The New Today

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Is the new government being set up for failure? – Part IV

The ninety days period for the transition is fast approaching and to-date many persons have raised concerns with the transition and decisions of the team in particular the design of the senior management team.

In this final article of the four part series a brief summary of the local economic and social challenges will be undertaken along with examination of the deterioration of the public service to show how the government is being set up for failure and give insights into some initiatives that can help to strengthen the administration of governance.

The new government could not have entered office in a more trying time. A global economy still reeling from the negative impact of a pandemic about to slip into recession, high oil prices and supply chain bottlenecks fueling global inflation, high unemployment and low productivity in the local economy and a looming threat to one of the country’s main income earners the Citizenship by Investment Program ( CBI) among other issues.

Locally, a national road network in a sad state of disrepair, a deplorable health system, a broken education system that continues to fail thousands of our youths, and a decimated public service riddled with incompetent sycophants of the last regime and overcome by low morale.

Juxtaposed on all these issues are an expectant electorate who want to see positive changes now. A closer look at the public service will reveal rampant corruption, mismanagement, gross misconduct and incompetence. An organisation lacking in systems and procedures to properly evaluate performance in particular senior managers. In other words, the system is completely broken and needs to be urgently repaired.

The question is, how do you fix such a broken organisation that at the same time is tasked with the responsibility of implementing the new government’s transformational agenda?

A cursory look should be taken at how past governments attempted to address shortcomings within the public service upon coming into office. The People’s Revolutionary Government (PRG) brought in like-minded professionals associated with fraternal parties in the region and promoted dynamic young professionals to senior management level.

The Nicholas Braithwaite-led Interim Government brought back some Gairy era senior public officers. It should be pointed out that during this period the public service was in much better shape than it is now.

The first National Democratic Congress (NDC) government under the leadership of Nicholas Braithwaite embarked on the first post-independence comprehensive reform of the public service. Upon assuming State power, the Keith Mitchell-led New National Party (NNP) government began to systematically erase the gains made during the reform efforts undertaken by the first NDC government. The result was a badly broken and depleted public service in need of fixing.

Given the challenges faced by the new government, the current state of the public service and an expectant electorate one would have expected the transition team to be deliberative in their approach guided by a clearly thought out strategy. Judging from its decisions to date the transition team appears unsure, lacking in coordination and a clearly thought out strategy to guide its work.

Notwithstanding the constraints placed by Public Service Regulations and Civil Service Staff Orders, had there been a well thought out strategy the transition team could have done a better job in design of the senior management team, demonstrate intent to transform the public service and set up the government to succeed.

For instance, due to the glaring absence of capacity among the group of holdover senior managers evidenced by the inefficient delivery of services to the population and poor implementation of programs and projects more space could have been created to bring in persons with proven capabilities onto the senior management team.

The shifting around of Permanent Secretaries is seen as merely window dressing that doesn’t seek to address the serious problem of capacity within the senior management team.

The transition team has given little or no consideration to the important middle tier of the public service, considered the engine room that keeps the ship moving, where over multiple tenures the defeated government was able to populate these positions with sycophants and supporters often times overlooking competent and experienced professionals who failed the litmus test of party loyalty.

Or whose faith was sealed by a newsmonger to the then seat of power bent on maligning the public officers because of bad mind or just to keep that person down.

Those who are advocating a minimalist approach in dealing with the current public service doesn’t appreciate the corrosive and toxic culture that permeated the service during the long reign of the defeated government nor do they understand how that same culture provided the glue which kept the corrupt infrastructure of the defeated regime together and centers of largesse functioning.

These persons must understand that is the above conditions that led to the terrible state of the La Borie Main Road, the Faith fiasco in the Ministry of Education, the current situation with Grenlec, the litany of mismanagement within government that has resulted in rampant wastage of millions of dollars and poor delivery of services to the population.

To move competent experienced Permanent Secretaries as Aaron Francois, Javon Williams, Jacinta Joseph and Ann Isaac to insignificant ministries because they didn’t meet the loyalty and trust litmus test in favour of incompetent sycophants helped to create the situation that led to the litany of failures previously outlined.

This is very evident with the senior management team – Permanent Secretary, chief technical functionary and other technical officers that presided over the many bad contracts, littered with loopholes favouring contractors and glaring cost overruns in the Ministry of Physical Development as well as conflicts of interest and a serious breach of the five pillars of public procurement: transparency, good management, prevention of misconduct, accountability and control as is seen with the situation of Faith in the Ministry of Education.

According to murmurs from many circles around the periphery of the transition team the situation in the service is really bad yet notwithstanding the constraints of public service rules the team appears to be suffering from “learned helplessness ” that is having all the information before them but is unable to act.

