The Honourable Prime Minister Dr Kenny Anthony, lauded cabinet secretaries, as he delivered the feature address at the Prime Ministers’ Cabinet Secretaries meeting.
As you gather here today, I am reminded of a famous quote by Margaret Mead who said that “(N)ever doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has”.
Of course, the “committed citizens” referred to in Mead’s quote need only be replaced by “committed public officers” meaning in this instance, Cabinet Secretaries, whose offices are specifically identified by our Constitutions.
A PRE-EMINENT POSITION
Not many public officers are identified by their offices in Commonwealth Caribbean Constitutions. For example, in Saint Lucia, we have a Public Service of approximately 9,000 employees. Our Constitutions refer to classes or categories of employees but do not usually single out specific offices by name. I suspect that fewer than thirty offices are mentioned or identified by name in our Constitutions. The post of Cabinet Secretary is one of those exceptions. It enjoys an exalted, almost pre-eminent position. Why?
Our Constitutions offer us a clue. Section 70 of the Constitution of Saint Lucia, for example, provides as follows:
(1) “There shall be a Secretary to the Cabinet whose office shall be a public office;
(2) The Secretary to the Cabinet, who shall have charge of the Cabinet Office, shall be responsible, in accordance with such instructions as may be given to him by the Prime Minister, for arranging the business for, and keeping the minutes of the Cabinet and for conveying the decisions of the Cabinet to the appropriate person or authority and shall have such other functions the Prime Minister may direct.”
The Constitution says that the “Cabinet Office” is the domain of the Cabinet Secretary. For all practical purposes, the Cabinet Secretary is the custodian of the secrets of the Government of the day. There is no other public officer who gets an insight into the minds, and personalities of Ministers or for that matter Prime Ministers, as the Cabinet Secretary. He or she witnesses all, the quarrels, the anger, the anguish, the compromises, and I guess, even the occasional tears. He or she acts in “accordance with such instructions as may be given to him” or her by the Prime Minister. The Cabinet Secretary is the closest public officer to the Prime Minister. He or she acts at the behest of the Prime Minister who may issue “such other instructions” as he may direct. He or she occupies a unique office of trust and for that reason cannot be an ordinary public officer. He is the Prime Minister’s confidant.
Cabinet Secretaries occupy offices that are often shrouded in mystery. That, in part, could be explained by the secrecy that accompanies its business and I would add, the closeness of the holder of the office to the political directorate. In many capitals, it is often believed that Cabinet is answerable to one, could make whatever decisions it chose at any time, could even break the laws of the land at its whim. There is perhaps no office that requires demystification as the Office of the Cabinet Secretary. Reform therefore, must start with that simple reality.
That process is now underway, helped in part, by decisions of our courts. The courts have now categorically repudiated the view that decisions of a Cabinet are safe and immune from judicial scrutiny and review. This happened in the case of Attorney General of Saint Lucia v. Kenny D. Anthony. In this case, the then Leader of the Opposition challenged a decision of the Cabinet of Ministers to approve concessions to a Cabinet Minister while he sat in the Cabinet, and subsequently, alter its decision ostensibly to protect him from possible prosecution. The Court of Appeal held, inter alia, that the decision of the Cabinet was “so unreasonable that no reasonable Cabinet would have made it.” Further, the decision of the Cabinet was made ”in bad faith for the improper purposes of shielding the [Minister] from further investigation and possible prosecution for breaches of the Customs Laws” of Saint Lucia.
This case establishes that our Cabinets are as accountable for their decisions as other public authorities. Decisions must not be made for improper purposes. They must not be tainted by bad faith. They must be rational, reasonable, and within the four walls defined by statute, if statute applies. Every Cabinet Secretary who is at the centre of the reform process should read this case because of its immense implications for the management of Cabinet Offices. Unquestionably, Cabinet Secretaries are charged with huge responsibilities.
In my book, you are charged with the responsibility to champion the changes required in developing a modern, relevant, responsive, efficient, affective, accountable, service-oriented and dynamic public service, fit for meeting the extraordinary challenges that confront us.
