Wednesday, April 24, 2024

In the middle of a daydream


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Of late, I have found myself in particular daydream.  
This daydream is quite curious because it features me and Prime Minister Freundel Stuart – and no, he isn’t telling me off because of all the criticisms I have levelled at him and his Government in my articles.  He is actually being quite mature about it and recognizes that differing opinions do not necessarily make one an enemy of the state or his party.
As a matter of fact in my daydream he acknowledges that free expression of opinions is one of the hallmarks of democracy that we ought to covet. Cheers to you Prime Minister (remember this is my daydream).  
His is actually challenging me to say what I would do if I were in his shoes and trying to run Barbados as it is currently. Of course my first response is to indicate to the Prime Minister that he is being entirely unfair to ask me that, in the context of a Barbados which is pretty much on the brink of major economic and social turmoil. Especially when as Prime Minister he himself needs to give account of his own stewardship over the current state of affairs. However, not being one to back down I proceeded to give the Prime Minister my  two cents worth as we would say.  
A disservice
First, I told the Prime Minister that he needs to fire every advisor and friend who has been giving him advice thus far. In my estimation there are doing him  a disservice and he ought to surround himself with  a good strong technical team, including some naysayers who would be honest with him when he needed it.  The team would be for his guidance and not feature party hacks whose only interest is party politics.  In today’s context, party affiliation and who is a friend of who should take a back seat to making sure that  he has good sound expert advice.    
Secondly, I told him that he should put down the lexicon from which he often seems to speak and have an open and honest dialogue with the country. If he is to do that though he should seek to temper the dismissive way he comes across whenever he is responding to public concern. His manner of speaking, which always seems to suggest that he has all the answers and everyone else with a concern is either being silly or childish, is not endearing. His image  of being the honest PM is quite important and an outstanding characteristic but just as important the public needs to feel that we have an empathetic PM who understands and is responsive to their concerns.
This is a time to rally the masses, to call on the national ethos and to engender cooperation and collaboration. Different times often call for different approaches he should reflect on how his leadership  and approaches have also changed to match the changing environment.        
Thirdly, the uncertainty and lack of clarity which  has emerged post Budget must be addressed. He needs to recall the Minister of Finance either from his seemingly long holiday or send him to the doctor  to recover his voice.
It is unacceptable that in the face of so many questions and issues arising post Budget that we have silence on one end of the spectrum and blustering  on the other. He should bring together a high level team that would be charged with undertaking a social impact analysis of the Budget policies on the one hand and a technical team to unravel the implementation  of what was announced on the other. Silence is golden in only some contexts.
I also indicated that the Budget was delivered by the Minister of the Finance but owned by the party and therefore as party leader he has ultimate ownership  for the policies and the impact thereof.  
The discussion then shifts to the public sector and how we change its culture and practice to ensure efficiency and optimum delivery of service. After much blustering myself I admit that this is going to be difficult and that culture change does not happen overnight. However, I stress the point that to date  the Government has been acting like a Government  in retreat whenever it comes to addressing contentious issues within the public sector.
Have to be propped up
The hype about public sector reform has seemingly gone into abeyance. A number of statutory Government agencies continually have to be propped up and Government ministries providing critical social  services are in dire straits. My advice: there are dozen or more papers, reports and studies hidden in filing cabinets about how to restructure the public service – take them out, dust them off and do something.  The state has to facilitate private sector growth  and propel social advancement. None of that can happen effectively without a highly efficient public sector. In good times a lot of things can be hidden,  in tough times though, the true picture is often more difficult to hide.
The phone rings, the daydream ends. Until next time Mr Prime Minister.  
•Shantal Munro-Knight is a development specialist and executive coordinator at the Caribbean Policy Development Centre.


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