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A closer look at the transition three months after the elections

Three months have passed since the government was voted into office on a promise to pursue a transformational agenda. A transition team was given the task to help set up the administration of governance and manage the transition from the old to the new government.

The transition process is an opportunity for the new government to capitalise on the momentum of the elections and lay a solid foundation for success. How well the process is carried out will determine if the new government is able to successfully deliver on its agenda.

As the ninety days period of the transition comes to an end this is an opportunity to analyse the process in the context of the July 8 article entitled, Mr. PM Please get the Transition Process Right. The article suggested as a first step that the new government come up with a bold vision and convert campaign promises into strategic goals.

The Prime Minister has not done a national address or undertaken a national Town Hall to report to the people on the transition and outline his government’s vision and transformative agenda since the elections. Now that the ninety days period for the transition has come to an end it is expected he will do so since it gives him an opportunity to set the stage for his new government.

Design of the senior management team and administration of governance were identified as second key steps. There are concerns with efforts to design a capable senior management team and administrative structure considering the challenges that lie ahead and current capabilities in the public service. Further work is needed in that area as well as to identify competent mid-level officers and build sufficient capacity to carry out the difficult tasks of governance going forward.

The Cabinet office is an area where further thinking could be brought to bear on ways to transform how policy decisions are made at that level. Strengthening the Cabinet office to ensure it is better able to carry out its core functions to coordinate development and implementation of government’s policies and facilitate collective decision-making whether within Cabinet or in its committees would help the government to effectively carry out its mandate.

If the new government is able to transform the way how policies are formulated this will enable it to identify effective policy interventions to address current problems like inflation and high unemployment as well as future ones that will eventually emerge.

The debate on the cap on freight charge to address inflation exposed a glaring weakness in how policies are formulated and highlighted a need for greater research and analysis of issues that would identify effective policy prescriptions to address problems going forward.

A Council of Economic advisers would undertake the deep analysis and thinking required to provide objective advice to the Prime Minister and Cabinet of Ministers on formulation of economic policy. This will be transformative because it provides for more divergent views and perspectives that could enhance policy discussions.

Public policy formulation is a complex exercise which requires sound research for it to be successful. The young leader should take a page from the People’s Revolutionary Government (PRG) playbook and seek to mobilise the best minds available to help in formulating policy.

There are many competent persons such as Laurel Bain, Brian Francis and Michael Julien who could be members on the council. The new government should consider setting up such a council if it wants to improve the policy formulation process.

Another institutional strengthening initiative that should be given consideration to improve policy formulation is the creation of a unit of Budget and Policy management within the Cabinet Secretariat to evaluate and quantify the economic cost to the economy, these include expected impact on government revenues and spending to determine the effectiveness of proposed policy options that are being considered by the Cabinet of Ministers.

The time for “blind” policy formulation is long gone and the new government must seek to transform the way policy decisions are made at the Cabinet level. The decision to cap freight cost highlights the need for this transformation.

The new government must transform the bureaucracy of governance by not only changing the way policy is formulated but also how information is collected, analysed and disseminated. There ought to be a serious rethink of the role of the Central Statistical Office (CSO) along the lines of the Statistical Institute of Jamaica (Statin).

The information technology sector should be overhauled as well. During the first National Democratic Congress (NDC) led government under the guidance of then Finance Minister George Brizan, a national computer centre was set up with the aid of the British Government.

Considered an idea ahead of its time, had it not been later scrapped by the old geezer and his gang of scoundrels, would have placed Grenada way ahead of similar sized developing countries in the area of information technology. In this information age how countries generate, store and transmit information is key to their economic success.

The new government should undertake a timely reset of these two important areas as it seeks to reform and reposition itself in this information age.

The young Prime Minister must anticipate the strong economic headwinds that lie ahead which will make delivering on his transformational agenda all the more difficult. He must therefore seek to surround himself not only with loyalists but also brilliant minds with divergent views that would allow for identification of the best policy options to address the litany of challenges his government would face.

One of the risks identified in the July 8 article is the tendency of those around the seat of power to hoard positions on boards and committees to themselves. The young leader must tame these impulses and take another page from the PRG and first NDC government playbook to build a team of capable and competent policymakers from within and outside the public service who would help his government to succeed.

As Bernard Coard, a former transformational Finance Minister, once alluded that he brought together a team of brilliant minds during the revolution, who helped him to succeed and looked good as minister. The young Prime Minister should adopt a similar approach.

