Monday, 31 March 2014

Chief Public Servant, Huh! The Prime Minister?


Grenada’s Prime Minister Dr. Keith Mitchell appearance on a local talk show was heralded by a reference to him being the Chief Public Servant. Indeed, in the last 40 years of Independence, no other sitting Prime Minister has ventured to reconfigure in the minds of citizens the role and function of this office.

For starters, public servants are appointed by the Public Service Commission (PSC). He is an officer of the crown and exercises his duties without partisan considerations. The rules that Public Service prohibits public officers from holding elected office in a political parties or organisations. His tenure is permanent in nature as his continuance in the service of the state is not encumbered by the results of general elections (or so it was envisaged)
Section 81 (1) grants the PSC the power to appoint, discipline, transfer or remove public officers. The Prime Minister, on the other hand is appointed by the Governor General in Chapter IV Section 58(1) of the Constitution cited as” The Executive”. The Prime Minister therefore operates in a different realm and his conduct in public office is encumbered by a different set of rules and considerations.
What therefore would have motivated the handlers of PM Mitchell to attempt to spin this yarn in the minds of the Grenadian Public?

It all started in 1995 with the assumption of office by the New National Party led by Dr. Mitchell. He had said privately and publicly that the public service is a fetter to the accomplishment of the objectives of political parties. As a result, there has been a consistent drive to reduce the operating space of the public service and to undermine the role of the Permanent Secretary. The use of the famous Vote 340 has facilitated the development of a parallel public service staffed by party hacks.

The Constitution empowers the Prime Minister to render an objection in the appointment to the post of Permanent Secretary. This has been used skilfully to create a climate of self censorship as Public Officers are well aware that if they do not act in a manner that is deemed to be ‘politically correct’, they can kiss goodbye to any ambition to achieve the high office of Permanent Secretary. The concept of a meritocracy therefore, is banging on a closed door shut tight by the vagaries of partisan political loyalty.

Concurrently, there has been a conscious attempt to redefine the role of Minister in relation to the Permanent Secretary. Ministers now purport to exercise executive authority that is in the purview of the Permanent Secretary. In fact, a sitting Minister described the office of the Permanent Secretary as the ‘Chief Accounting Officer’. While the statement is factual, it is intended to diminish the other managerial functions which that office is supposed to perform.

Various issues have arisen, salaries included. It was under the previous NNP administration that whenever public officers get salary increases which are subject to negotiations with public sector unions, government ministers automatically get the same increases. In most jurisdictions, remuneration  for parliamentarians is the subject of deliberations by a select committee of parliament  The net effect of this strategy is that lines are blurred as to what really is the role of the Minister vis a vis the Permanent Secretary.  The result is that the management of the public service and by extension, the state, wallows in the quagmire of political interference that renders the service demoralised and inefficient. The country now has some 22 Permanent Secretaries including acting appointments but there are only 12 ministries.

The level of politicisation of the Public Service has blurred the lines between a professional Public Service and the Political Directorate. The only difference is that the Directorate occupy office as a result of elections and the others do not. Huh



Thursday, 20 March 2014

Grenada: IMF Agreement; Reading through the Lines

On March 14th 2014, Ms Aliona Cebotari, IMF  mission Chief for Grenada issued a statement to the effect that an agreement was concluded with the Fund subject to a final approval of the Agreement by its Executive Board.

Since the electoral victory of the NNP In 2013, the new administration has been in engagement with the IMF so as to mobilise support for its Home Grown’ Structural Adjustment Program.

The release describes as ‘ambitious’ the program to correct the country’s imbalance and lift sustainable growth and the public financial management reforms. My curiosity was aroused with the use of that description as the track record of the NNP administration with the IMF suggests that what she really meant is that the task cannot ‘be easily done or achieved’.
Grenada has been in continuous IMF supported programs since 2006.However due to non compliance and weak implementation of  agreed reforms, the country’s economic reality have in fact worsened over the period.
The statement also indicated that US $ 21.9 million has been approved to support the Structural Adjustment Program for 3 years. On the heels of this announcement, the country’s Prime Minister and Minister of Finance announced that a further US$100 can be mobilised through the World Bank, the Caribbean Development Bank and the European Union (EU). In fact he said that in regards to the EU, grant funding will be provided and that “the sky is the limit’. Dr Mitchell did indicate that certain conditionalities have to be met in order to benefit from this ‘windfall’.
This sales pitch approach cannot suffice at this stage. The much talked about Letter of Intent is yet to be finalised. That will only be the first step as it will provide the policy framework. Thereafter, the government will have to negotiate the detail arrangements to include performance benchmarks, time lines and implementation schedules.

