The first year anniversary of the ruling administration election victory is fast approaching, and there is a need for the government to take stock and have a reset as it enters the second year of its tenure in office.
On my return to Grenada after being in North America for just over three months, I am encouraged on the one hand and concerned with the other as it relates to the performance of the government and the state of politics in Grenada.
Immediately after last June’s general elections, the consensus among a majority of the population was that it felt as if a burden was released from them.The tense, combative, and confrontational atmosphere which was the hallmark of the last eight years vanished into thin air, and a sense of relief began to permeate through the population.
Juxtaposed on this positive change among the population is the government making good on two of its main campaign promises, the payment of pension and bi-monthly payments to public officers.
The physical transformation of sites on the Kirani James Boulevard and Wall Street once considered eye sores were well received by the public.
These are some of the highlights, to date, along with a deliberate attempt to engage the population on critical issues affecting them.
There have been many missteps and mistakes as well during the ten months of the new administration. The sending home of some lowly paid contract workers, fiasco relating to Agricultural Feeder Roads and Molinere Landslip projects, slow pace in dismantling the deep state apparatus of the defeated former administration in the public service, and failure to create an effective public relations campaign to combat the lies and propaganda of the opposition forces.
Many of these missteps stem from the transition and a lack of understanding of how the defeated government functioned over the last four years or so. The fiscal responsibility framework, though well intentioned, focuses on providing a consistent and stable policy environment and improving management of government finances.
With its restrictions on government borrowing, the framework doesn’t promote the level of economic growth that would seriously drive down unemployment and expand the economy.
The constraint of the fiscal framework was further exacerbated by the cadre of weak and ineffective senior managers in the public service, many of them handpicked because of loyalty and not ability.
This resulted in the systematic breakdown of structures and processes that were in place to ensure efficient implementation of government programs and projects – many of which were either grossly mismanaged or failed to get off the ground, causing wastage of financial resources or loss of project funding from international donors.
The St. John’s River Flood Mitigation Project is a case in point. This created a situation leading up to the pandemic where very little by way of projects and programs were ongoing, and the defeated government started to panic as they approached mid-way in their tenure.
With suspension of the fiscal responsibility legislation due to the pandemic, the government was able to spend largely unchecked during the period.
With an eye on the pending election, a flurry of capital projects and temporary employment schemes aimed at boosting economic activity and increasing employment were started by the previous defeated government. However, with the weak capacity to implement and the system of largesse that existed in the public service, gross mismanagement and corruption became the order of the day.
This is the situation the transition leads encountered after the June twenty-third election. Though the policy to continue with capital projects started before the election is a prudent one thorough audits of larger projects such as Molinere Landslip and Agricultural Feeder Roads should have been carried out which would have identified project flaws and inherent risks to avoid the unfolding fiasco with these projects highlighted in last week’s edition of this newspaper.
What is equally troubling is the same suspects who are part of the cadre of sycophant senior managers that enabled the corrupt practices and are linked to the “Cleopatra” like figure a romantic “femme fatale” closely associated with a key member of the leadership of the defeated administration, are the ones who advised government on these matters.
The result is a charge on the public purse of an additional fifty million dollars that represents a one hundred percent increase in the contract price in the case of the roads project, potential undue delays, huge cost overruns, real risk of severe soil slippage resulting in major disruption of water to the capital, and possible litigation due to breach of contractual obligations in the case of Molinere land slippage.
The shadow of this “Cleopatra” like figure hangs over many projects as her minions in the ministries of Finance, Physical Development, Climate Resilience, Transportation, Education and Health are still being allowed to function with impunity creating a web of lies, misinformation and incompetence around the new Ministers.
The Prime Minister, as chairman of the Cabinet of Ministers, acting Cabinet Secretary, and senior advisors must be wary of the sullied advice and recommendations from these senior managers. These sycophants can’t be watched as one senior advisor intimated to a colleague that a leopard cannot change its spots.
