Change, not Exchange: The Two Tendencies

In view of the season and the issues raised so far in this series, I am setting out some ideas about the scale of challenge we must overcome to achieve change, not exchange.

The State-owned Special Purpose Entities (SPEs) are an important part of the picture in the provision of goods and services to our country.

“The idea that important SPE/State jobs and contracts are available for those in political favour is one of the things we have to change.”

Who is to run these important entities?  In what manner?  These questions of “w” are central to the sharp public concerns over the level of corruption at and performance of, these agencies.  My contention is that there are two contending tendencies in the minds of those who make that sort of decision.

  1. The first of these is the professional, sensible idea that some elements of the SPE-world are so complicated and important that the best people have to lead them, regardless of their political affiliation.  In this space I am sketching, that would include elements like First Citizens’ Bank, Unit Trust Corporation, National Insurance Board (including its affiliates NIPDEC and TTMF), UDeCOTT, HDC, NIDCO, WASA, TTEC, TSTT and so on.  It seems reasonable to take the position that these companies should be run by the most competent staff of integrity and along ‘best-practice’ guidelines.
  2. The second of these is the idea that having been victorious in a national election, the ruling party has the right to appoint whomsoever it wants to key positions.  Some would go so far as to say, it is not just a right, but a duty, given the sacrifice and contribution of certain supporters.  The rationale here being that we exist in a democratic system and the best positions in the State empire rightfully belong to the ruling party, to give to those in political favour.  Those people may be seen as being more sympathetic to the objectives of the ruling party.

The two ideals exist in fundamental tension, moreso since other aspects of the question are also in flux.

There is no clear agreement as to the boundary between the critical SPEs and the rest.  Some of the players believe that every SPE should be subject to their political whims, while others have clear ideas as to which ones must be managed professionally.

Also, it is quite likely that the two ideas co-exist in the minds of some of the main players.  That is, they are themselves severely conflicted on the entire subject.

The idea that important SPE/State jobs and contracts are available for those in political favour is one of the things we have to change.

At this moment we are poised before a snap election, with a highly-charged atmosphere on the issue of SPE corruption.  Even devotees of the ruling party seem to be shocked by the scale of the problem.  Whatever the outcome of this election, there is likely to be considerable action on this aspect of public affairs.

If the present ruling party wins convincingly, we are likely to see a triumphant return to the stated policy of Expediency in Public Affairs.  Those winners could declare that the policy approaches which brought us to this sorry place are the right ones, which were endorsed by the electorate, so we return to mismanagement and dishonesty.

The possibility of a victory of the Peoples’ Partnership also holds challenges in this area, since they could return to old habits.  By that I intend to remind readers that when UNC took office in 1995, there was a widespread series of dismissals of top-level staff at SPEs.  It was so large-scale that the late Grand Master wrote a 1997 calypso on it – ‘De No-Work Band’.  It was never a very popular one of Kitch’s numbers, but those people who suffered sudden and unjustified dismissal will remember the tune, as well as the words.  Plenty names and bitter-sweet too bad.  PNM did much the same thing when they returned to office in 2001.  No kaiso for PNM, though.

That pattern of brusque dismissals and crude exchange is highly questionable, given that both parties have fundamentally similar economic and social policies.  It seems to me that the dismissals are motivated more by by vengeance and a desire to control the vacated jobs, than by any actual difference in ideology or approach..

This is what I mean, in saying that we need change not exchange.

It might seem unlikely, but we could very soon be confronting these issues of who runs our SPEs and how, in what is likely to be a harsher, sharper fashion than ever before.

The ingredients are all there –

  • High stakes in terms of highly-paid jobs;
  • Huge contracts to be distributed;
  • The atmosphere of hubris which seems to fill the highest chambers of our Republic;
  • Either the thrill within the Peoples’ Partnership upon winning this snap election or the sheer triumphalism of the current ruling party to have beaten all its united detractors;
  • The poor moral fibre of those involved.

Yes, come 25th May, we could be seeing a situation which eclipses all the wildness which has gone on so far in this country of ours.

It is clear that there are certain SPEs which must be forensically investigated, with people charged under the law with a view to recovering the stolen funds and restoring a healthy atmosphere to public life in this country of ours.  I have already given a lot of detail on those SPEs.  My point holds ‘irregardless’ of who wins the election.  The situation of gross mismanagement and unpunished corruption is too dangerous to our good health as a nation to be allowed to continue just so.

It is equally clear to me that there are serious, capable and committed people in our SPEs.  Those people have been exemplary in the execution of their duties and added real value to the public service in this country.  They are all now at risk of suffering the fate of other ‘political appointees’ when the other side wins.

It is not good enough for us to shrug and murmur that that is how these things go.  We are a small country, with limited human resources and we cannot spare the intellectual capital which is evaporated every time we go through these purges.

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5 thoughts on “Change, not Exchange: The Two Tendencies

  1. I see change only when we educate our children away from racial parochialism and ourselves from individuals to instruments of change. Our children gravitate to the folly of their greed-fed elders who trust in only the immediate hand-outs as a guarantee of trust—in both senses of the word. They are empowered today but ruin tomorrow so that the dependency cycles are perpetual as with the psyches of debt-ridden, overworked females. We need forums of policy-makers who will plan, project, publicise and produce in rotations that evaluate efficiency and emulate excellence. So Best’s “Schools in Pan” and policies on health, traffic, policing, “The Venus Project” and others can be assessed by funded groups which will report to the public and implement in segments. This country is small and can be segmented and mined for each sector’s worth that can synchronise with a macro policy for sustainable development.
    When this type of orchestration is adopted and tried, then the SPEs need not be purged.

  2. Very well articulated. I hope that there are many senior members of our new government that are “conflicted” as you describe in your article, and I do not envy the tough decisions they must make; especially in a coalition government. In the end Kamla – if she is one of the conflicted ones – must hang tough and ensure that competence and integrity are the main criteria for selection to SPEs and that those selected ensure transparency is given top priority into how State Boards are run.

    Good to have people like you watching and reporting as you do.

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