The New Today

Commentary

Institutional changes are urgently needed to avoid losing mass support

Last week’s article described the sectoral planning process at the Ministry level and suggested institutional changes that would strengthen the Ministries of Implementation, and Economic, Sustainable Development, and Planning. However, the system of development planning is much more extensive.

Sectoral planning is driven by the conduct of various studies, such as broader sector analysis or targeted ones that look at specific issues within the sector. However, national plans such as the national sustainable development plan and preparation of specific strategies do feed into the development planning process.

These activities are essentially driven by local forces either through government policy direction, an expressed need by stakeholders within the sector, or occurrence of some natural or man-made event that caused a problem within the sector.

International donor agencies influence the development planning process as well through their own extensive sector studies that identify priority areas for intervention. There is also another source of external influence with the emergence of global trust funds set up by major bilateral donors to address problems caused by climate change and environmental degradation.

Development planning, driven by both internal and external forces, requires a well-functioning institutional framework. Over the last decade, the previous government dismantled the framework that was created during the reform period of the nineteen eighties, and replaced it with a hodgepodge of units scattered among the ministries with no central coordinating structure to guide the process and ensure accountability.

Juxtaposed on top of this is “a crab in a barrel” mentality that has crept into the culture of the public service among mid and senior level public servants, many of whom lack the demonstrated experience and relevant qualification to function at higher levels.

However, because of news-bringing, nepotism, and obsequious behaviour, many of these public servants are promoted to positions in which they are unable to function properly.

This toxic culture that permeates the public service has worsened the situation caused by the dismantling of the development planning and implementation framework.

The present situation in the public service will severely hamper the new government’s ability to implement its programs and capital projects to provide benefits to the population.

The continued delays in the implementation of major capital projects, loss of funding, and the possibility of losing further funds on other projects and the current state of play in the country with skyrocketing increases in food prices, high unemployment, poor delivery of basic services such as healthcare and education would make it difficult for the new government to succeed.

Poor and vulnerable families, particularly single parent households, are under siege by high unemployment and food prices.

The old geezer and his lackeys trying to be astute is attempting to stick a label on the new government as being uncaring and insensitive to the poor and vulnerable. This could be very problematic for the government’s popularity going forward if that label sticks.

In spite of all this, there appears to be no serious effort to remedy the situation and rebuild the dismantled systems in the public service. The sycophants still remain in senior management positions, leading very important ministries.

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The broken systems are allowed to limp along continuing the chaos and lack of clarity of roles of units, departments and ministries that will continue to hamper project implementation, and the negative fall-out from recent selection of incapable senior managers will haunt the government as evidenced in the manner in which Market Vendors were moved from the stadium car park to the refurbished market.

If these missteps and bad decision-making continues the old geezer’s attempt to label the government as incentive and uncaring will stick. The government will not be able to improve the implementation rate, and funding agencies will withdraw funds from projects. The new government will suffer the same fate of the defeated regime if it doesn’t move to turn things around in good time.

What is most interesting in all of this, I was told, is that there are persons in the Cabinet, advisors, and even at the level of the PSC who are familiar with the system that was established in the late eighties under the deceased Dr Carlyle Mitchell and Nolan Murray and now dismantled under the defeated regime.

There is a clear and present danger for the government if it doesn’t reintroduce the development planning framework and build on it to incorporate the new Ministry of Implementation and address the extension to the development finance landscape with emergence of global public goods such as climate resilience and environmental degradation.

Key to this effort is the creation of a Ministry of Economic, Sustainable Development, Spatial Planning, Transformation, and Climate Resilience to focus on the overall planning transformation and resource mobilization functions.

The Ministry of Implementation and Mobilisation would continue with its mandate to improve the implementation rate of government projects and programs and mobilise the population around matters of national importance.

Consideration could be given to adding the Physical Development portfolio because of the nature of that ministry, the size of the capital works program, and the state of implementation of these projects.

These are difficult times globally, and with the restriction on borrowing under the fiscal responsibility framework, the government will have to ramp up its ability to attract development finance and improve its capacity to absorb these funds in a timely manner if it wants to deliver on its promises and improve provision of quality services to the population.

The status quo in the public service can’t be allowed to continue. The selection of incapable senior managers must be discontinued and the former Cabinet Secretary under the last NDC government Gemma Bain-Thomas should be given a role to hand-hold the young acting Cabinet Secretary to improve decision-making at that level particularly when it comes to selection of senior managers and rebuilding systems and processes that were dismantled during the former regime.

It is quite evident that the transition didn’t get it right, and the recent expression of discontent by surrogates and supporters of the government is a testimony to this. It is, therefore, imperative of the government to make the necessary institutional changes to reverse the situation and avoid losing mass support.

Special Correspondent