PM proposes government ‘think tank’

Tough questions were in no short supply last week when the Chamber met with Prime Minister Stephenson King in their Chamber Election Forum. The first part of the intensive discussion that took place at the Royal St Lucian Hotel was published in last weekend’s edition of the STAR newspaper, where the prime minister addressed a number of issues ranging from crime to airport redevelopment and public service modernization. King’s presence at the forum came on the heels of opposition leader Kenny Anthony’s moment in the hot seat on September 20 at the same venue.
There were a number of topics touched on as members of the Chamber got the opportunity to question King on issues they felt needed addressing as the country got set for general elections. In moving forward, particularly as he was the sitting prime minister, King said at the meeting: “One ought to understand from whence we came and where we are heading . . . I believe the mission I’m on now and most politicians are on now, is one of serious concern to the people of St Lucia.”
King was asked to address the issue of sound management and the moral agenda regarding governance issues in this term and in the next term should his party be reelected.
“I believe issues of governance are quite relevant in this modern society as it unfolds and continues to develop. More and more people are speaking on the need to pay attention to governments. I spoke earlier on and indicated some of the issues that are necessary. The question of promoting the rule of law is absolutely important. We have had instances in this current term where many felt there were situations in which the government was brought under the microscope based on a number of decisions or actions of the government. The fact that government was brought under the microscope is an indication that government does not stand above the law. If the government transgresses the law, the government must be brought before the law to be dealt with. There’s a need for transparency and accountability.
In many instances King noted there had been allegations of lack of transparency and accountability and said it was something that needed to be looked at.
“One of the pieces of legislation we have is the legislation that deals with integrity in public life and that is very important. I believe if a government minister or public officer conducts his or herself in a manner unbecoming of that officer or minister, they should certainly be brought before the law. I uphold this and it is one I will continue to work to improve in the performance of my administration in the coming administration.”
On the question of law and order and overall crime fighting King felt there was need to change people’s attitudes and behaviour in an effort to move forward. For the next generation the prime minister felt the way the education system was modeled would determine the type of society that developed down the road.
“There is need for much more public education programs,” he said. “We have launched an anti-crime campaign which has a number of components which deals with communities, young people, working with criminals, helping to change people attitudes and behaviour. There’s need for greater discipline on the part of our people and the need for social reengineering in our country.
“If we do not do this what we’ll find, whether it’s in government, in the public service, private sector, among our people—the behaviour, attitudes, the culture is what we produce at home. We produce it at home and we leave it to the teachers, leave it to the police officers, who leave it to the government and we have a total breakdown in the social and moral fabric of our country. Social reengineering is absolutely necessary. There is the regional government adopted proposal made by the National Consultancy Council to establish what is called a council for social reform, to bring all social agencies together under one coordinating umbrella to work with those social agencies to give them the necessary legislative power and institutional framework to undertake a number of programs necessary in transforming and reengineering our society.”
Did he feel the Chamber was playing a vital role and how would he engage the Chamber to improve their level of involvement, particularly on issues of entrepreneurship and investment?
King responded: “One of the observations made by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank was the need for governments to look at more creative at innovative ways of engagement and financing of public sector initiatives. They recommend and believe more private/ public sector partnership is the way to go. There are a number of areas where I believe government can work with the private sector in providing certain services to the country.”
King said the private sector had to literally be a partner in development and he felt the time had come to see what level of participation the private sector could have in the provision of postal services.             In his words: “I do not believe government should continue.” King expressed there were other areas where government could partner with the private sector in providing services in the form of joint investment.”
King noted that the attitude of some was “once you land in government you have a job for life, no one can dismiss you.” What was needed now he said was for government to embrace the Chamber, so the Chamber had a greater role in some decisions of government. In that way ideas would flow from the private sector to be able to influence government policies that would allow for the growth of the private sector.
“It doesn’t make sense if we sit in government and believe all the private sector is doing out there is capitalizing on the ordinary people. If we believe all they’re doing is making money we’re fooling ourselves. We need to sit down and talk, see how we can create that enabling environment so you can prosper.”
When asked how he would move to improve the capacity of the public sector in the short run, given issues the private sector was having in terms of time spent trying to interface with government, attempting to acquire information and source things that should be publicly accessible King stated: “I have been thinking in the last year or so, how do we change face of government? In the prime minister’s office, there is a unit called the Office for Special Initiatives. When that unit was established I am not sure it was properly defined as to the purpose. I believe the intention was really to have unit that could undertake certain things. I have been thinking about it and I’ve said there is need to have a ‘think tank’ in government and that can be the think tank. You pull out your brightest and best (not from within the public services but if they’re there you can pull them out) people, look across St Lucia to get your brightest and best people to undertake some of the initiatives—if not all—that need specific attention in moving this country forward. Too often there are ideas and initiatives that are placed in the domain of respective ministries but nothing happens unless someone is constantly knocking on the door of some officer to get things going. Whether it’s the prime minister who keeps calling regularly you always find excuses. We need to have unit under the guidance of the prime minister constantly putting together and dealing with the problems.”
“The problem we’ve experienced in slipping in the doing business report, there is need to sit down, examine and fix those problems. As we speak the International Finance Corporation (IFC) has more or less offered to St Lucia someone to work with the ministry of commerce as a consultant to attempt to address some of the issues we’ve not been able to realize, some of the targets. That is good, but its really creating the infrastructure within government that can motivate and has the energy to deal with some of the problems.
“I know of some of the issues you encounter as the private sector and when I hear some of the issues it aches me. I know some of the issues you encounter with the DCA in getting plans dealt with. Numerous problems in sending a plan for approval and the number of agencies that must get involved and the delays you encounter. The question of a one-stop-shop for investment is another area we must look at and the list goes on and on. Sometimes it’s not the individual officer but the manner in which the system has been structured. One of the areas that must be looked at and addressed is the question of top and upper middle management in the public service. I believe there is need to pay some attention to this. I have said to the ministry of public service that we need to look at establishment of an institute of public service training, that constantly prepares the public service to be able to deliver at the level the private sector is looking for.”

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