 Therein lays the problem. The government has a credibility problem with the Fund as in the previous programs implementation was weak or in some cases not achieved at all. Back in 2006/07, a review of structural benchmarks indicates that 40 % was never achieved.
The country faces some significant disadvantages
Weak management capacity in the Ministry of Finance
Expenditure controls needs strengthening
Debt management capacity is almost non existent
There has been slippage in the Doing Business Indicators according to the World Bank
There is limited political will to curb tax incentives as a means to attract investment
Grenada’s status as a middle income country limits access to concessionary financing provided by the World Bank and its affiliates.
Political considerations supersede sound economic policy implementation
The country waits with bated breath, the agreed benchmark indicators and implementation timelines. It is only then the citizenry will be in a position to internalise Dr. Mitchell’s assertion that over US$100 million will be available to Grenada to assist in its efforts to achieve sustainable economic development.
It is interesting that the projection set out to bring our Debt to GDP ratio to 60% is the year 2020, six years from now. Is the IMF indicating that the 3 year program is simply, ambitious or that a sensible and achievable Structural Adjustment Program will take longer?

      You just have to read through the IMF lines.

Monday, 17 March 2014

Grenada Government amends Citizenship by Investment Act


Nicholas Steele, Grenada’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Business piloted a Bill in the country’s Parliament to amend the Citizenship by Investment Act #15 of 2013. Under aegis of the Citizenship by Investment (Amendment) Bill 2014, the ruling New National Party (NNP) administration seeks to amend Section 14, sub-section 3 by deleting paragraph (b).

The said Section 14 dictates that the Minister shall supply to the Parliament ‘prescribed information’ on applications made granted and refused under the Act. The report shall be for a six month period in each year starting on January 1st and July 1st and may be prepared within one month of the expiry of each half year period.

Minister Steele, whose wife has been granted the licence of a Local Agent, seemed nervous as he piloted what can be described as an assault on the threshold of transparency provided for in the original legislation.
The section to be deleted (b) reads

‘The names, addresses and nationalities of the applicants and any dependants included in the applications’
The million dollar question to Minister Steele is why does his administration think it necessary to limit the information provided to the Parliament? Past experience suggest that opaque transactions have damaged the nation’s reputation in the past. The likes of Eric Resteiner, Victor Kozeny (the pirate of Prague) and Van Brink are potent reminders of a dubious past which was facilitated by a previous NNP administration.

 As it stands the report will contain the number of applications made, granted and refused. The names of the government sponsored project which will receive funding under the application, aggregate amounts deposited with the National Transformation Fund and other information that the Minister considers appropriate.

Recent decisions taken by the government of St Kitts should remind the administration that any Citizenship by Investment Programme must contain international best practices in transparency and accountability. To diminish these prerequisites by amending legislation that is barely a year old speaks volumes about the administration commitment to good governance.

The Grenadian people deserve better

Sunday, 16 February 2014

Keith Mitchell: Newly minted Crusader for National Unity


Dr. Keith Mitchell, in his Independence Day address said” I again offer my hand to my political opponents. I say come let us build our nation together”. In the same vein he said to the New York based Diaspora, “I make a call today for all of us, despite our differences, let us unite. Let us unite to build our country first”. Dr Mitchell also anchored his call by making biblical reference to 1 Corinthians 13:11 “When I was a child, I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child. But when I grew up, I put away childish ways”

Dr Mitchell’s political career can be described as probably the greatest contributor to the post revolution saga of divisiveness and political morass. When he wrested control of the New National Party (NNP) from Herbert Blaize, many opined that it was an act of treachery as he constantly reassured Mr Blaize of his unwavering loyalty. Mr. Blaize actually believed Dr Mitchell until his rude awakening on the convention floor. Dr. Mitchell in his defence said that Mr Bliaze must have been naive to think that a challenge was not imminent as opinion polls indicated that Dr. Mitchell was the most popular politician in the country at that time.

The endless making and breaking of makeshift alliances along with back door deal making has been the hallmark of modus operandi of Dr. Mitchell. In the process, political friendships were made and broken with such ruthlessness, that he has accumulated an unenviable briefcase of enemies of all shades.
The long stream of public scandals which culminated with the “Briefcase Inquiry’ are potent reminders that Dr. Mitchell’s personal credibility is tenuous at best even with avowed supporters of the NNP. The ugly outburst that “Me damn money is mine” still causes self respecting Grenadians to cringe about the reality that a sitting Prime Minister can bring the office into such disrepute.

