The New Today

Commentary

Mixed bag performance for the NDC in the first year

The last article concluded that the young government had a mixed bag performance in their first year in office. The article further concluded that many of the young ministers with no public sector experience have performed beyond all expectations.

The article attributed this to the driven, energetic, and go-getter attitude displayed by these ministers and their dedicated and capable Permanent Secretaries. Although Minister Kerryne James is slowly becoming confident in her position as Minister, the egocentric, mendacious, and incompetent senior manager who manages her portfolio appears to have stunted the drive and energy of the young minister.

Meanwhile, the Honourable Ron Redhead can do much more as a minister if he has a capable senior manager in his ministry. In a nutshell, ministers without public sector experience are outperforming those with public sector experience.

The Prime Minister, going forward, will have to manage this situation and give these ministers, considered juniors when the ministerial portfolios were put together on coming into office, more responsibilities while getting those who came from the public sector where a culture of corruption has permeated through the organisation to shake off this archaic way of functioning if his government is to succeed going forward.

A recent Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) study on trust, collaboration, and policy attitudes in the public service concluded that the behaviour and attitude of public sector employees are critical for the implementation of public policies and delivery of public goods such as education and health care and ultimately the capacity of the State to perform its functions.

The role of permanent secretaries and other senior managers in the public service is critical in fostering better attitudes and behaviours among public officers that will contribute to improved performance in the public service.

The unfortunate situation is that most of the holdover permanent secretaries and senior managers from the previous regime emerged from the culture of corruption that permeates the public service. This culture undermines productivity, work relationships, and promotes status quo bias, which stunts innovation and change.

This comes out clearly when one considers the differences in performance between senior managers who are working with the young successful ministers and those in ministries led by ministers who have public service experience.

Those holdover senior managers were hand-picked and promoted to keep the status quo bias during the defeated regime, which presided over the corrupt culture, and have proven to be incompetent, lacking drive and innovation.

These persons are in constant denial, they don’t know and surround themselves with incompetent, obsequious subordinates who then turn around and engage in corrupt practises themselves, hence the reason there are centers of corruption scattered throughout the public service in places like Basic Needs Trust Fund (BNTF) and the Rural Development Unit (RDU).

This situation is a clear and present danger, a serious downside risk to the new government and if it is to build on the mix bag performance of its first year in office, the Prime Minister and his team of advisors have to think outside the box, take a page from the PRG and NDC government under former Prime Minister Nicholas Braithwaite and undertake a deliberate effort to rebuild the public service.

The thinking of many persons who led the transition process of the new government is that they can maintain the status quo and do things better than the defeated regime has now turned out to be a flawed one.

The culture of corruption feeds the negative attitudes of public officers, which in turn prevents the timely implementation of government’s policies and programs. In order to reverse the situation, there must be a paradigm shift in thinking and a conscious transformative effort across the public sector.

Two important elements of any serious transformative effort in the public service are the selection of senior managers who have high intrinsic and pro-social motivation. A recruitment process based on merit and professionalism is a key mechanism for achieving this type of selection.

Unfortunately, the recent selections are clearly not based on merit and professionalism but instead it appears to be driven by the new status quo bias and servile considerations.

Similarly, there is no real effort to reverse the culture of corruption that exists in the public service as centers of corruption continue to operate unabated to the extent that contracts are still being awarded in a less than transparent manner to individuals known to be close to the defeated regime who benefited unfairly during their tenure.

The government should recognise it is at a critical juncture. Having significantly improved the implementation rate of projects and programs inherited from the previous regime, it must now come up with new projects and programs to replace those that are coming to an end and strengthen the delivery of public goods such as education and health to maintain favour with a majority of the electorate.

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This must be done while attempting to address the upsurge in crime and continued high unemployment, especially among young people.

The government will be challenged to address those matters and achieve greater success in the second year with the current state of the public service.

The Prime Minister and his Cabinet must think outside the box and take bold action to immediately reverse the situation that currently exists in the public service.

The repeated reshuffle of a bad pack of cards wouldn’t bring positive results, neither does selection of servile public officers based on friendship and maintainability of the status quo. As stated on the campaign trail by the Prime Minister, selection must be based on merit and professionalism.

There are a number of senior managers that are considered deadweights in the public service. Among them are a few that are two years or so out from retirement. These senior managers could be retired in the public interest to make space for dynamic, capable, and competent middle managers to be given an opportunity to serve at that level.

There are other deadweights that should be transferred to ministries and departments where it will be difficult to jeopardize the government’s agenda.

The former Cabinet Secretary, Gemma Bain-Thomas should be brought back as an advisor to the Prime Minister on matters relating to the public service, public sector reform, and to lead an apprenticeship program for the new permanent secretaries and other senior managers.

The Prime Minister should make a direct request to his counterparts in the United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia, all Commonwealth Countries, for assistance to undertake a comprehensive public sector reform effort aimed at rebuilding the public service which should include the police force.

A request should also be made to the government of the United States to assist with training and capacity building in the police force.

The Prime Minister should also consider a reshuffle of ministerial portfolios to give ministers who are considered good performers more responsibilities and realignment of some important portfolios such as sustainable economic development and planning, infrastructure development, and climate resilience.

These are important portfolios that, if properly structured, can enable the government to leverage significant resources to finance development.

The new government doesn’t have the luxury of time since, in most cases, it takes twelve to eighteen months to get new projects through all stages to implementation and programs and initiatives take time to develop and launch.

Therefore, it is important that the government think outside the box and take the actions to strengthen the public service.

The defeated former government has started to reorganise and mobilise with a view to strengthening the organs of the party. Their party’s propaganda machinery is alive and well as they attempt to control the messaging in an effort to win back support, particularly from the low income and vulnerable segments of the electorate.

It is interesting to note that some of the central themes in that messaging are attempting to paint the new government as uncaring and vindictive, and instill a notion in the minds of the electorate that nothing is happening in the economy.

This is consistent with the ‘old geezer’s’ thinking that the four St. Andrew’s constituencies and the two in St. Patrick’s are the easiest ones to win back. Hence, the reason the current messaging focuses heavily on issues affecting the rural communities.

The Prime Minister must act now to neutralise the efforts of the defeated government and take action to increase the level of success in the second year. There is a thinking that it is the work in the constituencies that would get constituency representatives voted back into office.

However, if the government is able to ramp up the implementation of its programs and projects, this will increase confidence in the government and make the work in the constituencies much easier.

The third part of the article will seek to address the problem of crime, unemployment in particular among youths, and the state of work in the various constituencies one year after the elections.

Special Correspondent