The nature of the pending global recession will be different to economic downturns of the past because of the fallout from the pandemic including supply chain bottlenecks, shortage of manufacturing inputs, increased demand, increasing food insecurity and war in Ukraine. This period requires the best minds available to help the new government navigate through these turbulent times.

The young Prime Minister must not allow those currently around him to cloud his judgment into believing those who may be critical of some of the decisions of his Transition team or have divergent views are against him and his government. For the few who have the courage to speak truth to power are the ones who want him to succeed the most.

According to John Maxwell, “if you want to lead you need to grow, good leaders are always good learners and listeners”.

The young leader must learn from the mistakes of previous governments to identify the pitfalls that lie ahead as his government seeks to put together and implement the transformational agenda.

He must consider the results of the recent elections where the defeated regime was able to hold on to three of the four seats in St. Andrew’s and lost marginally in St. Patrick’s. This suggests, though defeated, the NNP’s base is solid and if the Transition process is not able to set up the new government for success it could be a one-term government notwithstanding the current leadership issue in the NNP camp.

As was said before, how well the Transition process is carried out will determine whether the government is able to deliver on its election promises. It is from this context and an understanding of the turbulent times that lies ahead these series of articles have been somewhat critical and clamoured for the Transition Team to get it right; not an attack on government as the malicious few are purporting it to be.

To dismantle the system of corruption left behind by the defeated government requires deliberate action by those who understand how the system works.

At the top of the system are some foreign ambassadors at large and certain CBI agents who are “apex providers” at the top of the food chain that fed the gravy train of the regime. They are not attempting to hide their loot in plain sight here locally.

It would be very interesting to see who among those holdover foreign ambassadors-at-large, if any, would be retained since the new government has apparently changed course on the policy announced on coming into office of having only Grenadians as ambassadors.

At this level the facilitators are the bag men in Foreign Affairs and relations with diplomatic passports who regularly traveled to capitals where these persons are located. Registration fees and party subs can’t finance private jets and high priced entertainers.

The second tier comprises foreign contractors who are given inflated contracts and big businesses who are granted huge concessions, tax breaks and supply contracts, in return are expected to finance party and campaign functions and feed the gravy train to those high ups.

This is why relations of those high ups and other party operatives used to call the Treasury incessantly when a payment was due for certain foreign contractors. Look at some of the hardware and other stores that supplied building materials and school uniforms under the various social programs.

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The third and lowest tier are small contractors, ghost companies and other small companies that provide security, cleaning and other services to government and are granted inflated contracts where workers are paid pittance while the lion’s share is creamed off by those in charge in connivance with former senior officials and current sycophant operatives in the public service.

It is this third tier that Kem Jones rightfully exposed recently on his program. The enablers in the public service in turn were allowed leeway to engage in corrupt practices of their own. The emerging saga over importation of a communications tower into the island may very well throw some light on that situation.

There is also a secretive group of business people who are fronting for former “high ups” purchasing property and other assets in a bid to hide the ill-gotten gains of these scoundrel “midnight robbers” from the prying eyes of foreign intelligence services and international banking system regulatory framework.

WikiLeaks and other breach of clients’ information in Swiss banks have frightened them away from Zurich and Geneva.

The decision not to stop projects of the defeated regime, though prudent, is being taken advantage of by cabals in Physical Development, Health, Procurement Unit, Physical Planning Unit and other areas in the public service.

Was the “old geezer” laying down a marker knowing very well the amount of inflated contracts that were left behind by the regime and how quickly these obligations can erode government revenues?

Questionable procurement decisions and “request for no objections” made in the weeks leading up to the general election are being quietly advanced by sycophants in these cabals. This is intended to stealthily continue the corrupt practices and maintain the gravy train that fed the regime well into the tenure of the new government.

In addition, if some of these contracts are not reviewed for inflated prices, spurious addendums, contingency cost that could be easily exploited and dubious scope of works, the resultant huge cost overruns could be a burden on government revenues and hinder its ability to provide adequate amount of resources to other areas in need.

Transition team members should refer to the “old geezer’s” speech during the swearing in when he alluded that the Treasury was left with sufficient money to finance government operations and obligations until such time.

The transition lead for Physical Development must be mindful of the negative impact inflated contracts can have on government revenues. The situation where contract prices increased in some cases well over fifty percent after signing and the use of contingencies ought to be revisited and thoroughly reviewed in order to protect the public purse.

Is there any truth that a foreign company’s contracts were increased by over fifty percent of the initial signing amount?

