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A closer look at the transition three months after the elections – Part II

The July 8th article entitled, Mr. PM Please Get the Transition Right mentioned the need to focus on ‘low hanging fruits ‘ after coming up with a vision and translation of campaign promises into strategic goals.

The Prime Minister’s address to the nation to outline the new government’s achievements during the first one hundred days of coming into office was a positive move and a step in the right direction. However, someone dropped the ball at the Government Information Service (GIS) because the speech was not widely publicised as a result few people were aware of the speech.

Such an important speech should be publicised well in advance to attract the largest possible audience. Consideration should be given to rebroadcasting the speech after it is widely advertised.

The Prime Minister and his team of advisers should consider holding a national Town Hall sometime before the 2023 Budget presentation to report on the findings of the transition process, outline some of the institutional initiatives that will be pursued to strengthen the administration of governance and generally set the stage for the government going forward.

For instance, the questions raised in Parliament, in its last sitting, by the Honourable Dr. Clarice Curwen-Modeste, MP for St. Marks relating to the Ministry of Implementation and Mobilisation highlights the need to clarify the roles and functions of the new ministry.

The persons given the responsibility as transition lead to help set up the new ministry is definitely not up to the task. The more I listen to the utterances of Minister Andy Williams I get the sense that there is much confusion as to the role and function of this ministry.

During the People’s Revolutionary Government (PRG), there was a Ministry of Mobilisation primarily responsible for mobilising the population to participate in the development process and popular organs of the revolution such as the National Women’s Organisation (NWO), and Young Pioneers.

During the reign of the second New National Party (NNP) government, there was a Ministry of Implementation which was led by then Minister Joslyn Whiteman. This ministry was responsible for improving the implementation rate of government projects.

There appears to be some ambiguity as to the role of the new ministry. Is it to implement all government decisions or only projects in the public sector investment program (PSIP)? There needs to be more clarity on the role of the Ministry since the Cabinet office has the responsibility to facilitate collective decision-making and monitor implementation of decisions of the Cabinet of Ministers including policies.

In addition, a project or program is designed to address a problem within a particular sector for instance agricultural sector, health sector or education sector. Traditionally, there are line ministries for each sector such as the Ministry of Education, Ministry of Agriculture and Ministry of Tourism.

The technical people who normally work closely with various stakeholders and international donors from within these line ministries are usually responsible for conceptualising, preparing and submitting projects for approval. The first three stages in the project cycle, identification, preparation and appraisal are essentially the responsibility of the relevant line ministry/executing agency.

Although the relevant line ministry has the lead in these first three stages of the project cycle a Ministry of Mobilisation may be able to play a monitoring role to ensure sufficient preparatory work: sectoral assessment, feasibility studies and technical appraisal is done that will inform proper project design.

However this must be done in close collaboration with and acquiesce of the line ministry. The next two stages of the project cycle, implementation/supervision, and evaluation are the areas where a Ministry of Implementation and Mobilisation can have the greatest impact.

From helping executing ministries to remove bottlenecks in satisfying conditions precedent to first disbursement to ensure project activities are implemented on time and within budget, the Ministry of Implementation and Mobilisation can play a very important role to get projects implemented and improve the overall implementation rate of the public sector investment program. However, the roles between the executing ministry and Ministry of Implementation must be clearly delineated.

Similarly, the Mobilisation functions have to be clearly fleshed out to avoid ambiguity and confusion. We don’t have a revolutionary environment like what existed during the PRG government, however the Ministry can play an important role in mobilising communities into action and building social cohesion.

There could be a transformative moment for the public service if an enhanced Cabinet Office into a Secretariat is able to work closely with executing ministries to coordinate policy formulation and sector analysis which outcomes must be brought to the Cabinet of Ministers for approval.

Once approved the Cabinet Secretariat will monitor implementation of these policies, on the other hand, the Ministry of Economic Development would work closely with respective line ministries to help them through the first three stages of the project cycle. At this point the project should be incorporated in the Public Sector Investment Program (PSIP) which is managed by the Ministry of Economic Development.

The Ministry of Implementation would then work closely with executing ministries to ensure the final two stages of the project cycle, implementation and evaluation, are carried out efficiently and timely in accordance with project implementation plans.

Whether or not those entrusted with responsibility of putting together the new Ministry of Implementation understand the process is another question, for the chaos that currently exists doesn’t appear they do. It is high time the Prime Minister asked the former Cabinet Secretary to take the lead in setting up this new ministry.

The new government ought to understand to put together and implement a transformative agenda within the context of the myriad of challenges that call for strengthened institutional capacity and human capital. Such capacity building will be necessary to help the government respond to current challenges as well as bolster its ability to access resources from international donors and funding arrangements such as climate change and the blue economy.

