The New Today

Commentary

Time for decisive action to reform the Public Service

The allegation made in last weekend’s publication, of THE NEW TODAY that a number of Permanent Secretaries in the public service are providing information to a senior opposition figure is a cause for serious concern if it is true.

My last two articles identified institutional risks manifested in the poor state of the public service as an impediment to the government improving on its first year performance. This points to the need for the decision makers and advisors in the Botanical Gardens to take a closer look at the public service and come up with solutions to reverse the situation.

It is evident that the Transition Team didn’t get it right when it came to the public service and the policy to keep those senior managers, who are beholden to the same senior opposition figure, in key ministries are now proving to be ill-advised.

The systematic transfer of experienced public officers from key positions who were replaced by inexperienced persons brought into the public service on political considerations created a loss of institutional memory that compromised the preservation and retention of policies and procedures in the public service.

Institutional memory is supposed to reduce the gap between an experienced and new employee. However, this practice lengthened the gap and created the conditions where the newcomers into the service were doing their own thing, reinventing the wheel from scratch rather than adhering to existing policies and procedures which they were not aware of nor given any orientation on entering the service.

Public officers who were passed over for promotion became disgruntled, which further exacerbated the problem of low morale in the public service. This fostered a culture of corruption that undermined productive work relationships and created ‘”status quo bias” that caused further decline in the public service.

Public policies and projects are implemented, and public goods such as education and health care are delivered by government agencies that are staffed by public officers. The behaviour and attitudes of these public sector employees are critical to the performance of government.

The new government’s continued delay in initiating comprehensive reform of the public service and lack of a strategy to utilise the remaining good talent in the system will continue to impact negatively on its performance.

Moreover, the decision to appoint an inexperienced public officer as Cabinet Secretary and selection of some senior managers who lack high intrinsic and pro-social motivation and not appear to be based on merit and professionalism would only worsen the problem for the government.

After campaigning on a platform of promotion based on merit and professionalism, the decision makers in the Botanical Gardens seem to have lost their way as petit considerations driven by dislike for certain public officers and the callous actions of some advisors who act like gatekeepers are preventing the government from taking prudent action to reverse the worsening situation in the public service.

Recent resignations from the Board of Directors of Nawasa and Grenlec and the constant rumblings from Gravel and Concrete Corporation and National Lottery Boards suggest the problem extends to the wider public sector.

This situation is likened to embers flying from a dying fire, which would eventually ignite a new bigger fire that burns Rome as the new government fiddling with petit consideration thus giving the defeated NNP regime an opportunity to return to power.

The decision makers and advisors must understand that the public sector could make or break the government. Therefore, it is of utmost importance to them that it functions properly and effectively.

The recent comments in Parliament by the Leader of the Opposition regarding the proposed concessional loan from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia are quite interesting.

After doing my research, I found out that this started with the preparation of a blue economy Master Plan by a team from New York University (NYU) to make the town of St. George a Climate Smart City.

When the document was submitted to the then NNP government, they were told that Grenada could get grant funding to finance the proposed project. A project concept note was supposed to be prepared for submission to one of the Climate Change multilateral trust funds.

This was never done, and for some reason, only known to those who took the decision, a request for assistance was made to the Saudi Fund for Development (SFD).

What was the role of the female Permanent Secretary responsible for the line ministry under which the proposed project falls, the former government line minister, and an ambassador in this? Were they the ones who told the then Prime Minister that the government could get a $100 million grant to finance the proposed project?

The charter of the SFD states that the institution only grants concessional loans to finance projects in developing countries. Therefore, once the request was made to the SFD, the former Prime Minister and government could not expect grant funding. Was he and his government ill-advised on this matter by the said three individuals?

According to an informed source after the June 23rd election in Grenada, a Saudi delegation visited the island, and a meeting was held at a hotel in the south of the island where a female Permanent Secretary allegedly told the delegation the new Congress government was seeking grant funding.

The head of the Saudi delegation responded that the SFD only provides concessional loans. Reports in the media have suggested that the new NDC government is in an advanced state of negotiations with the SFD to secure a concessional loan to finance the proposed project.

