Last weekend’s article on how well the 2023 budget laid a foundation for the transformation agenda concluded there should have been more focus on rebuilding a performance infrastructure within the public service to strengthen implementation capacity and lay the groundwork for putting together the transformational agenda.
This article will look at actions that could be taken to build capacity and capabilities that would drive the transformation process and improve implementation in the public service.
The October 21st, 28th and November 4th articles on Transition, Transformation Agenda and Performance Infrastructure provided suggestions for institutional strengthening of key departments and ministries to improve policy formulation, project implementation and get the transformative process going.
It will be difficult to consider suggestions for structural changes having presented and passed the budget, however immediate actions can be taken to strengthen key departments that are critical for timely project implementation, such as the Procurement Unit, Ministry of Finance, Chief Technical Officer function in the Ministry of Physical Development, monitoring and evaluations in the Ministry of Implementation and Transformation that are crucial to project implementation.
Many of the problems with physical infrastructure projects stem from poor project design and inadequate preparation of procurement documents that have led to drafting of bad contracts and with all its related problems.
Many of the capital projects in the budget are plagued with difficulties because of poor project design, improper procurement practices and bad contracts.
In light of this and the absence of experienced project officers in the various executing ministries, the Ministry of Implementation and Mobilitsation will have to strengthen its monitoring and evaluation function to provide effective support to these ministries.
The Cabinet should therefore move to ensure the mentioned departments are staffed with capable officers and have capabilities to efficiently carry out functions in support of project implementation.
One month has already passed since the passage of the budget and considering the traditional close off of projects in late November, there is only ten months available to spend the allocated expenditure for each capital project in the budget.
If the new government is to realise the projected fiscal surplus of over sixty five million dollars and generate economic growth it must be able to significantly draw down on the large number of grant and loan funds in the budget.
The Prime Minister and his team must take timely action and make pertinent recommendations to the Public Service Commission to strengthen these departments if the 2023 budget is to achieve the stated outcomes.
This is all the more urgent since the difficult global economic situation is not expected to recede in 2023. Locally, inflation continues to gain steam with rising cost of living further eroding workers income. This will press trade unions to seek commensurate wage increases for its workers.
High prices on inputs are wreaking havoc on farmers, small businesses in particular restaurants and other cottage industries. Poor and vulnerable households will continue to bear the brunt of price increases. With less discretionary income in households aggregate demand will decline.
It is therefore imperative that the government take immediate action to strengthen these key departments to improve the implementation rate of capital projects that would cause the drawdown of loan and grant funds to generate economic activity and provide employment for hundreds of Grenadians.
Having announced health is the priority sector for transformation by now steps should have commenced to firstly put together a capable performance infrastructure with senior managers that have the capacity and capabilities to lead a sector wide transformative process in that line ministry.
A policy paper outlining the strategic intent to include vision and mission and identify strategic objectives and transformational work streams for the various functional sub-sectors should be prepared after internal ministry and stakeholder consultations.
Efforts should have commenced to leverage specialised international agencies including Pan-American Health Organisation (PAHO), World Health Organisation (WHO), and multilateral donors such as the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB), and World Bank to obtain technical assistance support and resources to drive the transformative agenda once it is put together.
The process has to take place simultaneously as action is needed to improve certain critical aspects of health services in the short to medium term for the population.
The new government can’t expect a successful sector wide transformation without setting up a performance infrastructure staffed with capable persons who possess the relevant capabilities and experience to effectively drive the process.
How well this transformative process is pursued could make or break the government as such there needs to be more urgency in getting it right.
As the focus is on efforts to improve implementation rate and drive the transformation process forward not much has been said in the budget on productivity.
It is important that the government consider initiatives that would lift productivity across the public sector. Introduction of clocking systems and reintroduction of performance appraisal should be given serious consideration.
Government can also include performance indicators on the agenda as they engage trade unions in ongoing wage negotiations. Timely action is also needed to raise productivity levels as well.
The honeymoon period for the government is now over and there are some anecdotal evidence that goodwill has begun to wane slightly in some quarters just at the time when the geezer is attempting to rebrand himself as a champion of the poor and vulnerable in an attempt to energise the base.
In addition to prevailing difficult macro-economic conditions the government faces strong social headwinds if not properly navigated could cause it to lose support and give the geezer, who is most dangerous when wounded, an opportunity at a comeback.
The onus is on the new government to take immediate pertinent actions to improve project implementation and drive the transformation process to ensure successful implementation of the budget and achievement of very positive outcomes.
The new government must demonstrate it is able to steer the course for as Seneca, the Greek philosopher said, if a man knows not which port he sails no wind is favourable.