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Things fall apart

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Madness is defined by doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting that the result will be different. Crime has ballooned, the social fabric is weakening; the justice system is clogged with an increasing backlog of cases; the education system’s results declining; the roads congested; the economic data to inform decision making is of poor quality and is not produced in a timely fashion. The deterioration is a national issue and ongoing under different administrations. There have been nine elections between 1986 to 2015 and in the process, the party in power has been changed six times. This is an indictment against all parties and a recognition by the public that solutions remain outstanding.

Between 1999 and 2008 the economy boomed, experiencing a compound rate of growth exceeding 12 per cent per annum. Did we address the issues? Expenditure increased, government employing more people at higher rates, without any increase in productivity. Construction activity accelerated, but many houses remain unoccupied and incomplete. Health care, national security and education budgets increased without improvement in output quality.

Spending on subsidies and transfers (welfare and social programmes) expanded to 40 per cent of the annual budget under the PNM ballooning past 50 per cent under the UNC. Indeed, the entire increase in revenue between 2010 and 2014 was spent on subsidies and transfers; Cepep, Hoops for Life, URP, Life Sport et al, all populist measures to retain office.

We speak of the need for reform and retraining as illustrated by various development plans (Vision 2020, Growth Poles, 2030) with no connection to the budget or delivery objectives. Dr Williams’ words resonate in a way that we can, now, understand fully; money is not the problem. We lack direction, balance, priorities and political will. Not all the solutions are palatable. You must break an egg to make an omelette.

New laws have been enacted to address corruption; an Integrity in Public Life Act, Proceeds of Crime Act, Anti Money Laundering legislation and so on. The Central Tenders Board has been scrapped and new Procurement legislation to regulate procurement by the state and its State enterprise agents passed. There have been several commissions of inquiry and many recommendations. The recommendations remain, unimplemented or ignored.

And yet the spectre of corruption, the key theme in every election campaign for the last 18 years, remains unchecked. There has not been one successful prosecution for money laundering and no one has been sentenced for any corrupt act since Independence.

The democratic systems have worked; we have changed the management (the government) seven times. Why then have we not been getting results? Is it that the ministers are incompetent or is it a wider issue and the changes have not extended to the people issues at the next layer of management? Or are the systems and procedures, which keep an organisation on track, failing? Or is it some combination of all three? What are we to do?

In a recent conversation with a former director of Petrotrin, he noted that the company had been overstaffed from its inception and the maintenance issues well known. Yet, several decades later, the efficiency issues have not been addressed.

The Prime Minister touted that the best Minister of Foreign Affairs is leading this Ministry. He doubles as a Minister in National Security. Despite this, last Saturday saw a flagrant breach of Article 31 of the UN Convention relating to the Status of Refugees in the deportation of documented asylum seekers. This follows closely on other glaring mistakes emanating in the Ministry of Foreign and Caricom Affairs.

Venezuela’s problems started years ago and are only going to get worse. Expect more refugees and asylum seekers. Yet we seem to have no plan or policy to address this issue. Four ministries are fault: Foreign Affairs, National Security, Planning and Labour.

This synopsis points to leadership, management, people and process issues, a deadly combination. It is unrealistic to address every problem with equal intensity. So, priorities must be identified, capacity built or reinforced. One cannot keep blaming subordinates or public servants or demonising institutions.

A leader is responsible for the timing tone and tempo of the organisation and the success of the management team is measured by its results. Standards must be set, built into processes and accountability demanded. The timing tone and tempo has been discordant for some time and results difficult to identify. Action is required.


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