Many Grenadians recall that in the aftermath of Hurricane Ivan, the main opposition National Democratic Congress (NDC) made a call for the formation of a National Unity Government. Dr. Mitchell scoffed at the proposal and even went on to insinuate that a coup was in the making. The then Prime Minister Manning of Trinidad and Tobago appeared to have believed the rumour and began to take certain measures to quell a nonexistent threat.

Colour politics of Dr Mitchell’s vintage has now defined the political landscape of the country. This phenomenon directly affects the functioning of public institutions like the Civil service, the Royal Grenada Police Force and Statutory Bodies. The pervasive stench of political cronyism and the absence of respect for professionalism and merit have conspired against the efficient management of these institutions. Since the second clean sweep election victory by the NNP, Dr. Mitchell has again showed that he has not changed. His handlers wanted to make us believe that he is now a “kinder and gentler” however the treatment meted out to Sir Carlyle Glean and Commissioner Thompson has blown this myth out of the skies.

An even more worrying trend is the fact that he uses the Parliament to malign and criticise ordinary citizens who are not in a position to defend themselves in the hallowed chambers of the House. His unwarranted attack on Mr. Jude Bernard, a local commentator, bears testimony to this. The Prime Minister’s use of insults and downright lies against opponents is legendary. I contend that Dr. Mitchell’s conduct past and present make him ineligible to lead the charge for national unity. His arrogance, disrespectful conduct and his known penchant to say one thing and do another, further diminishes his chances of success.

 The biblical reference made in 1st Corinthians which he himself cited is of the essence. Dr. Mitchell has not transitioned from (political) childhood and no amount of flowery language will camouflage the opportunistic intent for his call for National Unity. His newly converted followers, Peter David and Chester Humphrey, cannot create traction for “Project Grenada” which is intended to provide tacit support for the Prime Minister’s crusade. It all has to do with his attempt to cement a legacy which is but a fleeting illusion.

Sunday, 26 January 2014

THE NDC CONVENTION

We have witnessed a plethora of comment on the island about the upcoming convention of the main opposition party the National Democratic Congress (NDC).While such events take place each year, this one has special significance. Since the party’s disastrous performance in the last general elections, many opine, both inside and outside the party, that it is time for party leader and former Prime Minister Tillman Thomas to call it quits. The stage is now set for Mr. Thomas’s departure as news reports indicate that he had officially advised the party’s executive that he will not seek election to any position within its executive.

In the eyes of many, Mr. Thomas represents a rare breed of “servants” of politics in an era where the reputation of politicians is at an all time low. By his action, the stage is now set for the election of a new political leader. For some months now, the issue has been smouldering but over the last few weeks, the issue is hotly debated on the streets and in the press. As it now stands, the names of Nazim Burke, an attorney at law and current deputy political leader and Franka Bernardine, former Minister in the last NDC administration, seems to be the main candidates.

Founding member and former NDC politician Phinsley St Louis has weighed on the issue publicly suggesting that the country is ripe for “female leadership”. Mr St Louis went on to say that men have failed the nation and it is time to give a woman nod. Self indictment is evident in the comment. Another member Mr William Joseph also voiced his opposition to the possible election of Burke.

The NDC has an image of infighting and division. The Alexis- Brizan era was followed by the last saga involving Tillman Thomas and Peter David. Mr David was expelled by delegates on September 30th 2012 at a Convention. This took place five months after he resigned from the Tillman Thomas administration.
This convention has significant bearing on the future prospects of the NDC. There are those who opine that there must be a contest. Others will naturally think that the executive should provide leadership on the issue and whatever arguments that take place should be behind closed doors. It is all about crafting an image that projects internal unity.

The average Grenadian does not know the composition of the executive of the governing New National Party (NNP). The present executive of that party was elected almost all unopposed, bar one position, at is last convention. There is a strange dichotomy at play. When Democracy is exercised in the open it is called infighting. However when it is exercised in deliberate and managed environment, there are those who will cry foul saying that it is “managed democracy”. This concept is an attempt to diminish the moral authority derived from a democratic process.

The membership of the NDC may be well advised that a chaotic election at its Convention can only make bad matters worse for a party that failed to win a seat in the last election. What makes it worse was that they did so while holding the reins of political office.
The root cause, some say, was infighting. Democracy must be handled in a mature and constructive manner. Its unintelligent use can lead to disaster. This is something that the NDC can ill afford.

