The New Today

Commentary

A mixed bag performance, institutional risk and economic headwinds

In my last two articles in the series, I concluded that the performance of government during its first twelve months in office could be described as a mix bag with many successes in making good on key campaign promises and a few decisions that may cause the loss of political capital and erosion of goodwill among segments of the electorate.

I further concluded that the present state of the public service presents a serious institutional risk to the performance of government in its second and subsequent years in office.

This article would firstly look at ways the government can mitigate that risk and later examine the political, economic, and social headwinds it will face going forward.

It is well known that on assuming political power, the previous leader went on to systematically chip away at the comprehensive reforms undertaken within the public service by the Nicholas Brathwaite-led NDC.

With every successive tenure in office, he continued his efforts to undermine and weaken the service, as the list of experience and competent career public servants, among them Gloria Payne-Banfield, the late Basil and Madonna Harford, Nolan Murray, Meryl Forsyth and Brian Francis, who fell victim to his actions that grew longer and longer.

Along with natural attrition, this massive loss of institutional memory has lengthened the gap between experienced and new public officers, and affected the preservation and retention of policies where a culture of ‘reinventing the wheel’ has emerged among the new inexperienced and ill-prepared officers.

This negative trend has intensified over the last decade, resulting in a public service that is now in disarray.

The team that attempted to guide the government transition into office after the June 2022 general election and change of government recognised the state of the service.

However, it is either they failed to properly advise the decision makers or their advice were not taken at all. The situation within the service has further worsened with the myriad of health and safety issues involving government buildings, a glaring failure of the previous government to implement a system of preventative maintenance on government buildings.

The current level of disarray in the public service is a serious institutional risk that would negatively affect the government’s performance in the second year of its tenure.

The government would have to undertake a program of comprehensive reforms in the public service to reverse the downward slide and improve its performance for the remainder of its tenure. It is high time the government request assistance from the British and Canadian governments to help with the reform effort.

This would be a medium to long-term solution. However, in the immediate short-term, the government should take the following actions to stabilise and shore up the situation to ensure it improves on the first year mix bag performance.

One of the challenges the government faces is how to increase the level of overseas development assistance to finance its agenda in the ever changing multilateral financing landscape.

In the past, the main sources of development assistance came from traditional multilateral partners such as the IMF, World Bank, CDB, and European Union.

However, that has changed with the emergence of International Trust Funds, a financing arrangement set up by one or more development partners to address strategic development priorities and global public goods concerns such as Climate Change and the Environment.

Based on the alignment of ministerial portfolios and by all accounts, not much thought was given to this during the transition, the current alignment of ministries is not designed to maximise the mobilisation of development funding that would propel economic development in the tri-island state.

The level of disorganisation and severe lack of capacity and capabilities in the Ministry of Climate Resilience is alarming, to say the least, and the downgrading of the Economic Development and Planning functions in the Ministry of Economic Development, Tourism, Agriculture and ICT are similarly disturbing and is negatively impacting on the government’s ability to mobilise resources to finance development projects.

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This is a clear and present danger to the government improving on its first year’s performance and maintaining favour with the electorate. There is an urgent need to rethink portfolio alignment and bring the functions of Economic Development and Planning together with Climate Resilience under one Ministry of Economic Development and Climate Resilience.

Placing these two important functions under one ministry will address the problem of lack of coordination between Climate Resilience and Development Planning functions when mobilising development funding from multilateral donors.

A second benefit is the pooling of capacity within the two functions to strengthen project identification and planning work to ensure better alignment with government priorities, faster preparation, and submission of project proposals and concept notes to donors across the development financing landscape.

A third benefit is more effective management of relations with traditional donors and international trust funds such as the Global Climate Fund (GCF) that would create greater synergy and alignment with these new emerging policy areas enabling Grenada to more effectively leverage funding from the non-traditional international trusts.

The creation of a ministry that has the capacity and capabilities to constantly scan the fast emerging development finance landscape, covering both traditional and non-traditional sources of funds, and engage in the thematic dialogue centered around strategic issues would greatly enhance Grenada’s ability to mobilise development finance.

Another important action the government can take is to identify senior public servants with training and expressed experience in understanding the intersection between dialogue on thematic areas, policy formulation, project planning, and project cycle management to lead key ministries such as Education, Health, Climate Resilience, Infrastructure Development and Agriculture.

This would further strengthen the resource mobilisation efforts since these ministries manage priority sectors that receive the largest share of funds from multilateral donors.

There is a small cadre of senior public officers who possess these critical capabilities, and they should be allocated to lead these priority ministries instead of the tendency to appoint persons with degrees in either Management or Human Resource management.

The suggestion in last week’s NEW TODAY to move Javon Williams to the Ministry of Infrastructure is a good one, among the others who have those capabilities are Peron Johnson and Aaron Francois who are already leading the key Ministries of Implementation and Agriculture.

Isaac Bhagwan could be moved to head the Ministry of Health and Mervin Haynes, the current Director of Economic Development and Planning should be given the nod to lead the new Ministry of Economic Development and Climate Resilience.

The development finance landscape has changed considerably, and long gone is the time when projects are written by a project officer on a desk. With the emergence of new sources of multilateral financing, the project identification and preparation process has changed with the inclusion of various environmental and social safeguards and other requirements in the project appraisal process.

The project preparation process is more extensive than before, with the emergence of the new multilaterals. The government must respond to this and create the appropriate institutional design to navigate and leverage the complex development finance landscape.

Rather than engage in petite behaviour and deny competent and experience public officers, branding others you claim you can’t work with. Ministers must consider the serious institutional risk within the public service and move away from the nepotism and cronyism and make the right choices that will get results and help to improve the government’s performance in the second year.

Failure to do so would allow the previous leader to return. The ministers and advisors must know that a day in politics is a long time, and if things don’t improve, the same people who voted you in will turn on you and vote you out. The history of Grenadians’ wild voting patterns is a testimony to this.

The second part of the article will look at the headwinds that are expected to create very challenging social and economic conditions next year.

Special Correspondent