Are they waiting until a new Public Service Commission (PSC) is constituted? If that is the approach they are taking then very little of the government’s transformational agenda, other than payment of pension, removal of school fees and transfer of the school uniform program to schools, will be implemented in the upcoming first budgetary cycle of the new government.

Whether or not the work of the transition team is stymied by PSC regulations and Civil Service Staff Orders, resistance from the PSC itself or a conscious decision to be cautious, their decisions to-date appears not to be guided by a clear strategy.

Considering the challenges earlier outlined, the current state of the public service in particular the upper echelons and expectant electorate the transition team should be more creative and decisive in placing more capable persons at the managerial level and bolster the senior technical staff in key ministries such as Education, Physical Development, Environment, Economic Development and Health to commence work on getting the transformational agenda together and into the budget.

Although all ministries have capital programs and projects that normally drive a government’s agenda, Economic Development, Physical Development, Education, Health, and the Environment are the ones with large capital projects mostly funded by international donor agencies.

The ability of those ministries to develop and present capital programs and projects for funding consideration by donors will determine how much resources the new government is able to access to finance its transformational agenda. In light of this, one would think that senior managers with proven capability in policy and program formulation, and knowledge of and management of relations with donor agencies should be considered to lead those ministries. This is in light of the weak cadre of senior technical staff in the service.

As I said before, a strategy that focuses on bringing capabilities and proven competence to the senior management team while seeking to identify and promote competent public officers into the middle management tier will help to immediately strengthen the public service and motivate public officers who have been overlooked for promotion in the past.

Recent retreats undertaken as part of the transition process has highlighted significant weaknesses in key areas of the service. How can a senior public officer in a policy function purports a party’s manifesto as the government’s transformational agenda or in another case presents a matrix of project ideas as a public sector investment program?

Members of the transition team know most of these senior managers and technical officers are incompetent yet they continue to have them remain in critical positions that are instrumental in advancing the new government’s agenda.

The lack of action has shown the new government to be weak and indecisive. This has given rise to a cabal of sycophants operating with impunity in Ministries of Education, Health, Physical Development, Procurement Unit in the Ministry of Finance and other areas within the public service.

The cabal in Health comprises two senior managers and a demoted former senior sycophant while the one in Physical Development involves a senior manager, senior technical functionary and mid-level technical officers. Both cabals are in cahoots with one in the Procurement Unit in the Ministry of Finance who are minded to provide “no objections” to a flurry of erroneous procurement decisions taken by the defeated government in the weeks before the elections and are quietly doing its bidding directed by a close relation of the “old geezer”. If this is not setting up the government for failure then I don’t know what is.

Related:  Is the New Government being set up for failure? - Part III

There are concerns as well from many about the Permanent Secretary in Finance who appears unsure of himself and not on top of things. This was quite glaring in the post-Cabinet press briefing earlier this week when he was asked a question by reporter Nancy McGuire regarding the cap on freight rates to 2019 levels and whether the benefits will be passed on to consumers.

He responded by making an illogical comment relating to price controlled items in which Mrs McGuire had to point out that this didn’t answer her question. The Prime Minister then chimed in to give a reasoned response even providing information on freight cost by region.

However, that matter of capping of freight rates in response to rising inflation needs to be discussed deeper before Cabinet makes a decision since according to importers on the island freight charges have dropped from a high of US$ 22,000 to around US$16,000 per container and is on a downward trajectory, however prices are still increasing.

Speaking to a few of them, freight is not the only item in the CIF that has increased, insurance, and suppliers/manufactures cost has also increased.

Therefore, reducing freight rates, which is already coming down, may have a negligible impact on prices. The fact is the cause of inflation in middle and low income open economies as Grenada are complex, often driven by cost-push inflation including imported inflation from global price rise and currency depreciation.

The paucity of creative thinking on this policy issue points to the need for a Council of Economic Advisors to advise the young Prime Minister and his Cabinet on economic matters. That initiative will be transformative to relying on a holdover sycophant economic advisor.

There are many competent Grenadians with empirical and analytical skills set the likes of Laurel Bain, Brian Francis, Michael Julien, Curlan Gilchrist that can be asked to serve on the council. This body could function out of and receive administrative support from the Cabinet Secretariat.

In addition to designing a senior management team with capabilities to develop and implement the new government’s transformative agenda, there is a need to strengthen the Chief Technical Officer functions as well as the cadre of mid-level technical officers in ministries like Education, Physical Development, Health, and Environment.

