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The transition, transformation agenda and government’s town hall

In a speech to members of the diaspora and beyond in the United States by the late great revolutionary leader and Prime Minister, Comrade Maurice Bishop, he said that democracy has five integrated principles three of which are: accountability that is leaders must account to those who elected them; participatory mechanisms; people must be allowed to participate in the process; and they must have a voice in the running of the country.

The recently held Town Hall meeting by the new government reflects those principles outlined by the late Prime Minister by having the new leader and his team give an account to the people of what was unearthed during the transition, the current state of affairs in the public service, and affording them an opportunity to freely express concerns they may have, was indeed refreshing and transformational.

The young Prime Minister did a brilliant job in the manner in which he accounted to the people.

The three salient points of his presentation were the extent of corruption by past government officials, depleted state of the public service, and confirmation of the areas for transformation.

I am encouraged by the approach to focus on five areas or sectors for transformation instead of the ambiguous five pillars announced during budget consultations.

Using this approach as advocated in previous articles by the Special Correspondent is prudent and practical since sectoral objectives that are attainable and easily measured could be readily designed.

However, the depleted public service is a serious risk to the transformational agenda. Although, Senator Claudette Joseph spoke to the dire lack of capacity within the public service, by the utterances of other ministers, I don’t think there is sufficient understanding of the magnitude of the problem and how the situation can affect putting together the transformational agenda and their own performances in office.

Minister Jonathan LaCrette should understand that building a new hospital will not be transformative if the health systems, processes, human resource capacity and provisions of services do not improve significantly.

With his ministry aligned to the area of health or for that matter the line ministry for the health sector which was identified as a priority sector for transformation, the minister, his Cabinet colleagues and team of advisers need to look at the human resource capacity in that ministry to determine whether there is sufficient capacity and capable senior managers to undertake a transformative process of the sector.

Firstly, the two current senior managers in that ministry are not capable of providing transformational leadership given their limited capabilities and track record particularly in the Ministry of the Environment.

The cadre of senior and mid-level technical staff are weak as well and staffed with persons who are too compartmentalised in their thinking and approach.

Additionally, the planning function lacks a proper understanding of the process to be able to help drive the transformation. In other words, instead of thinking about a new hospital, the minister should work firstly to build a performance infrastructure in his ministry that would be able to be put together and to undertake a transformative process.

The same can be said for ministries that are aligned to other areas earmarked for transformation such as education, agriculture, physical and digital infrastructure, culture and creative sector, energy transition and environment.

Having now decided on the areas for transformation, the onus is now on the government to take the necessary steps to build performance infrastructures that would have the capabilities to put together a transformational agenda in the relevant line ministries.

In light of the Prime Minister’s appeal for citizens to give feedback and make suggestions on how to proceed with the transformational process. I wish to suggest that the government pursue a phased approach and focus on the areas of health and wellness, agriculture, and physical and digital economy in the first stage.

The Prime Minister in his remarks appeared to speak to synergies between health, agriculture and digital sectors which would allow for cross-cutting transformative initiatives and programs to simultaneously drive transformation in these three sectors.

In reality the digital sector is truly cross-cutting because leveraging the five transformative technologies such as Internet on Things (IoT), Big Data, Public Cloud, Blockchain and Artificial Intelligence (AI) is critical to improving services in agriculture and health. Therefore, it is only prudent to undertake transformation in these three sectors at the same time.

Yes, there will be challenges in light of the dearth of capacity in the Ministries of Agriculture and Information Technology, and weak capabilities in health, however for transformation to take place in any area there must be sufficient capacity to drive the process.

The government should ‘bite the bullet’ and urgently build performance infrastructure in the aligned ministries and pursue transformation in these three areas as a first phase. This phased roll-out would allow for cross-fertilisation and adoption of new ideas, regular feedback and effective monitoring.

As a result the transformation process will continually evolve as new learning is incorporated that would facilitate a seamless transition to the second stage when focus will be on the next three areas.

In keeping with the Prime Minister’s request for suggestions, the one given in earlier articles on the topic of getting the transition right to have the Cabinet office play some sort of a coordination role should be considered although there is a Ministry of Mobilisation, Implementation and Transformation.

