You are here
When all is not above board
Last week’s column on the rapid rail elicited much response on Facebook and the blogs, much of it on a passing observation that “I can see a (Dr Keith) Rowley-led administration presenting a superior alternative to the hapless bunch of PP incumbents.”
The issue should have been self-evident given what is transpiring now with the national budget, annually allocating more money to ministries and agencies than the previous Patrick Manning administration, but with nothing much to show for it.
And while the Manning administration was accused, justly so, of overheating the economy with more projects than the economy had the capacity to bear, the present administration is presiding over an economic slump, with projects unable to get off the ground despite the millions being expended.
The Kamla Persad-Bissessar People’s Partnership administration includes not just the members of her supersized Cabinet appointed to formulate government policy but an even larger body of board members appointed to execute it. Developments over the last week have exposed a crisis of competence at both levels that should be of concern to citizens regardless of political persuasions.
One of my predecessors in this space, Nirad Tewarie, once opined in February 2011, as the crisis was in an incipient stage with many boards still to be appointed, that the Cabinet appointments, “In all of these cases, which include the critical ministries, it appears that the PP choice is far superior by way of suitability, including qualifications, for the posts. By itself though, this may not be enough.”
It was a bold position to adopt, especially given the evidence, but my friend Nirad, who would be later appointed the COP’s general secretary, can be forgiven the hubris born of the over-exuberance that was still a hangover from the two election victories in 2010. Leaving aside the suspect qualifications of Cabinet ministers, board members and even low-level functionaries being given expedited promotions, it is quite clear that far from getting better, things have only got worse.
There was a simplistic explanation that progress was being stymied by PNM holdouts from the previous administration and the unexpected challenges faced by the incoming government.
It is a simplistic explanation since all governments in democratic countries get into office facing similar challenges and building acceptance under such circumstances is a routine challenge of any competent administration. In any case, the crisis afflicting state organisations has nothing to do with PNM fifth columnists.
We need to go no further than to quote the words of Tewarie’s father, Dr Bhoe Tewarie, who announced last week that he was seeking to have the board of the Chaguaramas Development Authority replaced. “The board has been too fractious, it has been too contentious. This is a board I inherited, it was not a board that I recommended...It has not had harmony, it seemed to be not receptive to reasonable discourse and reasonable persuasion,” he said.
Nor was he speaking in isolation. The board of iGovTT, the National Information and Communications Company, which is mandated to promote the use and adoption of ICT in T&T, has not been meeting, as it has expressed a lack of confidence in its chairman, on whom the other board members have declared war.
A similar situation has also developed at the National Agricultural Marketing Development Company (Namdevco), where the chairman and the board are also at loggerheads, and at the National Flour Mills, where the line minister overturned a move by other board members to have the chairman removed through a vote of no confidence.
The chairman of Caribbean Airlines resigned after protracted conflicts with his board and ministers and the line minister isere changed in entirety after descending in the kind of fractious and contentious behaviour of which Dr Tewarie complained.
Even the board of the Government Information Services Ltd has all but collapsed, with no chairman appointed to replace the original appoint again flagging the need for more changes. A similar situation also forced board changes at the Port Authority while the boards of the Airport Authority and the Tourism Development Company wee for almost a year and with no deputy in place.
And these are just the more prominent examples of the boards appointed to manage billions of dollars to execute the policies of a government which, like its predecessor, complained of the bureaucracy and inertia of the public service. The situations are said to be worse at some of the larger state organisations, where, despite the massive budgets, nothing is being accomplished but a heavy price tag is being expended for the lack of execution.
At the Cabinet level, frustrated ministers continue to make it up as they go along. The Minister of Health announces one day, without a discussion, consultation or even as much as a policy paper, the privatisation of the services to be performed at the Eric Williams Medical Sciences Complex, and then has to retract it within less than a week. The Minister of National Security has now descended from a man of action to a man of just too much talk.
To be fair to the Prime Minister, she recognised the problem and announced plans for a full Cabinet realignment and the reconstitution of state boards on May 24 this year. But six months later, with the Cabinet changes having little effect, the changes at board level are yet to materialise.
It is becoming clearer that the country faces not just a management problem at the level of the state enterprises, but a leadership crisis at the Cabinet level, exacerbated by a chief executive who is increasingly proving that she is not up to the job. But we shall get to that later.
• Maxie Cuffie runs a media consultancy, Integrated Media Company Ltd, is an economics graduate of the UWI and holds an MPA from the Harvard Kennedy School as a Mason Fellow in Public Policy and Management.
User comments posted on this website are the sole views and opinions of the comment writer and are not representative of Guardian Media Limited or its staff. Guardian Media Limited accepts no liability and will not be held accountable for user comments.
Please help us keep out site clean from inappropriate comments by using the flag option.
Guardian Media Limited reserves the right to remove, to edit or to censor any comments. Any content which is considered unsuitable, unlawful or offensive, includes personal details, advertises or promotes products, services or websites or repeats previous comments will be removed.