Additionally, the Cabinet Secretary’s function should be transformed into a full-fledged Secretariat with strengthened capacity to assess, formulate and monitor implementation of policies and decisions of the Cabinet of Ministers in pursuit of its core functions of helping to ensure effective development, coordination and implementation of policy; and facilitate collective decision making whether within Cabinet or in Cabinet Committees.

In this regard, consideration should be given to setting up two departments within the Secretariat headed by deputy Cabinet Secretaries, one to coordinate formulation and development of policy, working closely with line Ministries and Statutory Bodies and another to monitor and evaluate performance of senior and middle managers in the public service.

At present there is no proper mechanism in the Cabinet Office to monitor and evaluate performance of senior managers.

The absence of such mechanisms may have contributed to the poorly designed senior management team and could lead to problems in justifying moving the sycophant senior managers from positions where they can jeopardise the government’s agenda.

Contrary to what some senior members of the transition team believe it is difficult to watch over those sycophants if there is no framework to do so.

The amount of quiet intrigues taking place around these ministers that they are not aware of in Health, Youth and Sports, and Physical Development to circumvent the new government are mind-boggling.

To date there appears to be only talk of transformation but no show of intent as the ninety days mandate of the transition team draws close. Sections of the electorate are concerned not only with sycophants remaining in positions where they can jeopardise the government’s agenda but with the new government finding itself in a situation where the programs of the defeated government take precedence over its transformative agenda facilitated by sycophants of the defeated government and the rolling budgetary framework.

The “old geezer” concubine and other functionaries of the defeated government will stop at nothing to frustrate and cause the government to lose focus. In fact, it is alleged that the concubine is still giving instructions to close associates in the cabal in Ministry of Health and Physical Development hence the reason questionable decisions of the previous government are being advanced such as sole source contract to a hardware store closely tied to the defeated government for retrofitting of windows in one of the main health institutions, seeking “no objections” for questionable procurement decisions taken before the elections, and even requesting to pay certain public officers personal expenses.

There is a general feeling that the young leader and senior members of the transition team are too naive and as such are causing cabals of the defeated government to act with impunity. If the transition team does not get its act together and design a team that can quickly advance its agenda and raise productivity in the public service the new government will be in serious trouble.

The promise to pay pension has already had its effects, public officers retired and present have already voted en-masse for the government. If the government wants to be able to extend its base in the next four years the transition team must do a better job of dealing with the vulnerable workers that were placed in a precarious position by the defeated regime.

They must get creative and cut out these ghost companies and go directly to the workers to form workers cooperatives. A concerted pitch to these workers can help the NDC to extend its base. As such a key element of any strategy to guide the transition must include securing the employment status of these vulnerable workers, however not the political activists and sycophants among them.

In conclusion, though it’s early days yet, there is nothing transformative about the new government apart from the repugnant and overbearing leadership style of the ‘old geezer’, when one looks at the post-Cabinet press briefing, the sense is it’s just an exchange of faces.

After I listened to Hon. Phillip Telesford on proposed legislation to increase the age for pension during the post- Cabinet briefing, I asked myself shouldn’t there be broad-based consultations with all stakeholders, including Unions, before the legislation is taken to Parliament because of its profound consequences?

The people’s voices must be heard. Supporters of the NDC and the wider population would not be happy with window dressing. The young leader must understand to campaign on a platform of change and not be seen to be making those changes now in power is political suicide. He must not take the thirty two thousand persons who voted for his party “for a ride” or else he would suffer the same fate of the last NDC government.

The “old geezer” is not yet done in politics and to defeat him and dismantle the centers of corruption, once and for all, the NDC government has to remain in power for at least two consecutive terms. Therefore, the transition team must design a capable, competent, experienced management team at both the top and middle echelons of the public service and create new units and departments that would be able to implement the government’s transformative agenda and ensure success.

There must be real change not just an exchange of government. The transition team must get its act together – many members of the team are jockeying for positions, creating mischief, overstepping their mandate and not providing proper advice.

It is time the transition team heeded the call made by the Editor of THE NEW TODAY to request assistance from the British Government to rebuild the public service similar to what was done by the first NDC led by Nicholas Braithwaite.

The transition team should recommend to the government to go to the Commonwealth Fund for Technical Cooperation (CFTC) and other specialised organisations for help.

The approach taken by the PRG government to identify competent, dynamic, experienced public officers into senior positions should also be adopted. If this new government wants to successfully implement its transformational agenda and advance the country’s development it must seek to undertake significant reforms of the public service.

There are too many missteps, mistakes, and a failure to demonstrate transformative intent in this early stage. Time is running out for the transition team to get it right and set up the new government for success.

Special Correspondent