The lack of clarity of purpose in setting up the Ministry of Implementation and poor technical presentations during the just concluded budget consultations spells trouble for the government’s transformational agenda. If at this stage the Policy Unit at the Ministry of Finance can’t articulate what is the transformational agenda during its presentations at the budget consultations, something has to be wrong with the transition.

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Are the four pillars: economic transformation, citizens’ engagement, environmental management, governance and institutional building or five pillars, if foreign affairs are included in the transformational agenda? Were those priority areas previously enunciated under the old regime?

None of the presenters at the head table could have answered Ken Whiteman’s question – what are some of the transformational initiatives that are to be included in the budget?

Earlier in this article and in previous articles under the same theme of getting the transition right, calls were made for institutional strengthening initiatives such as setting up a Council of Economic advisers, creation of a unit within an enhanced Cabinet Secretariat to coordinate and monitor policy formulation and implementation working closely with line ministries, and an office of Budget and Management to undertake rigorous analysis to determine the social and economic cost of policies with a view to transforming the way how government policies are formulated and decided upon.

Another call was made for a reset on the way data is gathered, analysed and disseminated by the Central Statistical Office along the lines of Statin in Jamaica; and for a comprehensive reassessment and overhaul of government’s information technology systems to make it function significantly better and improve efficiency and delivery of services in the digital economy by being able to leverage the five transformational technologies, Big Data, Artificial Intelligence, Public Cloud, Internet of Things, IoT, and Blockchains.

Similarly, if the agriculture sector is to be transformed the budget should have initiatives centered around digital and data driven applications to overcome market and policy failures.

There should be programs that seek to improve farmers’ access to IoT farm based services, digital advisory and extension systems as well as increased application of scientific knowledge and adoption of cutting edge agricultural technology in the planting process.

Introduction of climate smart agricultural practices and application of meteorological data and weather advisory services along with digitisation of value chains and other transformational initiatives.

The point here is that calls for changes in the public service are not tribalism nor draining the swamp as some purport it to be. What the budget consultation has exposed is the lack of capacity and capabilities to develop and articulate a transformational agenda.

There is a clear disconnect between these public officers in economic planning and budget in the Ministry of Finance and whoever the new government has selected to lead on policy.

With the transformational agenda only a buzz word not yet fully fleshed out by the government policy advisers, public officers already lacking relevant capabilities and experience are at their wits end as to how to move forward and have the budget reflect this new thinking.

Even after the agenda is fleshed out the line ministries will have to identify transformative initiatives that will fundamentally change the direction of the sector and how it functions. For this to happen there must be persons in relevant positions with the capacity and experience to do so.

The intense politicisation of key positions in the public service with those who were deemed to be supporters, loyalists and sycophants of the defeated government irrespective of whether these persons had the capabilities to function is now proving to be a big risk to the government’s transformational agenda.

Based on the stage of the budget process and level of readiness within ministries, no serious sector wide transformative initiatives should be expected in the upcoming budget other than low hanging fruits and a few policy pronouncements.

However, the new government must embark on an institutional strengthening effort to return experience and capable public officers to their substantive positions or promote them where they can make a significant contribution to advancing the transformative agenda, promote dynamic competent officers to senior positions, and bring in persons with relevant capacity in the service to get the job done.

During the Nicholas Braithwaite-led NDC government which it could be argued pursued transformational reforms that changed how key areas of the public service function, there was capacity across the service with capable persons like Dr. Carlyle Mitchell, Winston Cox and Nolan Murray at the top with a cadre of other experienced and competent senior officers such as Dennis Cornwall, Lenox Andrews, Richard Duncan, and Tarlie Francis at the Ministry of Finance, persons like Michael Church and Oliver Benoit in Agriculture, Gemma Bain-Thomas, Cajeton Hood and Hazel Bierzynski at the Prime Minister’s Office, Department of Personnel and Management Service, (DPMS) and the list goes on in all the ministries.

In other words the public service then had the capabilities to implement the reform initiatives and home grown structural adjustment program.

The public service today is nowhere near that level and as such the government would have to undertake immediate institutional strengthening initiatives if it wants to successfully pursue a transformational agenda. Therefore calls for changes within the senior management team and other areas of the public service must be seen in that context and not as a witch hunt or an attempt to victimise anyone.

Those opportunists who are suddenly coming out of the woodwork accusing Kem Jones and others of promoting a witch hunt stood by and said nothing when the former leader decimated the public service.

There is no need for the Prime Minister to get drawn in a debate on who drank the blood of patriotism or tribalism or else he might be accused of drinking the blood of victimisation from the former leader since three months into his government most of the capable public officers maligned and sidelined by the former government are still in the same position while his government’s transformational agenda is at risk.

In conclusion, emphasis needs to be placed on institutional strengthening and building capacity in the public service to ensure the government’s transformational agenda is successfully implemented.

Special Correspondent