Thursday, December 07, 2017

Unhealthy Obsessions

Governing the Balearics isn't that complicated. A glance at the ministries will show that government by and large conforms to requirements that you would expect. Excluded from these ministries are, for instance, any need for defence or foreign affairs. These are not matters for a regional government, unless perhaps that government is Catalonia's.

Government is basically about internal issues, and the greatest of these - as determined by the size of the budgets - are health and education. Of the 5,000 million euros overall budget for 2018, these two areas account for slightly more than half the total. Health has 1,584 million; education 935 million. The president has let it be known that the latter of these will be up to the 1,000 million mark by the end of the current administration.

Health and education in terms of their delivery shouldn't be complicated. There's no denying that there are complexities with management, but the principles are straightforward. The government, any government, is charged with making people better, caring for them, teaching them, developing them. Straightforward.

Maybe it is this simplicity of principle which turns the straightforward into the complicated. There is something of an old belief from management thinking that problems are needed in order to justify management's existence. Problems are thus created. Out of smooth operations can chaos be manufactured. If there weren't problems, there would be no solutions or search for solutions. There would be no triumphalism among those deemed to have done the solving; probably the ones who generated the problems in the first place.

Business management, generally speaking, is not subject to ideologies. Different theories, different practices, different ways of doing things; yes, but these are not ideological. Likewise, managing important government departments can be open to these alternative approaches. They should be. Being open to something different for the better can only be positive. But ideologies intrude. Politics ensure that they do, and it is these politics which make matters complicated.

The Balearic health service is by and large an admirable institution. At a basic level, for example getting a doctor's appointment, it is a piece of cake; at least in my experience. Request one and the chances are you'll be seen the next day. There is agonising over waiting lists and waiting times for consultations with specialists and for operations, but these lists and times are mostly acceptable, and the government is working to reduce them. All in all, the health service is something that the Balearics can be proud of. So why try and complicate matters?

It is important when dealing with a person's health that there is proper communication, but is the insistence on Catalan for health workers solely a matter of communication? How many native Mallorcans can't speak two languages? It is of course valuable and useful for health staff to speak Catalan. This shouldn't be in doubt, but why is there such an obsession with it? There's just the one reason. Ideology. And it can threaten to undermine what is otherwise a very fine service.

President Armengol is insisting that there won't be a failure to cover all posts in the health service because of language. In other words, she is accepting that non-Catalan speakers have to be recruited. If they weren't, then the health service would be undermined. Yet there are those who make the insistence. What, therefore, is more important? Making people better, caring for them, or what language they use?

This unhealthy obsession with linguistic ideology is even more evident in education. We know this all too well, given the experiences of recent years and the crazy insistences that have been made and disguised as educational betterment, when they are nothing of the sort. Hand in hand with the language now come the allegations of political indoctrination related to independence and the influence of agitator groups, some members of which are themselves teachers.

Around 2,500 million euros and these most important of government areas become hugely expensive budget playthings. As a consequence, ministerial time, civil servant time, service management time, doctor time, teacher time is devoted to non-core issues. In education there is nothing more core than improving performance standards, and yet all that effort is expended on incessant ideological shifts and goalpost-moving: continuous complication rather than continuous improvement.

These obsessions manifest themselves in other ways. In Palma, where the administration mirrors that of the government, there are key issues facing the city, such as its services, its housing, its infrastructure. And yet time, effort and column inches are instead devoted to non-essential matters. The Feixina monument is an example. An overwhelming majority of public opinion is said to be against its demolition, but the town hall (and the Council of Mallorca) plough on regardless.

Administrations are thus diverted from what really matters, wrapped up in the self-importance and self-imposition of their obsessions, leaving those who require their attention (the public) bewildered by these manoeuvres of political justification.

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