The New Today

Commentary

Missed opportunities and more missed opportunities

When would it end?

In my last article on analysis of the 2024 budget, I wrote that the government missed an opportunity to invest significantly more resources to revive the rural economy, focusing on the corridor between St. Andrew’s and St. John’s that passes through St. Patrick’s and St. Marks.

I contended it was wise to make such investments at this time because the government will be at the mid-point of its tenure at the end of the 2024 budget cycle.

Investing fifty to sixty million from CBI funds into the economy of rural areas broadly define as where the majority of citizens are engaged in agriculture to include livestock farming, forestry, fisheries, and other non-farming activities that take place outside of the urban setting would have lifted the livelihoods of people living in those areas, boost economic activity and job creation.

Located in the corridor between St. Andrew’s and St. John’s are the most marginal constituencies except for St. Mark’s. That significant investment would have strengthened the government’s standing among the electorate in those constituencies and allowed it to ride the positive wave generated by the spectacular independence celebrations and call a general election in the first half of 2025.

I am more convinced now that investment would have put the government in an enviable political pole position going into the second half of its tenure.

The Prime Minister and his team of advisors missed another opportunity with the recent Cabinet reshuffle to align portfolios and ministers in a manner that would suggest it is serious about addressing the decline in GDP growth rate in the medium term identified in the budget presentation and the need to leverage greater amounts of resources to finance new projects now that those projects that commenced before the elections and after the government assumed office are now coming to an end.

More serious consideration should have been given to the Climate Resilience and Economic Development portfolios since those two are key in enabling the government to access significantly larger amounts of resources to finance its development agenda.

The government would need resources to invest heavily in the public sector investment program and facilitate additional private sector investments in the economy to be able to reverse the declining trend in GDP growth rate.

The fact is that notwithstanding the many successes in implementing its campaign promises, the government is still not able to get right its institutional framework for governance and, as such, has not fully consolidated power two years into its tenure.

The alignment of portfolios doesn’t appear to be informed by any strategic thinking or is in response to the medium challenge of declining GDP growth.

In addition to the ill-considered changes in portfolios and realignment of ministries, the government inherited a decimated public service.

This is further compounded by a confluence of forces such as the exodus of experienced public officers because of natural attrition and early retirement, inexperienced Cabinet Secretary and weak senior management board of Permanent Secretaries, disgruntled public servants especially at the mid-level, influx of contract officers based on political affiliation driven by a tendency to hire from outside rather than train and promote officers already in the service and a lack of adherence to existing rules and regulations.

These forces merge to create a toxic work environment where there is no support for personal growth and a tendency to look outside when filling positions. Officers are rewarded with promotion based on nepotism and friendship instead of on merit.

Rapid loss of institutional memory has resulted in a significant decline in efficiency, weakened organisational culture, widespread stagnation, and resistance to change in the public service.

The repeated complaints over late payment of salaries is a manifestation of serious systemic breakdown and loss of motivation among public officers. This is a red flag the government can’t afford to ignore because it will pay a huge political price.

The government can’t continue to circle the wagon, and neither can it bury its head in the sand as an ostrich, hoping the problem would go away. The rotation of weak Permanent Secretaries among ministries and promotion of incompetent officers to the senior management board will not cut.

The longer it takes to introduce comprehensive public sector reform represents a missed opportunity to address the systemic breakdown within the public service.

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Although the climax to the Jubilee independence celebration at the national stadium was spectacular, there were a number of missed opportunities that could be problematic for the government going forward.

Instead of giving Sir Eric Gairy “The Father of Independence,” his full due, the revisionist approach taken by the celebrations committee has not gone unnoticed, particularly, by the people in the corridor mentioned earlier in this article.

Those people stood with Sir Eric during the turmoil created by the anti-Gairy, anti-independence forces, which was an amalgamation of an extension of the planter class mulattoes and landed gentry, elements of the urban business class who were galvanised under the umbrella of the Committee of 22, and young urban intellectuals driven by the Black Power movement whom Sir Eric called, hot and sweaty.

There was a glaring imbalance in activities surrounding the Jubilee celebrations with a focus on St. George’s. The Town Hall in St. Paul’s should have been replicated in areas such as Mt Rich and Chantimelle, bastions of support for independence to get their perspectives on independence and what it meant to them then and now fifty years after.

The government missed an opportunity to include diverse perspectives in the discussions on independence, leading up to the climax of the Jubilee celebrations.

The revisionist approach of the urban intellectuals should not be allowed to overshadow the perspectives of the rural poor and urban working class who stood with Sir Eric in thick and thin during the tumultuous period between 1973 and 1974.

The government missed another opportunity to outline a clear, overarching vision for the next fifty years, learning from our mistakes and building on the successes of the past fifty years.

The presentation by the Honourable Prime Minister could not be considered visionary and unifying. Rather, it was programmatic and sectorial and lacking in an overarching vision for the country.

Moreover, Professor Justin Robinson of UWI made a poignant observation in his analysis of GDP growth rate over the fifty years of independence. He stated in his article, which was published in last week’s edition of THE NEW TODAY newspaper that Grenada experienced the largest rate of GDP growth during the rule of Sir Eric Gairy and the People’s Revolutionary Government (PRG).

These two periods can be characterised by visionary leadership where the focus was on self-reliance and self-determination to build and harness the true potential of our people.

During the lead up to the Jubilee climax, stronger efforts should have been made to unify the country by embracing a genuine inclusive approach instead of the token bipartisanism that was adopted.

It was disheartening to see how the organising committee handled the laying of the wreath on Sir Eric’s grave as an afterthought instead of a formal State event with all its trappings.

This played into the notion of a revisionist agenda aimed at sanitisation of the role of those who opposed independence while at the same time attempting to de-emphasise the role of The Father of Independence.

The government missed an opportunity to bring together all sides in genuine dialogue to solicit a broader perspective on independence that would have given the rural poor and urban working class a voice in the discussions.

A large majority of the people who supported Sir Eric in his quest for independence came from villages, communities, and constituencies in the corridor between St. Andrew’s and St. John’s. This is the same corridor that the government missed an opportunity in the budget to make significant investments that would revive the rural economy. Many of those public servants that are disgruntled are also from areas in the corridor.

The repeated missed opportunities by the government are giving the opposition forces enough space to reorganise and mobilise for the next two years. Remember, all politics are local. The Grenadians in the diaspora don’t vote en masse in general elections, and all politics are local.

Should the government continue to miss those opportunities and the NDC party continues with its laissez faire approach, it could be setting itself up for a shocker whenever elections are called.

A word to the wise is enough.

Special Correspondent