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The situation regarding the Saudi loan highlights a lack of understanding of the development planning process by senior managers in the public service and the bad advice these people give to the decision makers.

A Master Plan is a document that provides data and conceptual layout for guiding future development. It is all about making the connections between the surrounding environment, social settings, and buildings. Neither the Master Plan nor the concepts contained therein can be considered projects.

If the technocrats in the Ministries of Finance, Climate Resilience, and Infrastructure Development at the time understood development planning they would have advised the government to seek technical assistance to develop the concepts identified in the Master Plan into proper projects.

The preparation and submission of project concept notes, which is a brief outline of a project idea, to multilateral agencies such as the Global Climate Fund (GCF) would have allowed Grenada to access grant funding to develop these ideas into projects.

Once the projects were prepared, the government could have approached several funding sources for financing. These are the logical steps in the development planning process.

Based on bad advice from their sycophant technocrats, the NNP government made a mistake not to seek technical assistance to develop these concepts into projects before approaching funding agencies.

The second mistake was to approach the SFD for grant funding since that institution only provides concessional loans.

The Opposition Leader’s recent rant in Parliament was misguided and ill-advised since his government could not have received grant funding from the SFD. Moreover, even with all this hullabaloo, the former Prime Minister and his government failed to take action to develop not even one project from the Master Plan.

What was submitted to the SFD were the Master Plan and the concepts and not properly developed projects. The former Prime Minister should tell the nation who his government was negotiating with for the 100 million grant and whether properly developed projects were submitted to the funding agency.

The fallout from the former NNP government decision to approach the SFD for financial assistance based on a Master Plan and concepts is being felt by the new government which is now in advanced negotiations with the Saudis.

Should this government be successful in finalising a concessional loan, it will be to finance feasibility and design studies and implementation of the projects that would be developed from these activities.

In the normal scheme of things, grant funding or technical assistance from funding agencies are used in project preparation, while loans are used to finance the implementation of projects.

The rant in Parliament by the now Leader of the Opposition laid bare his government’s lack of understanding of the development planning process and the bad advice given to him by his own sycophants.

Should the allegation that a number of senior managers are providing information to a senior opposition figure in the NNP in last week’s front page of THE NEW TODAY is true the situation with the proposed Saudi loan reinforces the point that the Dickon Mitchell government would be foolhardy to continue to have these incompetent sycophants lead critical ministries and advise Cabinet.

Should they continue to do so and fail to acknowledge the institutional risk within the public service, it will be at their own peril with the electorate.

Prime Minister Dickon Mitchell and his team of advisors must understand that the swing voters who helped to put his government into power are not homogeneous. There is a segment of that voting block who are concerned about governance, and they voted for the NDC because they wanted a transformation of the way the country is governed and how the public sector functions.

If these sycophant senior managers are allowed to stand in the way of transformation and the problems on these statutory boards are not addressed, these voters would go back on the fence and not vote in the next general elections in as much the same way they stayed away in 2013.

This will play into the hands of the opposition, whose strategy is to re-energise its base, particularly in the parishes of St. Andrew and St. Patrick to try and win back the three seats they lost up North in the last election while creating doubts in the minds of that segment of swing voters that are concerned with governance.

Therefore, when a highly respected Chairman of the Board of Grenlec Ben Brathwaite is forced to resign over alleged disagreement on how to approach the dismissal of an officer, this sends the wrong message to that voting bloc.

The government must take decisive action to reform the public service while strategically utilising the capabilities of the small group of capable public servants at the senior management level and address the problems within the various boards if it is to improve its performance in the second year of its tenure and continue to find favour with all segments of the voting bloc that voted it into power.

The time to act is now as waiting until next year would be too late. It takes twelve to eighteen months to prepare a sizable project and months to roll out new programs plus the electorate doesn’t like it when a flurry of projects are rushed to be implemented a year or so out from a pending general election.

According to the Ibo proverb, ‘what an old man sees sitting down, a young man cannot see standing up’. A word to the wise is enough.

Special Correspondent