Thursday, September 13, 2012

When will the buck stop with Burke?

The Grenada Minister of Finance had a point when he was interviewed by Lew Smith when he said that there is “no silver bullet” that can fix the ills of the economy.

Any politician whoever comes to say “vote for me” and all your troubles will be over the next day, should be immediately dismissed.

That said – I have begun going over statistics from since independence – and just on the bare evidence – looking through the reign of every Minister of Finance – it appears that statistically, the current Minister is the worst since independence in 1974.

I am sure there can be counter arguments, some subjective, that can argue that outside of the raw local statistics, one has to cater for external factors that would have influenced those.

And so given that reality, it might be a debate that will never have an agreed conclusion.

What bothered me – more than the statistics – and after having listened Minister Burke being interviewed by Lew Smith on Wednesday, is the refusal of the Minister to take responsibility for anything that has happened under his watch.

Even the half-baked apology for the late payment of salaries was compounded by a series of conjunctions.

His act on Wednesday was the best impersonation of “it wasn’t me” since Shaggy was caught with his pants down.

Now, let’s not sweep it under the carpet – Burke was dealt a difficult hand coming in.

By the time he took office, the economy was in decline, the fiscal position was precarious and the economic world outside hostile.

But he has never acted as if there was a state of economic emergency.

And that’s where bad turned into worse.

And as Lew rightly commented on his show – forget the silver bullet – how about trying a bronze bullet?

The Minister has set his own self up to fail. The problem with that, however, is that an entire nation is failing with him.

When he shot himself in the foot, it left the entire nation crippled.

He has never attracted the right people around him to give him the policy guidance that any Minister will need at anytime – even more so in the worst of time.

At some point, Burke needs to answer what ever happened to the National Economic Council that was recommended and signed off on by the Prime Minister.

Prime Minister Tillman Thomas, on advice, had given the go ahead for the setting up of such committee – and people like Richard Duncan and Ambrose Phillip and a few others were identified.

These people would have provided, as true Grenadian patriots – free advice in a structured way to the Ministry of Finance.

It was the Prime Minister’s declared wish. It just never happened.

And it was not a case of there being no money. It was going to be a voluntary committee.

Minister Burke has not hired any economist since he took office, and has marginalized everyone of the others he met there.

The only person he has hired of significance is Chris De Riggs.

Now Chris, an old sparring partner of mine, has many talents. But we have one thing in common – whatever strengths we have -- economics is not one of them.

I would have thought that as a student of Bernard Coard – Burke would have learnt his best traits.

As Minister of Finance back in the early 1980s, Coard had seven Island Scholars working with him including Grenada's IMF world renowned expert, Dr. Davidson Boodoo. He also had a Professor of Economic Planning, Clairmont Kirton of Jamaica. Former President of Chile, Salvador Allende's Chief Economic advisor, Professor Edward Bernstein also did a six month consultancy during the period.

It is that kind of “bronze bullet” Burke needed to hire – but has consistently resisted to his detriment -- and that of the nation.

Additionally, there have been constant complaints privately and not-so-privately from business people – both local and foreign – about how hostile the Minister and his aides have been to them; the “take-it-or-leave it” approaches at so called “consultations”, of showing up late to meetings with no apologies and with a rush to leave.

The problem with the way this current government has been structured is that the Ministry of Finance has been both a government and a law onto itself – and not even the Prime Minister’s wishes are always carried out.

Where I fault the Prime Minister is that there have never been consequences.

I remember the Sewang One World Affair – and how the Prime Minister was hung out to dry.

Then, there is the current case of the late payments of salaries.

When I interviewed the Prime Minister on it, I genuinely felt pained for him. No leader deserved to be put in this position.

Forget -- as bad as that is -- public servants not being informed about the problem.

How about informing the Prime Minister?

No matter what we think of him – and I had my fair share of criticism – Tillman Thomas is the Prime Minister. The least we can do is respect that.

In the midst of all of the salary payment problems, the Minister hops and goes abroad – and leaves the Prime Minister to do the apologizing.

Sewang anybody? So once again, the PM is left to hang out to dry.

If running the Ministry of Finance was boxing, then we would have had a good man in place.

This current one is an expert at bobbing and weaving – and getting out of the way.

During the 2012 budget, when the figures did not add up; he said no problem. He doesn’t have to tell us the plan, but trust him.

Now on the borrowing to pay salaries, he again says he don’t have to tell us.

It’s bad enough to leave the Prime Minister to hang out to dry.

But, an entire nation man?

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