Governments need strategists

Dear Editor,

Since May, 2017, when the Minister of Finance reported that only 20% of the country’s Public Sector Improvement Programme (PSIP) had been completed, I started to do an analysis, though not as in-depth as I would have liked to, of what might be some of the fundamental problems for this lower than expected delivery.

At the recently held ‘Public Policy Analysis Management Training Programme’ for Permanent Secretaries, Deputy Permanent Secretaries, Heads of Budget Agencies, Regional Executive Officers, and other senior public servants; the Minister of State,  in his address noted that “Ministers of the Government lay out policies” and the senior public servants “as decision-makers and technicians”, are responsible for administration. The Minister further noted that these persons, “plan, design, analyse and execute the projects and programmes identified within the various Government departments and Ministries”.

The Director of the Project Cycle Management in the Ministry of Finance, Mr Tarachand Balgobin, pointed out that core concepts which are emphasized in project and programme implementation are: proper public procurement; progress monitoring and variance analysis. He further noted that, “public policy analysis is designed to teach government officials and public servants to read critically; think analytically and write concisely in all sectors.”

The training was being done through a collaboration between the Ministry of Finance and the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB), and some 2000 officials across the Caribbean are also being trained with 200 coming from Guyana. I gather that other Caribbean countries are experiencing similar challenges with implementation as is Guyana. Additionally, the CDB has recruited a training company out of the United Kingdom and the Centre for International Development and Training (CIDT) based within the University of Wolverhampton to assist with training in public policy analysis management. The training programme is geared towards building a cadre of professionals who are efficient in sound public policy analysis and the planning and execution of strategies and projects.

The government has also taken measures to ensure efficient disbursement of public sector improvement programmes, funds, and the effective monitoring and evaluation of these projects,

through the regular statutory meetings between Cabinet and  the PS and technical officers of the Ministry of Finance.  Another system that was established to assist with more effective implementation is the in-field support provided to permanent secretaries, REOs and heads of budget agencies in the form of PSIP clinics by the Ministry of Finance.

While I understand that these interventions are all in an attempt to make the public sector fit-for-purpose, and as the Minister of State anticipates, there should be an increase in 2018 delivery, I am of the view that some other fundamental aspects should be examined. These interventions may result in more activities within the programmes being done and budgetary allocation being expended, but there is little impact; what is really needed more than activities being done, is more impact.

Hence, the CDB, the training institutions and the government may need to go back to the drawing board. My analysis is that the ‘purpose’ is not that clear to the senior public officials and others too, and as such, they are not getting the ‘fit’ right. The ‘purpose’, in this context, is the policy and the strategy, and I still think that that needs some more work in their articulation, as well as mechanisms to implement them. This is where international organisations can assist the government to make clearer the policies and strategies; the next step will be for the training institutions to work on the ‘fit’ – making the public sector fit for purpose.

As I have mentioned in another letter, the overall vision for Guyana should be to become the Singapore of South America. The purpose for this vision will be for Guyana to provide access to the 422 million people in a 6.5 trillion economy in South America. The macro-economic development focus or the national development policy will be built around six pillars – Green Economy, Blue Economy, Agrarian or Agricultural Economy, Oil and Gas Economy, Natural Resources Economy and a Service Economy.  This will allow for a development strategy that is not political party-specific and can be the national development focus for the next 20-30 years and even beyond. In my view what is lacking is the bigger context; these pillars present that wider context.

The international development and finance community could then focus on developing these economies (policies, strategies, etc) – the purpose, and on making the public sector and the country fit for this purpose. Investors seeking to invest in the country would then be clearer as to whether to invest in one of more of these economies. Our development focus, so far has been essentially activity-oriented, whether it be education, building new airports, or deep water harbour, tourism, etc.

Additionally, there are two other important aspects which the CDB and the training institutions need to focus on, these are: developing more systems thinking (thinkers) among public sector officials. Another key gap is the absence of positions in government institutional structures for strategists. For many decades in the development arena the term analyst has been use inter-changeably with strategist. My view is that while analysts may be more appropriate for the structure of international organisations, governments need analysts and strategists. The two in my view have very different roles.

As one examines the implementation of policies and programmes in Guyana, one identifies a major gap and hindrance: strategic thinking, strategic planning (systems thinking, etc). While the government should have a central strategic planning unit, every ministry should also have positions for analysts as well as strategists.  Offices of the Presidency, Prime Ministers as well as Ministries need advisors but I believe even more importantly, they need strategists.

This is by no means a mere criticism of this government; it was also a gap and hindrance for the previous governments too. One gets the impression that there are lots of ideas but there is need for expertise to take these ideas and strategise so that there can be profound change or real impact.

Yours faithfully,

Audreyanna Thomas

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