Sunday, 20 October 2013

Political Independence

Political Jobs, Unintended Scourge of Political Independence
Our former colonial masters applied social status and skin colour to dispense some jobs in the colonial civil service. These standards were also applied in the banks and commercial houses which was then owned or managed by the pro colonial elite in St George’s.

The advent of expanded educational opportunities provided more skilled or certified persons to the labour force. The rapid expansion of primary and secondary school education under Sir Eric Gairy, improved literacy levels in the society and undermined elitist structures in the country. Sir Eric himself established his own merchant class with firms like Importers Combined, Ben Davis, Central Sales and others. All of this evolved from the post war period to what it is now.

In 1974, the island attained independence; the country’s citizens assumed control of our destiny. As the political struggle to control state power intensified, the tendency for the party in office to use the public purse to strengthen its hold on political power became widespread.

The former colonial master left a legacy of a civil service that was supposed to be politically none aligned and was expected to carry out, in a professional manner, the policy orientation of the party in office. In some ways it was intended to function like the public service in old Mother England. The British attempted to build a rule based system where merit and competence were the hallmarks. Sir Eric was quoted as saying that” the competent are often not loyal, and the loyal is often not competent”. He went to say that, when the chips are down, he values loyalty over competence. This ethos which the colonialists left was slowly undermined by Sir Eric, the PRG dealt its own blows to the Public service and the situation has gone down- hill since at lightning speed.

The introduction of Statutory Boards by separate Acts of Parliament gave the political directorate new trading opportunities. As it now stands, there are at least 19 such organizations that leverage considerable amount of resources on the island. It has now become accepted practice that when the administration change, all Boards members must resign so the incoming administration can have “free hand “to do what it deems necessary.  As a result many statutory bodies suffer administrative and policy dislocation while they wait for the new administration to put “its people” in charge. In most instances the Manager’s continuance in the “hot seat” is equally as tenuous.

The unfortunate downside of this unenlightened position is that continuity is compromised and systemic perception that the manager was politically aligned can only be described as corrosive. The way in which the political directorate distributes seats on statutory boards must become the subject of some research.  The net result is that the manager’s position in a statutory board , the accounting firm that does the audit, the caterer for meetings of the respective boards, the office attendant and even the driver all now have “political work”.
The new Prime Minister in Grenada was at pains to point out that he is more interested in loyalty, a reincarnation of Sir Eric one can say. In Grenada, upward mobility in the public service is now so contaminated with political influences that the Civil Service of Otto George, Pamela Steele, Robert Robinson, and Madonna Harford etc now constitute distant memory.

The framers of the constitution created some positions which provide iron clad protection to the holder e.g. the Director of Public Prosecution.  The offices of Supervisor of Elections and Governor General seem to have entered the realm of “political work”. We have witnessed the unhealthy precedent that the two offices have seen personnel changes that mirrors regime change. As such the sanctity of these offices has been severely undermined by successive administrations. Ideally these offices should be occupied by persons for extended tenure which should only be cut short by ill –health, gross misconduct or if the office holder wishes to demit office.

Since the resignation from office of Sir Paul Scoon in August 1992, the country has seen four different persons occupying the position during the ensuing period of 20 years. Chronologically, this means an average of five years, the same as the constitutional provision for holding elections. Section 19 of the Constitution states ”There shall be a Governor General who shall be appointed by Her Majesty and shall hold office during Her Majesty’s pleasure and who shall be Her Majesty’s representative in Grenada”. It can therefore be argued that Her Majesty’s pleasure coincided with changes in administration in 1995, 2008 and 2013.
Socially or for that matter politically accepted ignorance ought not to gain currency in the nation of common sense.

Our countries have significant deficits in resources and more so in management talent and acumen. It smacks of idiocy that an administration will leave out a significant amount of the country’s brain power in the useless pursuit of political dominance at the expense of national development. Maybe that explains a 38% poverty level. Some commentators and apologists contend that “that is politics”. Supposedly, the national community must accept such diatribe as if politicians have the right of impunity.
Basdeo Panday once said that politics has” its own morality “. Should we the people accept that?

 I beg to differ.

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