In conclusion a lot has been said about the need to get competent and experienced senior public officers with capabilities in policy formulation, project cycle management and management of relations with international donor agencies onto the senior management team as well as to strengthen the Chief Technical Officer functions in key Ministries such as Education, Physical Development, Economic Planning and Development, the Environment, Health and Youth Development.

The thinking here is that when the government reinstate Clauses 10 and 8 (3) (f) of the Fiscal Responsibility Act there will be greater expenditure control and the government will have to be more restrained in its spending.

Strengthening these key areas along with the mid-management tier in these key Ministries would position the government to mobilise and drawdown larger amounts of resources from multilateral organisations such as the World Bank, Caribbean Development Bank and European Union, and global funding arrangements under Climate Change, the Blue Economy and Green Climate Fund to finance development projects.

Contrary to a few who thought the call to remove sycophants and incompetence were a witch hunt and a call for blood. Consider the last eight years under the defeated government – look at the poor state of roads and water infrastructure, health care, education, youth development and the low implementation rate of the public sector investment program against the backdrop of the considerable amount of resources available to be drawn down from donor agencies.

Most of these sycophant senior managers were at the helm of ministries where implementation was most problematic. The new government will be foolhardy to place implementation of its transformative agenda in the hands of these failed public officers.

The “old geezer” said many times in the past he would leave the country ungovernable, what he meant by that is the new government would be bogged down in fighting so many challenges leftover from the regime they wouldn’t have time to implement their own agenda.

The “old geezer” knows the new government will have to own all of the failures of the defeated regime in time and the opposition party will position itself to take advantage of these circumstances. This is exactly what was done to the last NDC government where internal conflicts exacerbated the situation.

The “old geezer” knew as early as November last year the party was slipping in the polls and he was a liability, however he felt with suspension of the Fiscal Responsibility Act the regime will have full latitude to engage in uncontrolled spending to finance the elections hence the frenzy to commence a flurry of projects six months out.

It was felt the increased economic activity and employment would encourage the electorate to vote en-mass for his incumbent party. The people saw through that playbook and wasn’t about to be hoodwinked again.

Suspension of the Act and the situation of the pandemic provided the right atmosphere to exploit and abuse the sole source method of procurement for the personal gains of a few political elites, their surrogates and sycophants in the public service. After listening to the former Minister of Education on the Faith matter one came across with that view.

The new Minister of Legal Affairs should understand that to get to the bottom of this situation the Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU) has to commence investigations to determine in whose bank accounts these huge payouts that were made during the course of the contract went to.

They are the ones that should be given the task of investigating those concerns about finances to determine if the laws under money laundering and other breach of the Public Finance act took place. That is why ASP Senneth Joseph should be brought back into FIU as you can’t have officers who are close to their former boss or beholden to him conduct investigations that may or may not involve a relationship.

Is the same where any investigation of the Communications Tower matter has to be independent and far removed from certain elements who are known sympathisers of the defeated government?

We are now seeing the negative fallout from cancellation of the Halls of Justice Project which am told designs were completed and CDB had given its written commitment to fund under the Tillman Thomas government but was canceled by the “old geezer” on returning to office.

The lack of adequate facilities, security procedures, and modern equipment at the Supreme Court Registry has enabled this grave miscarriage of justice. Does the missing cocaine from the evidence room at that same place and missing transcript some years ago that allowed a convicted drug dealer to walk free have anything to do with the missing parts of the transcript in this current matter? Is someone at that department in conspiracy to pervert the course of justice for financial gains?

A thorough investigation by seasoned investigators should answer these two questions.

The fact is corruption is so pervasive in the public service that certain elements operate with impunity. If the government doesn’t show evidence of intent in practice to reform the public sector, transform how policies are formulated and decided upon, create new administrative structures and deploy persons with capabilities in areas where they can be most effective, implementation of the transformational agenda will be seriously hampered.

The new government must show real evidence of intent to transform the way how this country is governed by taking another page from the PRG and make bold moves by redeploying experienced persons in positions where they can best serve, identify and promote dynamic and competent mid-level professions to senior positions and be more accountable to the people through Town Hall and other opportunities for mass engagements.

Similarly, they need to establish new administrative structures such as was done under the first NDC government with creation of the Department of Public Sector Management (DPMS) and the re-organisation of the Ministry of Finance because the change the people voted for will not be realised.

If not done, the government will not be able to navigate the turbulent times that lie ahead and the promise of this generation will dissipate into thin air.

The Transition Team still has some time to get it right to set the new government to succeed before time runs out.

Special Correspondent