Inside, confidential and off the record
Dealing in Hope
Mexico has shown the way. “The Pact for Mexico” is a
multi-party agreement that is composed of 95 public policy proposals.
We need a “Pact for Trinidad and Tobago”
Napoleon Bonaparte once said “a leader is a dealer in hope”. A leader must paint a convincing picture of a brighter tomorrow. That picture is a vision of the future. I have been thinking about this and the ideas of hope, optimism and the future of our country. Hope and optimism must be first be anchored in reality. American businessman Max De Pree said it is the responsibility of a leader is to define reality.
In defining reality we acknowledge that, as a nation, we have a lot to be grateful for. We have natural resources, access to the sea, an educated workforce, good universities, no civil unrest, we don't have hostile neighbours, we change Government's peacefully, we have an independent judiciary, we have a free press, we don't have climatic extremes and we are relatively outside of the hurricane belt.
We do however have serious problems that need to be addressed. If you contemplate the spectrum of problems facing the country, it's easy to become overwhelmed. The problems facing the country keep being compounded and piling up. These problems fall into three categories namely administrative, social & environmental and economic problems. The political system is the main driver of change but it's not the only one. There is civil society from which the various Chambers of Commerce, Trade Unions, pressure groups and academia play a role.
At the top of the list of administrative problems is the reformation the public service. We have been hearing the term “public service reform” since the days of the late Gordon Draper. If we were to define reality then we would admit that the public service is broken and it's been broken for a long time. We may be suffering in this country from what Peter Senge in his book the Fifth Discipline referred to as “Boiled frog Syndrome”. As the story goes, if a frog is put into boiling water, it will immediately jump out. If it is put in cold water and the temperature increased gradually it will stay still and be boiled to death. The story is a management proverb that speaks to the inability of people, companies and countries to react to gradual change.
Fixing the public service is beyond any one Minister of Public Administration. It requires a national effort to clean the biggest “Augean Stable” of T&T. We should be alarmed to know that at the rate the public service is collapsing the country may grind to a halt by 2020. Many Permanent Secretaries and Deputy Permanent Secretaries are due to retire in the next year. Who will replace them is the big question. Over the years, the super critical Ministries of Finance, Energy and the AG's office have been disemboweled by the private sector. I suppose you can't blame talented and qualified people for wanting better compensation.
The broken public service impacts on the business sector. I sometimes feel sorry for businessmen in this country who endure torture on a daily basis from red tape and bureaucracy. We need to realize that it's in the national interest to make it easier to do business in T&T.
At the top of the list of social issues is crime. The criminal justice system is overwhelmed. Crime is out of control because of low detection rates and because if you do the crime most likely you will not do the time. What has happened to the implementation of the death penalty? The death penalty is the law of the land. If it is the law then we must implement the law. Recently in the face of increasing murders and disregard for human life Pastor Kelvin Bhagwandeen was moved to lament the sad state of the criminal justice system. He isn't the first and won't be the last.
Then there are economic issues like diversification. What does diversification mean? How is it measured? Who is responsible for diversification? What is the role of the private sector? What is the role of the Government? In my view, diversification means increasing the share of non-energy exports as a percentage of total exports. Currently 80% or more of foreign exchange earnings are derived from exporting energy commodities (ammonia, methanol, LNG, gasoline, jet fuel etc) and 20% from exporting non energy products such as bottled water, soft drinks, cereals, and detergents etc. One way to measure diversification is to set targets and a timeline to increase that 20%.
I don't have all the answers but I think that collectively, as a people, we have the answers. What‘s needed is leadership and the will to change. It must be a collective will. What is needed is a vision that is shared. What is needed is the suppression of ego. Mexico has shown the way. “The Pact for Mexico” is a multi-party agreement that is composed of 95 public policy proposals. We need a “Pact for Trinidad and Tobago” that transcends the political strata. That requires leadership and statesmanship. Whether it comes now or post 2020, it must come. The alternative is to be boiled alive like Peter Senge's proverbial frog.
Kevin Ramnarine / Trinidad Guardian / Aug 2, 2016
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