Opening Remarks by the Hon Gaston Browne at a Cabinet Consultative Forum
Opening Remarks by the Hon Gaston Browne MP
Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda
on 18th June 2015
at A CABINET CONSULTATIVE FORUM
St. John’s Antigua
Commonwealth Secretariat Staff
Let me first thank the organisers, especially the Commonwealth Secretariat for organising this timely retreat with Permanent Secretaries and Ministers
Just over a year ago, Antigua and Barbuda reached a crossroads in the journey of its economic and social development.
The economy had been on a steady decline for a decade.
I do not say this to score a cheap political point.
Everyone in this room – Ministers and Permanent Secretaries – know that what I have just said is the truth.
You all know from the reality of what the Antigua and Barbuda Labour Party Government inherited that the Treasury was empty; the debts were large; the outstanding bills were huge; investment had dried-up; our domestic banking system was under severe existential threat; and our economy was stagnant.
Even essential services that the government is duty-bound to deliver, such as water and electricity, were on the precipice of disaster.
Suppliers of water, fuel and electricity to the national system had already decided to sever supplies to the government.
You will recall that even before I appointed the Cabinet, I had to negotiate urgently with suppliers so that both the domestic and the business sectors could continue to function.
Beyond the parlous state of the economy, the welfare structure was broken.
This nation was on the very edge of failure to deliver critical health and education services.
Unemployment was high, and the prospects for our youth was dim,
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Let no one doubt that the situation was dreadful and set to worsen.
As both Prime Minister and Finance Minister, I know better than many how close our country was to catastrophe when my political party was elected to take hold of the reins of government.
And, let me be clear:
The dire circumstances of the country were due in part to the effects of the global financial crisis of late 2008.
But, they were not due to the global financial crisis alone, as was suggested by the then governing United Progressive Party.
A far greater contributor to the bad and worsening condition of the economy and its poor capacity to deliver goods and services to the nation, were ill-judged fiscal and economic policies by the last administration.
The poorly thought-out policies of the UPP government – if they were thought-out at all – brought Antigua and Barbuda to economic ruin and near fiscal collapse.
Colleagues, I mention the shoddy performance of the UPP administration because I want us to learn from it.
I need hardly remind you that those who fail to learn from the mistakes of their predecessors are destined to repeat them.
We must not repeat those mistakes.
We must learn from them.
I will not here explore the many policy failures of the UPP government.
This evening, I want to focus on only one failure and that is the decision-making and implementation policies.
Small countries, such as ours, lack the human and financial resources of larger ones.
We have to do more with less.
And, we have to work harder if we are to compete with those better endowed than we are.
At the heart of this is good and strong government.
You will note I say “government” and not “governance”.
The two are integrated but separate constructs.
There cannot be good governance unless there is strong government underpinned by good communication, hard work and goodwill.
When I say “strong” government, I do not mean the term “strong” to be heavy-handed or authoritarian, I mean it as responsive, organised, active and thorough.
In order to govern successfully; in order to deliver the goods and services that the people rightly expect, the government must be capable, systematic, and well-structured.
Part of the problem of the UPP administration is that its government had no unified vision and no unified implementation machinery.
The rivalries and tensions between ministries crippled the government’s capacity to function properly and to deliver the goods and services they were elected to deliver.
That is why we need joined-up government, not a government made up of separate ministries, each pursuing its own agenda.
We need – and must have – a government that is a sum of its parts.
Each part – each ministry – must be a cog in the wheel of smooth and consistent government.
It is in furtherance of that objective that the Commonwealth Secretariat organised and facilitated this Consultative Forum of the top policy and decision-makers in government.
Policy issues must be thoroughly discussed and decisions taken on the basis of hard data and empirical evidence, not on the basis of hunch, guess or instinct.
Once these policies are agreed, then their implementation must be co-ordinated between ministries with goals set in the framework of well-planned strategies.
Our Government is ‘A Can-Do Governemnt.” I hasten to add – not a can do it alone government. We are as strong and as effective as our weakest link. The only way to effectively achieve our goals is by working together with shared ideals and a common vision.
A multi-disciplined, multi-ministry team has to be constructed and every player has to understand his role in achieving the common objective.
Ministers should understand that their role is to set and oversee the implementation of policy, and not to micro-manage every aspect of it.
Permanent Secretaries should be clear that policy management falls to them as the heads of the bureaucracies charged with implementation of policies.
Co-ordination of policy implementation will require collaboration and co-operation across ministries.
Government must become joined-up.
Unless, we have such a government, we will not have good governance, and we will fail to deliver for the people the goods and services they expect.
Good governance will not be achieved by disjointed and incoherent government.
Nor will it come from policies that are poorly formulated or badly implemented.
Colleagues, implementation is the key that opens the door to success.
Policies and strategies without implementation are as useless as idle talk.
Application, activism and action are vital necessities of good government.
They are the criteria by which drive “good government”, and ultimately good governance.
For me, there should be three E’s by which performance is judged – Excellence, Efficiency and Effectiveness.
Tax payers who visit or call government departments or statutory corporations have a right to expect prompt attention and proper service.
It is time sloppiness in government service ends.
Ministries must be measured by their output.
Have policies been set?
Have strategies been implemented?
Is there machinery for judging performance?
Are the people’s interests beings served?
As the person elected to head the management of this nation’s affairs, those are the questions to which I will require answers from Ministers and Permanent Secretaries.
Government must function, government must perform, government must deliver.
At the crossroads that Antigua and Barbuda confronted a year ago, I chose to pull us up from the precipice of decline upon which we were dangerously hanging.
I chose instead to climb a hill of economic growth and social improvement, and I set that as the underlying principle by which my Government would advance.
But, I know that to march up that hill requires good governance, and that good governance is not possible without good, capable and coordinated government.
Over the last year, we took the first hard steps of that march.
Now we must bind ourselves together for the big push that lies before us.
I know that you all share:
my determination that this government will deliver;
my ambition that we will do so together; and
my vision that we will transform Antigua and Barbuda into an economic powerhouse.
So, colleagues, let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.
And, let what we learn from this Forum inform our considered actions for the future, in the interest of our country and our people.
Finally, when people work together there is little that cannot be achieved. According to Jean Paul Sartre, French Philosopher – “Take an oar and start rowing.” Lets row to distinction, victor as we create a regional economic powerhouse.
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