This is not an easy time for any Cabinet Secretary or indeed for any Government, anywhere in the region at this time.
DIFFICULT POLICY DILEMMAS
The global economic and financial crisis continues to impact adversely on our Caribbean economies. Indeed, the magnitude and duration of the economic and financial crisis has placed tremendous pressure on the governments of the region. Many are grappling with high debts, widening fiscal deficits, low growth, low investment, a struggling private sector and high unemployment. The objectives of reducing debt and the fiscal deficit conflict with the objectives of spurring economic growth, reducing unemployment and increasing investment. Governments of the region are faced with difficult policy dilemmas. Moreover, the policy choices are constrained by the fact that we have limited fiscal space within which to operate and dwindling aid and development assistance. Governments are forced to implement austerity measures. As you would be aware, these austerity measures have severe implications for the public service as the governments seek to cut or contain expenditures in reducing the fiscal deficits.
NOT ONE OF GLOOM AND DOOM
The situation is not, however, one of doom and gloom. History has taught us that strong, visionary and effective leadership is required to address the challenges and uncertainties that confront us today. I truly believe that the challenges and opportunities that are presented by this unprecedented economic and financial crisis will enable us to craft and create a public service that will be more resilient, adaptable and innovative. This calls for the creation of a new vision for the Public Service as we seek to develop holistic solutions to our economic and fiscal challenges. This vision for the Public Service must emerge and be informed by the National Vision for the Country. I believe that we need to move with a degree of urgency and haste as time is of the essence.
SEARCHING FOR VISION
It is for this reason the Government of Saint Lucia will be establishing a National Vision Commission with the support and involvement of all State actors, including the Opposition. This Commission will be charged with leading the dialogue for crafting a National Vision and Strategy. It will be selected through consultation with the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition, multi-sectoral groups from throughout the country and my good office. This Commission will be established very shortly.
AN INCLUSIVE PUBLIC SERVICE
Going forward, the Public Service has a critical role to play as we seek to transform the way we govern, the way we formulate policies and the way we deliver services to citizens. Our citizens are more demanding and expect more from our Governments. The Public Services and indeed the Public Officers must therefore rise to the challenges placed by our citizens for more effective and efficient public service delivery. In undertaking this task, we need to tap on the collective wisdom and knowledge of the stakeholders and people to develop solutions to these challenges. We must create an environment where public officers can work closely with the citizens they serve to address the issues we face. Citizens must be engaged and have shared ownership of the challenges that we face so that we can arrive at solutions together. In this way, we will provide the foundation for a more cohesive and resilient society. This is the approach we will adopt in crafting the National Vision for Saint Lucia.
NEED FOR COLLABORATION
I now wish to address specific areas that I believe require urgent attention.
Many of the issues we face in the Public Service are cross-cutting. For example, health problems that are being addressed by the Ministry of Health may have implications for Education, Youth, and Social Transformation. This means we must foster a collaborative approach in dealing with challenges in the Public Service. We need to get departments and agencies to work more closely in developing government wide solutions to our public service problems. The tendency is for Government Ministries and Departments to work in silos. The need to preserve one’s turf is at the heart of organizational politics in the Public Service. We must therefore get agencies to consider the wider implications of its own policies beyond its mandate and to work across organizational boundaries to deliver a suite of solutions that best meet our needs. This will require closer policy coordination by the centre of government. I understand this is the theme of your meeting this year. We need to ensure that the Centre of Government puts in place the systems and structures to developing a coherent and unified policy framework for the Public Service.
The Centres of Government of the Region must take a lead role in galvanizing the collective support of our society in dealing with the complex issues in the region. I am sure you would all agree that we need to be better at being a “relational” government. We need to understand the people of our region and re-think how we can engage and connect with our people. We cannot ignore their culture but we must use it for transformative purposes.