The work at the sector level has to be driven by the relevant line ministries, however the first step of putting together the performance infrastructure, that is getting key positions filled and creating relevant structural changes, are done using a multi-agency collaborative approach involving Department of Personnel Management (DPMS) and Cabinet office.

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Moreover, the Cabinet office has a role to play in the second step after relevant work streams are identified, coordinating commencement of sector analysis, synthesis of existing studies, alignment work with national and sectoral development plans, and ongoing monitoring of senior managers to ensure buy-in and full commitment to the cause.

For some senior managers particularly sycophant loyalists could be stealthily reluctant to get on board the transformation train. If the government is fully committed to the task of transformation it must be willing to take bold and decisive actions to ensure nothing gets in the way of the transformational agenda.

For instance holdover senior managers and sycophant loyalists of the defeated regime who lack the capabilities to lead a transformational process or are deemed obstructionists and might have three years or less left towards retirement, could be retired in the public interest as if they would have reached the age of sixty to give way to other senior managers who have transformational leadership qualities, understand the requirements of a sector-wide transformative undertaking, and are fully committed to leading such a process.

The point here is if the government wants to successfully implement this major plank of its election platform it has to be resolute and decisive.

Another important aspect of the process is alignment of the transformative programs, projects and other initiatives with donor agencies funding priorities to be able to access concessionary financing for the transformational agenda. This effort has to be led by the Ministry of Economic Development and Planning working closely with relevant line ministries.

The alignment work and mobilisation of resources requires persons with experience in managing donor relations, knowledge of individual donor procedures and requirements, skilled in project proposal writing, project cycle management and policy formulation, capabilities that are currently lacking in the Ministry as exemplified by poor performance in accessing concessionary funding, low levels of disbursement of project funds and ineffective management of the public sector investment program.

If the transformational agenda is to receive sufficient funding from international donors the Ministry of Economic Development and Planning should also be strengthened with the right persons to commence the important work of resource mobilisation.

On this note, I want to ask the Hon. Prime Minister who spoke on the issue of victimisation and lack of capacity in the public service during the Town Hall, why is Mervin Haynes, the substantive post holder of Director of Economic and Technical Cooperation either not back in that position or given a higher position where he can contribute significantly to the transformational agenda given his wealth of experience, training, knowledge and competence in the skill set earlier identified as required for officers in that Ministry?

Are efforts to have the officer back in his substantive position being stymied by a particular minister or advisor(s) in your orbit?

The Prime Minister can’t on the one hand speak out against victimisation by the defeated regime and then turn around and allow those under his charge to victimise competent, capable public servants who can make a significant contribution while allowing sycophants to remain in positions and quietly frustrate the efforts of the government.

The situation with this particular officer will be monitored very closely and Senator Claudette Joseph should know if she wants to have any chance of winning the Town of St. George seat in the future she must be seen as fighting for her constituents.

In conclusion, now that the government has identified the focus areas for the transformational agenda it is time to put the performance infrastructure in place to ensure successful implementation.

The situation with returned letters to groundsmen, and the FAITH matter points to a troubling sign of sycophant senior managers and their minions either misdirecting ministers and or providing less than complete information by which to make informed decisions.

As one NNP surrogate recently said to me, “we have so much of our people in them ministries to pull wool over the new ministers’ eyes soon they would be all blind, we in control still”.

The Prime Minister and his team must understand that to have those who presided over wrong doings and mismanagement in the same positions, such as in youth and sports, physical development, health and education means that the ministers would not get proper advice from these sycophants when actions to correct the many wrongs are agreed upon.

Too many in the orbit of the PM have friends and families that participated in wrongdoings and mismanagement during the defeated regime and are now attempting to shield these persons at the expense of maligning good public servants.

The young Prime Minister has demonstrated many traits of a transformational leader since his entry into politics, his call during the Town Hall for citizens to share advice and ideas on how to proceed with the transformational agenda that is encouraging citizens to communicate and have a voice in the development process itself.

A transformational leadership trait must be met with an equal desire to engage in active listening, going beyond simple hearing words but seeking to understand the meaning and intent of communications by citizens be it in print media, Town Hall or on social media.

The articles by Special Correspondent, Laurel Bain and podcast by William Joseph are attempts by fellow citizens to heed the call to communicate and to have a voice in the transformative process which you have championed.

Special Correspondent