Project execution problems

Word that a ‘Delivery Unit’ could be established to speed up the pace of the government’s sprawling Public Sector Investment Programme (PSIP) must reflect deep worry in the administration over the glacial pace of many key projects. While the PSIP is a significant generator of economic activity, the government is no doubt not only worried about the impact on jobs, GDP growth and confidence in the economy this year but is keeping a firm eye on the 2020 election time table.

Without any known local examination of what the chronic problems at the ministries and government agencies have been or even a discussion in Parliament about the matter, it was the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), Guyana’s major multilateral financing partner, which provided details of its intervention here.

In a press release it said that its country office has engaged the services of Delivery Associates (DA), which has been described as a consulting firm specializing in supporting the improvement of the effectiveness and accountability of governments worldwide. DA, it said, has already completed a diagnostic analysis of how Guyana’s PSIP works, including an analysis of its delivery chain. The firm is currently coordinating with the IDB to finalise the diagnostic report to the authorities, which would identify opportunities for improvements and present the model for delivery or implementation of the findings.

The IDB release went on to say that most governments, traditionally, placed too much emphasis on policy, and less on the importance of effective project implementation. Most countries, it added, adopt a model called a delivery unit or an implementation unit, a simple systematic process through which system leaders drive progress and achieve results specifically on capital projects carried out by governments. It is such a unit which may be established after the government is presented with the report.

The government should take all possible measures to ensure that the PSIP projects are delivered within their scheduled timeframes but it also has to do some serious introspection on its own culpability in this matter. It is verging on the midway point of the term of this government – two and a half years – it means that either this execution problem developed in a creeping manner or more than likely the Ministry of Finance and the government have simply sat on it hoping that there would be some magical resolution.

It was only in July this year that Minister of Finance Jordan declared the severity of the crisis when he said that despite the 2017 budget having been presented in November 2016, up to June this year, only 28% of the PSIP had been expended. A disastrous outturn and more so for a Minister of Finance who served in that same ministry for many years in various positions under several administrations. One would have thought that that work experience – including stints as a Public Investment Specialist and Director of Budget would have put him in good stead to helm a well-executed programme. That was not to be and all manner of excuses will no doubt to be found to cover the poor performance. Given the sumptuous pay increases that senior Cabinet ministers pocketed just a few months after entering office, the average citizen and taxpayer expects that performance criteria will apply to these ministers and where they fail the requisite action should be taken.

There are several other points that should be made. It will not be confuted that PNC/APNU has greater control over the public service and its bureaucracy than the PPP/C ever had. Yet, this control has not delivered the type of execution required. The lamentation about skills is facile. It has been known for at least the last three decades that the country has faced a serious human resource crisis particularly because of the extensive loss of its tertiary graduates. What did the APNU+AFC government do to hedge against this? How will this obstacle to progress be addressed?

Second, the disastrous results will call into question the capacities and management style of the  ministers in the ministries under which the various projects fall, the performance of senior public servants including a bevy of permanent secretaries handpicked by this government at the expense of others and the management ethos that prevails. Where is the government mechanism that should be reviewing these weaknesses and taking immediate corrective action? Like in many other areas, the government appears to be in suspended animation while things go haywire and without realising the drag on the economy and businesses.

Third, the weak performance of the PSIP would confirm that whatever talk has floated around in various ministries about engaging the diaspora has been an utter failure. Nobody is coming back to deliver execution capacity or if they are, they are doing so under false pretence. What has the much heralded naming of a coterie of diaspora representatives by both APNU and the AFC achieved? What is the policy today as it relates to the diaspora? Holding unstructured meetings/conferences with the diaspora does not count.

Whether or not a delivery unit is set up through the IDB intervention, the public now expects a comprehensive accounting from the APNU+AFC government on the PSIP.  It must list each project, state of execution, the bottlenecks and the measures being taken to cure these. It must then give updates progressively. It would be perfect if the Economic Services Committee of parliament, when sittings of the National Assembly resume (deferred further for a parliamentary junket to Russia)  makes this an immediate priority and summons Minister Jordan and his top officers to answer. A failure by the executive and legislature to act on this execution problem will see continuing damage to the economy and the prospects for job creation.

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