Ten per cent of ministers responsible for 90% of work

Dear Editor,

I decided to take a passing look at ministers’ contributions in recent times.  I start out with the positive by saying that a small handful of ministers are involved in too much and doing too much.  Without naming any names, they are spread too thin, and it shows. The careful painstaking attention to detail that should accompany most matters are sacrificed to the latest exigency of the hour, and given cursory focus only.  This can come to haunt, as one errant minister can currently testify.

In fairness, and from a reasonable man’s perspective, ministers are not expected to know everything; they should not pretend to, and they must be wise enough to know when to say that the issue tabled will be taken “under advisement.”  They must not pretend to possess all the answers, as that hubristic road has many a bottomless pothole.  Ministers must admit to themselves that there come those times in life when even the smartest must display appreciation for the benefits of neutral objective counsel; outside counsel.  Ministers must travel that well-beaten track, too.  It is not a sign of weakness, or that much bandied about word nowadays, namely incompetence; rather, I see such action as the self-confidence that flows from inner strength.  In another world that I once inhabited, some very sharp men and women found it necessary to rely on management consultants and outside counsel for much.  They saw that as the right way of getting things absolutely right.  I recommend that ministers do the same.

Staying with the positive (or at least quasi-positive), the President has some unmoving loyalists in ministerial positions who will charge through hard mud walls and plate glass to get things done for him.  Two women in particular come to mind; they may not be high flyers or headline grabbers, but they are dogged in representing their portfolios and the President in stellar fashion.

Next, members of the public and representatives of sensitive constituencies are complaining of lack of timely access, lack of face time, and lack of hearing with these elected officials.  Things get stalled; ire accelerates.  A couple of ministers had announced a time set aside on a monthly basis to allow contact with and listening to the public (a kind of Town Hall forum), which was a good thing.  That seems to have suffered from scheduling cramps and prisoner of circumstances syndrome, including disinterest.

From all indications, the hardworking, high performing ministers confirm that the 90:10 standards are becoming increasingly applicable in the conduct of the people’s business.  That is, ten per cent of the ministerial cohort is responsible for ninety per cent of the work that is accomplished.  The questions that reflexively follow are these: what is the other ninety per cent of ministers doing or achieving to justify their existence?  What have they delivered?  How would they evaluate their own performance?

A majority of ministers seem to lack much to do; or they cannot be entrusted with complex demanding undertakings.  There is a whole battalion of them that falls into this grouping, and which provides easy targets for exposure, lampooning, and worse.  The thinking in the public realm, including that of supporters, is that the underperforming ninety per cent of ministers is seen as a crowd that embody nothing more than a lumpen mass, and a new cabal of mediocrity. On occasion, there is stirring to deliver a bit here and piece there, as if to remind the taxpayers that they are still around and on the payroll. This is the most that will ever be squeezed out of them; they are constitutionally incapable of much more.  It is the Peter Principle writ large, starting from a low baseline, and with a very low ceiling as maximum performance point.

Editor, it is understood that ministers have responsibility for specific portfolios, but it as if each functions in a sealed vacuum housed on a remote island, and all by himself.  There is the impression that the right hand is searching unsuccessfully for the left in some instances.  While the stars are rushing ahead, the more pedestrian get left behind, way behind. To digress momentarily, I observe that the minister officially housed in South Cummingsburg has come to his own accord and on his own.  He has discovered that silence is golden.  I would hope that the gold has staying power and is not of the artificial variety.

And now there is a revisiting (one more time) of that parked and clamped piece of machinery wasting away in the doldrums of misuse.  The PR machinery of this government needs a push start, a jump start, a tune-up, a tiger in the tank, some red line tachometer revving up, and many gruelling road runs.  Come to think of it, this non-functioning (it is not allowed to) assembly might not be a PR machine at all, but more like a jukebox contraption cobbled together to make some noises at soil busting, funerals, and photo ops.  What should be a thoroughbred racing in sleek flight ahead of the issues around the far turn, and shouldering aside the baying nipping pack has been reduced to a jackass cart rumbling along one for dollar in the time honoured Guyanese fashion, thus arriving very late (another Guyanese standard) to address any issue of import.  The government’s reluctance and resistance to unleash this considerable asset is inexplicable, and has boomeranged against its known and best interests. Then again, there could be some uncertainty as to what are those interests.

When I reflect on all this, I come to the conclusion that I should have been a minister. But then I always wanted to be a humourist and bum, too.  In my warped mind, these are all inseparable. Take a look: it is being proven every day right before the eyes.


Yours faithfully,

GHK Lall

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