Sunday, 19 January 2014

OPEN LETTER TO MR HAMLET MARK.

Open Letter To Mr Hamlet Mark
‘Too little too late, your pen is stalling’

Dear sir


I have been following your blog Notes From All Around and Caribupdate News Service for long time. I think that you are a very skilful writer who has a very good idea of the political happenings in Grenada, but lately I have realized that your poetic pen is stalling. Your blog and news agency has gone into semi-hibernation.

I must repeat that your blogs were well written and they had a very magnetic effect on thousands of readers. As a result of this Notes From All Around and Caribupdate News became the talk of the town. People listen to your tunes religiously. You became the Grenadian ‘Pied Piper’.

During that time the National Democratic Congress was in office. You spared no effort in crafting half truths, fairy tales and twists all in an effort to create mistrust in the masses and chaos in government and by extension the nation.

You continuously speared the NDC heart with your pen. It was your dagger.

You highlighted the ills in society and cunningly linked each one to the NDC.

You wrote about Nazim Burke and his houses as if he was doing something wrong.

You enjoyed writing negatively about cabinet re-shuffles.

You enjoyed the times when NDC paid salaries late.

You wrote as if everything ‘Tilly’ did was a mistake.

You displayed very good sarcasm by promoting the slogan ‘no Tilly no NDC.’

You established a ‘green’ news paper called Caribupdate.

 You wrote about jobs for the NDC boys.

Oh how you loved resignations from the NDC!

I can clearly remember you, riding American Airlines like bus between Grenada and Fort Lauderdale to catch up with and pen NDC stories.

Sir, I must say that your notorious efforts were not futile. You helped to defame, discredit and split the NDC party. Mr. Mark, you succeeded by facilitating a ‘clean sweep’ victory for the NNP.

With this being done you repatriated to Grenada. The land that you love where you received one of the jobs that was available for the NNP boys. I really thought that you came back home to continue and expand on the blogging and probably do more local news on Caribupdate.

Surprising to me, your news agency is only operating in drips. Yes drip! Drip!
Mr Mark, how many blogs did you write over the last year? What has happened to your propaganda paper Caribupdate?

So many negative things are taking place in the New Grenadian Economy. Why are you so ‘picky’ on what you write on these days? If you were a professional journalist, you will surely report or write about them.

Let me remind you of some of the punishing and painful things which were implemented by your ground God since taking up office last February.

(1)  Victimization of hard working Grenadians. Three thousand plus persons have been sent packing.
(2)  Grenadians are being taxed out of their skins.
(3)  Removal of free books for private schools. Removal of free barrel program.
(4)  Selling of Grenadian passports.
(5)  An attempt to take out the leadership of the NDC at Snug Corner.
(6)  Jobs for retirees.
(7)  The NNP has our economy stuck in reverse gear.
(8)  The pork ‘barrel’ Imani Program.
(9)  The electronics crimes bill-sections of it aimed at silencing Grenadians.
(10)Sending the NNP manifesto to schools and government offices and instructing the workers to use them  as guides.

This brings me to the point where I would like to ask you some questions.

Hamlet, how do you sleep at nights knowing that Grenadians are catching dey nen-en?

Why are you and the NNP trying to create a one party state?

What are some of the benefits of a one party state?

Why are you so scared of Nazim Burke?

 How do you sleep at night knowing that you are paid over $6,000 Just to create political mischief?

How much money did the NDC party pay you to campaign on its behalf in 2008?

Are you a citizen of the United States of America?

Would you promote the slogan ‘no Keith no NNP?

Are you registered to vote in Grenada?

Did you vote during the last elections in Grenada?

Why are you trying to use William Joseph's story to paint a negative picture of Nazim Burke.

Your actions reminds me of a young boy who was prepared to ‘stone down’ one hundred green mangoes in order to pick one ripe one.

In conclusion I would like to inform you that your long rants about Nazim Burke is useless-too late. Grenadians have discovered who you are. They have come to realize that you are a cunning political fox. Spicemen and women view you as an opportunist, an under-miner and a mercenary who is prepared to sell your conscience to the highest bidder. You are a political grass hopper.

Wake up Hamlet, we are now in a new dispensation. The kinds of political witchcraft that you launched in the past will not be effective this time around. Grenadians are much smarter and more and more people are using social media and other mediums to refute allegations and defend the NDC. They will also expose the numerous backward steps Whenever the NNP makes them. This time around brother, the NDC will be defended by a team that is superior to the Hamlet Propaganda Agency.(HPA)

The depth of your spite and hate for the NDC team is fathomless. Your behaviour is so tempestuous. You are prepared to destroy established groups and institutions in society just to bring down one man named NAZIM BURKE.

