions that we have been talking about for the past several years and that life itself is now forcing us to cut. Let’s be honest, why spend less on excessive public functions when you can save a hundred percent?
If you think that what I suggest here is firing all bureaucrats, the answer is no, of course. Only the same state thinking implies that, on the contrary, we should consolidate maximum efforts and attention in the areas that are critical for our energy survival. Just like our doctors did savings lives during the COVID-19 pandemic lives.
After all, what kind of public good is produced if a civil servant who is supposed to issue permits for solar and wind farms works from home, is difficult to reach and blindly executes pointless procedures that obstruct solar and wind energy production? This is exactly what happened during the pandemic when housing development projects got stalled by government bureaucracy: a sudden increase in the demand for housing faced a dramatic decrease in the supply. Housing prices shot up as a result.
In the face of a crisis, can we justify the failure to prioritize those public administration functions which determine the survival of our state and a transition to own energy sources, and therefore a transition to lower prices, more economic competitiveness, and better conditions for survival? It is shameful and inexcusable that Lithuania, which has the best climate conditions in the region to develop solar and wind power plants and could export electricity rather than import it, has delayed for decades in issuing permits and developing the necessary infrastructure. Projects that could have been realized within two years have been mired in a morass of permits for years.
Projects that could have been realized in two years got bogged down in a bureaucratic quagmire of permits for years.
Today, more than ever, we understand that time is the decisive factor for change. And all reforms of the public administration system must focus on making regulatory procedures simple, transparent, and minimal. Only then can they happen quickly. If we fail to do this, and if the priority for public administration is the frugality of remote work, we will end up with no electricity of our own, no sustainable electricity and no affordable electricity.
Are we going to save resources if a public official whose duty it is to speed up the construction process for a wind and solar park and the development of needed infrastructure moves to work from home or washes his or her hands with cold water instead of hot water after going to the toilet? Indeed, the state will save dimes in accounting terms. But we have no right to think in those terms today. We must think about the value or loss that the society receives from the public sector.
For this to happen, the public administration reform package must undergo ‘shock therapy,’ the same shock therapy which has now befallen business companies struggling to survive and making savings wherever possible (and impossible). All reserves must be recovered, so that unnecessary public functions are decoupled not from heating or hot water, but from funding altogether. Lessons must be learned: we need real accountability in public administration, with real incentives for public officials to achieve, in a quick and transparent manner, those objectives that are pivotal for the state.
And all efforts to reform the civil service must focus on making clearance procedures transparent, simple, and minimal, and only then can they be done quickly. If this is not done, and if the priority for civil servants is to work frugally from home, we will be left with no electricity of our own, no sustainable electricity, and no affordable electricity.
Will we save resources if the civil servant whose duty it is to speed up the construction of the wind and solar park and the preparation of the appropriate infrastructure moves to work at home or rinses his hands with cold water instead of hot water when he goes to the toilet? The State will save scarce pennies in bookkeeping. But we are not allowed to think in accounting terms today; we need to think about the value or loss that the public sector brings to society.
For this to happen, the civil service reform package needs to undergo ‘shock therapy’, the same as is now being experienced by companies struggling to survive and making savings wherever possible (and impossible). All reserves must be recovered, so that redundant public functions are decoupled not from heating and hot water, but from financing itself. Lessons need to be learned and real accountability introduced in the civil service, with real incentives for civil servants to achieve public goals – quickly and transparently.