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Saturday, July 11, 2020
Home Editorial End the “Yes-minister” System, now

End the “Yes-minister” System, now

The ruling party in the present government, the United Democratic Party (UDP), will have to face the electorate in the first week of November or before, and the odds are against them winning again. The incumbents usually have an advantage at the polls because they administer all the country’s resources, and in our case our governments have no scruples about manipulating the nation’s resources to give them an even greater chance in elections. However, the UDP is stale; it has served three consecutive terms, and it is now bogged down by the weight of corruption, which is not its only fault.

Apart from succumbing completely to the vice of corruption, the UDP has trampled on transparency and accountability in governance, and the standard of living in Belize has been falling. Our economic output has shrunk for four consecutive quarters, and if there was hope of an economic recovery under the present regime, COVID-19 put an end to that.
The UDP will no doubt trot out its old bag of tricks, but they would have to be blind to not see that it is not likely to be enough. It is to be hoped that the UDP realizes that doing the right thing won’t harm their performance at the polls, and if it doesn’t help, they should be glad to have earned some goodwill, for another day.

The people have been clamoring for improved governance, and most of their demands are contained in a document that the National Trade Union Congress of Belize (NTUCB) presented to the government in February this year. These include introduction of campaign financing laws, implementation of the UNCAC, tabling of the Special Senate Select Committee’s report on the Auditor General’s Report on activities in the Immigration Department, restructuring of the Integrity Commission and the Public Accounts Committee, sanctioning of individuals who were found to have violated the immigration laws of the country, and an independent investigation into the former Minister of National Security and other public officials who have been implicated in grave wrongdoing.

Ending the “Yes-minister” System is not included in the NTUCB’s “to do” list for the government, to save Belize, however many people who have studied our governance system say that it is at the root of the evil.

The Yes-minister System actually began when the 1984-1989 UDP government introduced an Executive Officer to the Public Service, and the 1998-2003 PUP government cemented it into place, completely supplanting the Permanent Secretary with a Chief Executive Officer (CEO).

The leaders who conceived the imported “Executive Officer” and the “Chief Executive Officer” to supplant the public service-grown Permanent Secretary, must have conceptualized a more efficient public service, one that wasn’t bogged down by bureaucratic waste. It is too callous to believe that they saw the potential for unfettered raiding of the public’s wealth, and the corrupting of the people who are supposed to guard it.

Belize must have gotten something good from the implementation of the Yes-minister, but oh the corruption, and demoralization in the public service since. In the old system we were hopefully employing a servant when we sent a political leader to the House of Representatives. In our present Yes-minister System we are definitely making a political leader into a little god when we send them to the Legislature.

It is not that these imported heads of ministries, the CEOs, are lacking in talent and integrity. The problem is that they are hired by the political leaders, not the people of Belize. Thus, the interests of the party in power take precedence over the interests of the people of Belize.

It is just a short time before the next general election. If the ruling party loses, few if any of the present CEOs will retain their jobs; if the ruling party wins, none of them are guaranteed to be rehired. It is in the best interest of the country that the CEOs be redeployed, to areas where their considerable expertise can benefit Belize.

It is wrong for the present government to leave in place this Yes-minister System that has so ill-served us, for the next government to do away with, or exploit. They should end the Yes-minister System, now.

“Whatever you want, Minister”

Excerpts from the Amandala editorial of August, 2012, titled “Yes, Minister”:
…When the PUP government took over with an overwhelming 26-3 mandate in 1998…they did away with the PS system for the CEO model. CEOs, with little or no civil service training, but of veritable PUP pedigree, were brought in to lead the service. The result was all manner of transgressions against the previously sacrosanct traditions of the civil service. History records that the government went wild.

The public officers became “yes, Minister” types, tumbling over themselves to please the minister in the hope of getting a sliver of the pie. They took their cue from the political appointees at the top. The public servants were no longer motivated to follow the dictates of the civil service; the way to the top was through political brownnosing. What was expedient and desirable to the politicians took preference over what was right and practical.

Longtime public officers will tell you that the bastardization of the service started piecemeal under the 1984-89 UDP administration when they hired “executive officers” to be attached to the ministries, working practically parallel to the permanent secretaries. The contract officers had gotten their foot in the door. Successive administrations thereafter employed contract officers of their choice, bothering only to change the nomenclature to “advisors.”

…A good number of senior public officers, in the process, lost their moral compass. They stopped speaking truth to power. They no longer practiced the time-honored tradition of “putting it in writing,” whenever they felt uneasy about any proposed policy or practice. They gave in to the “politicization” of the service.

… (the people) look at the Lands Department, where it is reported that from the lowest level worker to the gatekeepers at the top need their “paws buttered” for simple land transactions to be completed. What is so absolutely wrong with the present system of governance is on full display at this most important of offices.

…What we have now is a “yes, Minister” culture pervading the service. In this culture, the elected politician does no wrong. He is a little demigod, who has civil servants traipsing at his heels: “You hungry, Minister?” “Whatever you want, Minister.”

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