Hamlet, every time I look at Tom and Jerry I see you and your ground GOD playing political games, of course you are Tom, always getting tricked by Jerry.

Now that the home groaning has commenced. Grenadians who were blinded by your lies and propaganda are rapidly realizing the ‘clean sweep’ was actually a very ‘dirty sweep’.

  

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

It’s all about taxes

Grenada’s 2014 Budget

Grenada’s Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Dr. Keith Mitchell presented the country’s 2014 Budget Statement to the parliament on Tuesday December 10th 2013.
The budget presentation was anxiously awaited by the citizenry in the wake of the proposed “Home Grown” Structural Adjustment Program.

There has been a plethora of comment about the math of the budget; however I will attempt to address the fundamental underpinnings of the emerging socio economic situation existing in the country which was supposed to shape the framework of that budget.

The theme “Building the New Economy through Higher Productivity and Shared Sacrifice for the Benefit of all” can be described incoherent and unrealistic. The New Economy cannot be built on clich├ęs and slogans. Economic progress can only grace our land when leadership, vision and hard work are applied to our day to day activities. The expenditure allocations are indeed curious. The Ministry of Youth was allocated $70 m or 7.5% of total expenditure. Some observers opine that is a pre-payment for the youth vote in the next elections. How do you explain that the combined allocations for The Ministry of Agriculture ($28.8m) and the Ministry of Tourism, Civil Aviation ($ 25.9m) represent seventy eight percent (78%) of the Ministry of Youth? Isn’t Agriculture and Tourism the mainstay of the economy?

The Prime Minister boasted that Construction sector grew by 20 % over 2012. When the former administration applied 7.5% VAT on selected construction materials, it was considered to be a stimulus. When the NNP assumed office in February, they further reduced the VAT on those same items to 5% claiming that the sector needs further stimuli. As of January 2014 the VAT rate on these same items would be fully restored to 15%. Can anyone explain this logic?

The essence of the revenue enhancement strategy in the budget was increased taxes. In effect the measures will effectively reduce disposable incomes and affect demand for goods and services. If VAT is a fundamental pillar of government revenue base, then reduced sales will affect negatively their revenue projections. Simply put, less disposable income leads to fewer sales which in turn lay the basis for less revenue.
Self denial is evident in that and the pungent smell of politicking is overwhelming. The tax package will certainly impose great hardship on middle income earners. The repositioning of the Income Tax threshold to $3000 per month flies in the face of shared sacrifice. Only about 25% of wage earners earn over $3000 per month. This measure is intended to protect lower income earners who make up the bulk of his political support. Dr Mitchell is therefore trying to remake himself as a champion of the poor, some type of latter day socialist. The notion is indeed hilarious.

The reference to productivity is indeed timely. The public sector must be the first port of call. Inefficiency in that sector is the basis for wastage of the state’s resources not to mention the drag on investment and business in general. But then how can the government lead the charge for improved productivity when upward mobility in the public service stands miles away from the concept of a meritocracy. How can one be a consistent advocate of productivity when planning within the state sector is almost nonexistent, fiscal discipline is absent and where political objectives overwhelms sound economic management.
The Budget is pregnant with uncertainty for the following reasons

The letter of Intent has not been finalised with the IMF
There is no formal agreement with the IMF.
No time table was announced for the commencement of serious negotiations with creditors.
The unions have not given a commitment of the wages issue.
 This level of uncertainty clearly shows that this budget process was seriously flawed and therefore the nation and the international community cannot take this regime seriously.

 The fundaments of our economy cannot sustain it. The dependence on unearned income by way of remittances further exposes a myth masquerading under slogans and empty promises. Statements have been made about the construction of various Five Star Hotel properties on Grand Anse Beach. The Tourism Master Plan of 1997 which the previous NNP administration approved stated
 “Further accommodation development on the Grand Anse area should be restricted to planned extensions on existing properties and all new developments should be sited away in locations away from the Grand Anse Beach”.

Industry sources have questioned as to the seriousness of an investment program of that magnitude when the island suffers from insufficient airlift, shortage of skilled labour and poor product quality.
The debate on the Budget will continue and as the nation await the implementation of the new tax measures especially the income tax adjustment which takes effect at the end of January 2014.

On that note, to all contributors and readers of Caribbean News Now and Voice of the People, and Hello Grenada.  Happy Holidays and Best Wishes.