AN AGILE AND ADAPTABLE PUBLIC SERVICE
In an era of intense global competition where change is the order of the day, it is important for us to develop a Public Service that is agile and adaptable. If we are to encourage investment, we must improve the enabling environment for doing business. This will involve reducing red tape and place more emphasis on increasing productivity.
In this regard, I wish to highlight some of the measures we wish to undertake in Saint Lucia. According to the World Bank Ease of Doing Business Report, Saint Lucia has for many years held the distinction of the best place in the Caribbean to do business. Over the years, however, we have slowed in our rate of implementing business reforms. We have decided to remain in the forefront as that ranking is a priceless marketing asset. So, we have welcomed the suggestion of the Chamber of Commerce to create a National Forum comprising key Government agencies and the private sector, to monitor and review the ease of doing business, identify and remove bottlenecks, and to recommend changes in procedures that hinder business activity.
We live in a world where social media can also propel an issue into spotlight and which require Governments to take immediate action. The use of social media will require the Public Service and the Government to reduce the time it takes for decision making and action. This will require a more nimble and agile Public Service to deal with the rapid flow of information and issues which arise.
The issue of productivity, and more specifically, increasing productivity, is one in which we have no option but to pursue vigorously if we are to survive in this intensely competitive world. In this regard, we need to engage all stakeholders including the private sector and trade unions so that all parties understand the economic imperative of the need for increasing productivity to sustain improvements in our standard of living.
Recently, I announced that Saint Lucia would establish a National Productivity and Competitiveness Council. The Public Service will be targeted since we need to boost productivity across all service sectors. Rigorous performance managements systems will be necessary if we are to get the best out of our public servants. This will require the setting of high standards for employees and ensuring that employees meet these standards. The extremely demanding period ahead will be one in which we should recognise and appreciate employees excellence in achieving results.
SEARCHING FOR INNOVATION
The Public Services of our Region must also be more innovative in the way we deliver services to our citizens. We must think out of the box and try new approaches that deliver better outcomes to our citizens. Many of these innovations depend on the use of information and communications technologies, which will continue to reshape the way we will deliver services to our citizens. Much of the innovation of the 21st Century is being made available by well-developed communication technologies. We therefore need to embrace Web 2.0 and social media tools that have immense potential for transforming the way we work. Indeed, this is the mode of communications with the current generation. In Saint Lucia, we have recently introduced the use of credit and debit cards as a means of payment for government services. We intend to build on this platform to introduce on-line payments for Government services. We will be starting with the Online filing of Income Tax which is currently be spearheaded under the Electronic Government for Regional Integration Project (EGRIP).
I am confident that our enduring public service values will help us in our efforts to develop the public service of the 21st Century. We must preserve the public service as an impartial, professional and ethical organization. This requires public servants to conduct themselves with the highest level of integrity.
We must all be concerned of the growing cynicism that people have towards governments. Some have betrayed the trust which people/citizens have placed in them. We must all fight to ensure government’s fidelity to the public.
The case I cited earlier is instructive. The reasoning was predicated on evidence; the importance of records such as minutes; the credibility/integrity of persons who serve in public offices, the need for proper monitoring of decisions, the need for transparency and above all, the need for honest leadership.
You, as leaders in our region’s public services, operating as it were, at the “nerve centre” of government, cannot allow the anguish expressed by William Butler Yeats in his poem the “Second Coming” to become our reality. Yeasts agonized over the:
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
As the leaders of the Public Service, you must have conviction, you must be anchored to the values of integrity, excellence and professionalism. As leaders, we must set the example for others to follow. You must have the courage to provide bold, passionate leadership in setting direction and vision for the whole of government. As heads of the public service, your ability to inspire and align public officers with the vision and strategic direction of the government will make a significant difference in the way the public service contributes to the development of the welfare of our nation.
Ladies and Gentlemen, there is so much more I would like to say. I hope, however, I have left you with enough of my “ramblings” for your deliberations. I am confident that your deliberations will yield sound recommendations and more importantly, implementable solutions.