These persons must be moved to areas where they can’t continue their ill ways and jeopardise the success of the new government.
The sending home of some daily paid workers could be handled differently if the government took the opportunity at the onset to engage the workers and explain to them that it is the previous administration who left them hanging by not regularising their employment status.
In instances where political activists and party loyalists were given cleaning and security contracts, hiring scores of lowly paid workers. When these contracts came to an end, instead of sending these workers home, efforts should be made working closely with the Department of Cooperatives to empower them by forming workers’ cooperatives and cut out the NNP big wig activists who got the contracts and creamed off huge profits while paying the same workers chicken feed.
If that approach was taken, it would have given the new government an opportunity to win over some of the lowly paid workers and dig into the defeated government base of support among these workers instead of contending with bad optics of having to be seen sending home poor workers.
This situation gave propagandists of the defeated regime the opportunity to paint the government as uncaring and insensitive to the poor.
This leads me to another shortcoming that the achievements of the new government are not effectively sold to the population.
The Government Information Service needs to do a better job of bringing the activities of government into people’s living rooms and on social media platforms.
On the other hand, the ruling party seems not to have a strategy to counter the intense propaganda campaign carried out by activists of the defeated government. The party must make concerted efforts to turn around the situation if it is to prevent hemorrhaging of support and expand its political base.
Politics is always about perception. It’s the one thing that gets people elected and governments defeated. As the one year anniversary of the young government draws closer, it is time for them to consider a reset to change perceptions among different segments of the electorate.
The recent move to the Ministry of Physical Development by the Prime Minister could be seen as a signal of an intent to reset his government and change perceptions among the electorate.
The quagmire that exists in that Ministry gave the perception that the new government is unable to implement projects started by the defeated regime and has lost funding earmarked for Grenada, which is very far from the truth.
The reality is that his government inherited two seriously flawed projects, Molinere Landslip and Agricultural Feeder Roads, the result of gross incompetence by the clique of sycophants who are associated with the “Cleopatra” like figure.
It is this same clique that worked under the defeated regime to dismantle the structures that were in place to ensure efficient implementation of projects and programs.
Although they are now spread out across the public service in Climate Resilience, Transportation, Physical Development, and Finance, the damage these incompetent, egoistic, and conniving sycophants have done are casting a shadow on the government’s efforts to implement its agenda, projects and programs.
Many persons with knowledge of the Ministry of Physical Development have said the Prime Minister will find it difficult to achieve his objectives if he does not make significant changes among the senior management team of that Ministry.
I was told he needs to get an experienced Chief Technical Officer (CTO), experienced Permanent Secretary with working knowledge of project cycle, contract management, familiarity with international donor agency procedures, experience at the senior administrative level of the public service along with a cadre of good engineers if he wants to turn around the fortunes of that Ministry.
In order to change the perception among the public that the same NNP sycophants are running the public service and frustrating government’s efforts, he would need to move them from important Ministries to lesser ones, while taking decisions at the Cabinet level to ensure the systems and processes that they have flaunted and caused to become dysfunctional are reinstated.
According to reports some of them such as the South American snake in the grass are still trying to play their conniving games. Now that the two major campaign promises have been delivered, the time is right for a reset to shift the focus on getting major projects going.
The government, in order to change the perception promoted by NNP propagandists that it is insensitive to the poor and uncaring precipitated by the bad optics from sending lowly paid workers home, should ramp up efforts to get minimum wage legislation to the Parliament as soon as possible and seek to regulate the private security sector to make sure that workers receive health and life insurance, pension and gratuity and other benefits as stipulated under the labour code.
These two initiatives, along with reintroduction of the temporary increased payment for SEED beneficiaries, would go a long way in helping to change the perception that it is insensitive and uncaring.
In summary, if the government is able to build on its early accomplishments by doing a reset and taking action to change these negative perceptions, they will be in good stead for the next two years.