Why did we not learn of the massive plans to rename and radically restructure Ministries of Government, during the Coalition campaign trail? Was it that these moves were not worked out at that point in time, or did the Coalition for some reason prefer not to divulge such information? I personally can see no logical reason for the latter; and if the changes we are now seeing were indeed hatched from comprehensive assessments and were determined to be the most strategic options, then one would expect it to be a main campaign pillar. I will speculate no further on the birth of the idea, suffice it to say that the manner in which these changes are being made suggests a very haphazard and dare I say infeasible modus operandi.
After 23 years, the country has the opportunity to experience change in a central and substantive manner. The Coalition has, during its campaign and in its manifesto, made far-reaching and exciting commitments to the electorate, with promises of VAT reduction, bridge toll reduction and sweeping increases in wages. This will undoubtedly require hard work, as the concept of revenue neutrality still lurks as a critical component of economic management. With these and other promises in mind, the path ahead is not an easy one – albeit not an impossible one.
Immediately after the swearing in of our new President, there seemed to be a revitalization of our mindsets. An expectation of great things, compounded by the fact that His Excellency, President David Granger immediately embarked on projects to restore national pride. We saw waterways being cleared of vegetation, roadsides being cleared and graded, monuments being restored and a massive clean up effort at various hotspots. We heard talks of inclusivity and saw a welcomed show of maturity by the new President in his approach to the new Opposition and by his efforts to reassure existing government functionaries that they will be assessed solely on the performance of their duties. Optimism flooded most quarters, and even leaked into the corners where fear of change dwells.
Then we started to see the appointments. We waited for this with baited breath and were grateful that it was unfolding so soon, as we all recognized the colossal amount of work waiting to be undertaken. Within the first week of the new administration we saw 26 Ministers being named to 18 Ministries, and we saw a massive renaming and macro-rearrangement of existing Ministries. One would hope that this was in the making for years, with all or most of the intricacies having been already determined by the new Government; and is now being put into operation. This however becomes very doubtful when one takes into account the absence of details in this regard during the campaign trail, in the manifesto itself, and even now – at the time of the name changes and rearrangement.
For the most part, we are left to learn the name of new Ministries and speculate about the nature of their portfolios. At best, sketchy details have been provided in this regard from the new Government. But quite apart from the obvious lack of information and what this means, an exercise like this – at this time, is undoubtedly untenable. And the reasons are simple.
The new Government has been out of active administration for 23 years, in fact, many of its Functionaries have never been integrally involved in the day-to-day Management of the Country. Yes, some of them were shadow Ministers, but can we really say they were integrally involved when they themselves professed the lack of inclusivity by the PPP Administration? For all intents and purposes they are new to this business. This in no way suggests an inability to get the job done, but reveals the need to employ strategies commensurate with this reality.
Restructuring is often times necessary; necessary for improvements, for growth and for effectiveness. Restructuring however can only be undertaken after a thorough assessment and understanding of the realities. This alone can drive the crafting of remedial strategies and any effective restructuring efforts. Someone wise often said to me, if you cannot measure it then you cannot manage it. Simply put, one needs to understand on a fundamental basis, the status quo, as it exists, to be able to determine the measures necessary for improvements. In business, it’s called a SWOT analysis, an analysis and understanding of strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. It is doubtful that such analysis was thoroughly undertaken by the then new Government, given the purported non-inclusivity of the PPP Administration, and given the fact that we are merely days into this new dispensation.
Although a lot has been said about the top heaviness of the new Government and what it means in terms of cost to the taxpayer, and how it gives an odd meaning to President Granger’s promise of a muscular (and presumably leaner) Executive, the more serious repercussion is yet to be confronted.
The reorientation and restructuring of existing Ministries and the development of new ones are exercises that require years of work. Every element from the reorientation of existing staff, the reformulation of policies, the re-designation of functions, the split outs and convergences of mandates, how this affects staffing, the facilities and structures consequently required, the need to change Stamps, Letterheads and other areas of branding, would have to be spearheaded and undertaken by a very new group of persons who are for the most part unfamiliar with the intricacies of the executive system in its present form.
This undoubtedly will not come cheap; as very high levels of finances, time and energy will be necessary for such a restructuring exercise. What makes it worse is the fact that these moves do not follow any thorough assessment; they are not birthed by reports prepared by persons who have studied the existing arrangement and who understand the strengths and weaknesses and can consequently formulate a plan for reform. It is a design conceptualized blindly.
These activities will naturally occupy the time and energy of our new Ministers. They are placed in a position where they have to learn whatever they can about portfolios they are inheriting from the PPP Administration, while simultaneously effecting changes to those portfolios, and in some cases creating completely new ones. All of this while adapting to the realities of Public Office, undertaking travel on behalf of the State (because no, things do not stand still during the transition) and playing their respective parts in bringing to fruition the 100 days plan and the promises under the manifesto. My head hurts just thinking about it. They may very well be competent, but they are not machines and there is such a thing as saturation point and worse – the point of diminished returns.
And that, the prospect of diminished returns, is the singular biggest risk created by the reshuffling, restructuring, chopping, pasting and inventing that has taken place in the Executive arm of the new Government during its first week in office. Diminished returns as it relates to the quantum and quality of work that can be afforded for specific campaign promises and as it relates to fixing the biggest problems facing the country. Crime and Security, Health Care Reform, Tax Reform, Infrastructure, Alternative Power, Guysuco, GPL… who is left to fix these problems while our new Ministers direct their resources, time and energy to restructuring and creating new Ministries? Can you imagine the magnitude of budget planning that will become necessary this year to facilitate the restructuring of these Ministries? That poses a real impediment to the presentation of a budget premised on effectively meeting the country’s most critical needs.
I, and I’m certain many others, expected a strategic administration aimed at enabling substantive and sustainable change. Such a strategy would have seen the existing Ministries being helmed by new Ministers who are knowledgeable (whether through professional training or exposure) in the respective sectors. They would undertake assessments of projects and agencies under their Ministries and identify areas necessary for restructuring and areas that may be more suited to the mandate of a different Ministry or a new Ministry.
And when those things are determined and consulted on with the electorate, and when the details and logistics are decided on, then we can have effective change being made; and we will be in an informed position to determine and plan the budgetary allocations necessary to enable those changes. Understanding what’s broken, determining why it is broken and formulating strategies to fix it is a long and onerous exercise, but it is necessary for effective change.
Some of the cross cutting areas that were the subject of heavy campaigning, by their very nature, ought to have specific mechanisms set up to handle them. Meaningful Authorities and Committees (whether under Ministries or Independent) would have been sufficient as an interim measure, established to look at Constitutional Reform for example, or Security Sector Reform and to identify and administer reform programmes needed.
The Coalition-Government’s strategy is however different, and it has taken even its own supporters by surprise. Maybe the ensuing confusion and speculation would have been mitigated if the populace were provided with details on the process used to guide the decisions taken over the past week. Even the employees of the affected Ministries and Agencies do not understand what it means for them either, much less the populace; this is an untenable reality.
Yolita Andrews, concerned Guyanese