We all like the idea of sustainable development, but why invest energy in it if the people responsible for administering the ideas aren't connected?

That's the premise for Premier Ewart Brown's widely publicized meeting with civil servants later this month.

Predictably, he's been criticized for daring to say the slackers have to go - as if civil servants are some kind of protected species. The reality, of course, is that there are slackers in the public service just as there are slackers everywhere, and if they aren't weeded out, it's the Bermudian public who'll suffer - not just Dr. Brown and his legacy.

Sustainable development is designed to protect our futures. It covers all Government ministries from tourism and transport and the environment to education, health and planning.

Earlier this year, the sustainable development report said there is a lot that needs to be done to get civil servants in synch with what is expected of them. The point is, Dr. Brown didn't just invent the need for the upcoming meeting - he's carrying out what has already been identified as a necessary step if the country is going to move forward.

The report said: "The future viability of Bermuda lies in an effective and accountable government and civil service."

Its authors discovered that while there are laws and reports that have been drawn up to deal with contentious issues, implementation is off-target.

It elaborates on the point saying: "This suggests a weakness in cross-departmental collaboration and co-ordination, coupled with unclear roles and responsibilities for departments and civil servants," which can lead to "poor accountability for delivery and effectiveness."

Civil servants who under-perform should be offered "further professional development or dismissal." That's the recommendation.

No one is surprised - and least of all those within the Progressive Labour Party - at the way some media have jumped on the issue to reinforce notions of Dr. Brown as some kind of slippery, dictatorial maverick. They are, what he calls, "cheap shots" and won't change the way he conducts business.

Meanwhile, he's focused on getting the job done and is happy to explain why he's arranged the meeting. There are two contexts. First, he cited the civil service review conducted several years ago. The Premier told us: "They reviewed our civil service extensively from top to bottom and made certain recommendations. They came back last year and conducted another survey and I'd like to share some of these findings with the civil service leadership."

The more recent context, however, is the sustainable development initiative, "where the civil service leadership is expected to spearhead the execution of the agenda."

Ambitious agenda

Dr. Brown is quick to dispel notions of a civil service purge:

"If this were a meeting for any other purpose you would not serve dinner and wine."

He continued: "This is a meeting where ministers and civil servants will sit down like the men and women we are and together go through some of the issues.

"We know that the civil service has the capacity to perform at a higher level. We're meeting with them one-on-one to see how we can get to that higher level. We have a very ambitious agenda. Without intense participation and cooperation from the civil service, we will not reach our goals."

The meeting could prove to be the catalyst of a civil service shake-up. The sustainable development report says senior civil servant pay and promotion should be based on performance against agreed upon objectives and standards.

It states: "If this is not prioritized, it will be difficult to deliver many government commitments on time and on-budget, difficult to reward and encourage good performers while removing weak ones, and difficult to recruit quality staff if they feel good work will not be properly recognized and they are not joining an efficient and effective organization."

The Premier's meeting with the civil servants is due to take place on December 12.