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Analysis of the 2023 Estimates of Revenues and Expenditures – The budget – Part III

The first article in the three part series looked at the macro-economic fundamentals of the budget and whether it sought to protect poor and vulnerable households from the ravages of high inflation translated into rising cost of living.

The article concluded that the budget is indeed anchored in the prudent macro-economic framework legislated under the Fiscal Responsibility Act and also seeks to protect poor and vulnerable houses from rising inflation.

Part two of the analysis examined the political economy of the budget as it highlighted the relationship between government and various groups in society.

The article concluded that notwithstanding the many macro-economic challenges faced by the government, more should be done to bolster the Middle Class who for over a decade have had to bear the full brunt of high taxes.

The final part in this three part series will look at how well the budget laid a foundation for the transformational agenda.

Transformation is a thorough change in form or appearance. It is akin to a metamorphosis in the life cycle of an animal, in other words transformation is fundamental change in a particle, organism, an organisation or sector.

In the context of government, transformation has to do with deep seated change in the way it functions and delivers services to the population.

This change process has to be driven by a performance infrastructure made up of people with the right skills and mindset, experience, knowledge and adoption of the right processes, technology and application of relevant analytical tools.

The Estimates of Revenue and Expenditure for 2023, true to form, doesn’t reflect any significant departure from previous budgets under the defeated NNP regime. This is expected because it is only six months that the new government has been in power.

Almost all of the projects in the capital budget were either conceptualised or commenced implementation under the previous regime.

The new government took the prudent decision not to stop projects started before the elections, however a few projects such as the Agricultural Feeder Road project should have been more properly audited and better solutions arrived at that could have saved millions of dollars from the public purse.

Having said that in part one of analysis of the 2023 budget, implementation is seen as one of the major challenges.

This was echoed by the Member of Parliament for St. Andrew’s South West and Minister for Economic Development, Lennox Andrews in his budget presentation.

Not much attention was given to actual capital expenditure in 2022 during the debate in Parliament, however a closer look at the figures shows a dismal rate of Implementation of the capital budget precipitated by the systematic weakening of the public service, in particular the dismantling of the infrastructure that was in place to ensure timely implementation of projects.

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During the budget debate many members of Parliament in their presentation lamented the poor state of the public service. This situation presents not only a challenge to the timely implementation of the 2023 budget but it will negatively impact the transformation process as well.

The October 21st article, “Transition and Transformational Agenda”, drilled down into the process required for putting together a transformation agenda and pointed out the urgent need to acquire sufficient capacity and capabilities to strengthen the public service to enable it to drive the transformative process.

Having repeatedly highlighted the decimated state of the public service one would have expected the budget to place more emphasis on rebuilding a performance infrastructure to implement the budget and drive the transformation process.

However, apart from expressing an intention to filling vacant positions in key ministries, the budget failed to address a comprehensive approach to strengthening the public service and building a performance infrastructure to lead the transformative effort.

Listening to the utterances of the Prime Minister and other ministers there appears to be blurred lines when speaking about the transformation process and the National Sustainable Development Plan which was completed around 2018.

The plan outlines a strategy and highlights project ideas and policy suggestions to achieve a particular set of objectives. Very little work has taken place since its launch to develop these ideas and policy suggestions into proper projects and policies.

Although the ideas and suggestions in the plan have been touted around in Town Halls and other forums, the transformational agenda could suffer the same faith if the new government does not take urgent steps to build a performance infrastructure within the public service that will be able to undertake the intensive work required to drive a sector wide transformative effort.

The most difficult part of transformation is not determining what to do but how to do it. Listening to the Prime Minister in the recent Town Hall he is clear on the ideas and policy suggestions for transforming the country, however the capacity and capabilities in the public service on how to do so is sadly lacking.

The 2023 budget failed to adequately address this which could jeopardise genuine transformation. It is said that many recommendations for staff and institutional changes in departments and ministries to strengthen key functions are not taken up by ministers for final decision.

The Prime Minister must hasten his ministers to act decisively for at the end of the day it is better to hear well done rather than to hear well said. Our actions always speak loudest.

Special Correspondent