Perhaps what strikes people most about the current government is its apparent lack of capacity for planning. Of course, as the PPP years dragged their dreary way to 2015, many members of the electorate were lured to vote for the coalition by the fulsome promises of the combined opposition. It was not, as we all know, an overwhelming vote; it provided a razor-thin, one-seat majority. But still, on the face of things, it was believed it would usher in a possible new political era.
Three years later, everyone knows that the reality is rather different. In fact, in terms of actual administrative capacity, this government is arguably the least competent one this country has yet experienced. When the ministers gave themselves and others an indecent pay hike a few short months after winning the election, those who had put them there got a dose of cold water; it was an unceremonious introduction to the real world.
Since then, those who rule over us have staggered along – one of them has blundered along – giving the impression that they are as muddled about which direction they should be going in, as the populace think they are. Much has been written about the economy in particular, and Mr Winston Jordan’s less than exemplary performance in charge of the Ministry of Finance portfolio. His success rate surely will not improve with the loss of all the senior officials who have resigned from his ministry in the last few weeks.
And that is a part of the problem; any senior official will only be as successful as the officers under him or her. No minister, no matter how brilliant, can run a ministry on his or her own; s/he needs competent middle management, and that is in seriously short supply in this country, both in the private sector as well as the public one. Attracting competence into the public service as everyone knows, requires salary scales, which, at a minimum, are competitive with the rates paid in the private sector, but that does not obtain here.
Having said that, no ministry will function effectively, no matter how good the middle management, if the minister does not understand what the job requires, and has no administrative skills. In developed societies, administration is the function of the senior civil service, and the job of the minister is policy. Here, in contrast, a minister also has to be the senior administrator, and if they are not, everything drifts. When the Cabinet and others were given their infamous pay raise in 2015, the electorate was assured it was because these were people of merit (among other reasons). All that can be said more than three years down the road, is that the voters are not persuaded.
People of merit at the highest level in government, would look ahead and plan for their period in office. Pre-election promises are no substitute for planning, and government cannot be accomplished by slogans. How can they go about closing down some of the sugar estates in such a haphazard fashion, and now have to cast around, it seems, to find the money to pay the retrenched sugar workers the severance pay to which they are legally entitled? They knew the sugar industry was in trouble long before they won the 2015 election, so what homework did they do on the issue? What papers on different aspects of the question were laid before cabinet for consideration? What were the decisions taken, which it was calculated would best accomplish the various ends and over what time frame?
No one has any idea. It just appears they have been lurching from one crisis to the next.
And now, there is the teachers’ fiasco, and here again – this time emanating from the President himself – they have said they have to look around to find money to pay the teachers. Surely, the bemused electorate thought, they would have planned to put aside money to pay the teachers, and before them, the public servants. Prior to the election, both groups were identified as deserving of major increases, although that did not happen in the case of the last named, and where the first is concerned, their members are poised to return to the streets after a series of snafus on the part of the government.
The ineptitude of the administration in relation to its dealings with ExxonMobil, along with oil resources and related matters in general, has received a great deal of exposure. All that can be said at this stage, is that it has convinced no one of its grasp of the issues, or even that it has undertaken thorough research, while its own representatives are mostly not considered to be the ideal choices for their posts.
As if all that were not enough, the government has run into myriad other problems, such as those involving bonds. One bond story effectively forced the resignation of the then Minister of Health, although in the case of Education, the shambles that was the organisation of the nation’s 50th anniversary, did not have any consequences for the then Junior Minister. Nor did it seem to matter that she didn’t appear to know the difference between Diwali and Phagwah. In the meantime, she presides over the continuing decline of education in our schools.
At the centre of it sits the Minister of State, who, despite the name upgrade, fulfils the same duties as Dr Roger Luncheon did for the previous administration. Circumlocutory and evasive as the latter could be with reporters, he worked undeniably hard and always knew what was going on. No one is as convinced that Mr Harmon has his finger on the button in quite the same way.
But while so many of the ministers appear headed off in their own direction, and so many catastrophes are occurring, the President appears disinclined to bring some kind of cohesion to the project. In the first place, as has been said several times before, there are far too many people occupying seats in Cabinet, and as already mentioned, there are all kinds of unsuitable appointees in all kinds of unsuitable posts. In addition, the President’s narrow-mindedness in relation to sensitive constitutional posts such as the Gecom chairmanship and the most senior judicial office-holders, has not helped matters.
When added to that, the President has not given the nation a clear vision of where it is going – except in the most general terms – then the sense is created that the government is meandering.
In the current world climate – never mind the local one – a nation cannot afford to meander.