In defending his choice of Head of the Department of Energy, President Granger was quoted as saying that “He knows that he does not know everything but he knows to find people who knows enough.”
The President’s prescription is better applied to Ministers than to technicians. When it comes to Ministers, since they are political appointees and mainly persons whose names would have appeared on the party’s political list of candidates, it is not necessary that they have technical expertise in the areas which they manage. A Minister of Health need not necessarily be a doctor; a Minister of Education need not be an academic; a Minister of Public Infrastructure need not be an engineer; a Minister of Public Security need not be a retired police officer; a Minister of Finance can be a lawyer as Desmond Hoyte once was. But these Ministers must rely on technically qualified persons to get their jobs done.
You can excuse a Minister who is not technically qualified in the area in the portfolio he is managing. That Minister is not required to know everything. He or she is a political appointee who should, however, at least know how to find the expertise to get the job done.
Ministers rely on technical personnel within their Ministries for advice and guidance. It is therefore at the level of the Ministry that one should ensure that the technical expertise exists.
In the case of the energy sector, you do not as Head of the Energy Department as someone who does not know everything but who knows where to find people who know enough. What you need is someone who is technically qualified who can offer the Minister the advice that he or she needs.
If you have to find someone as a technician in a Ministry, whose job is to then find another technician who knows what the first technician does not know, it is a case of wastage of resources. The Minister of Energy does not have to be an energy expert but his Head of Energy should be.
Ministers do not even have to manage their Ministries. That is the job of the Permanent Secretaries. But in small banana-like republics such as Guyana, inevitably this distinction is blurred and Ministers involve themselves in decisions which are administrative in nature.
Ministers are accountable for their Ministries but this does not mean that they are required to direct administrative tasks. Within the civil service, there is supposed to be a clear division between politicians and administrators. It is the administrators who are responsible for the technical staff. And it is the President who appoints the political staff, that is, the Ministers. The confusion which exists in public administration is two-fold. First, we have a case of too many political appointees to administrative positions, including technical posts. These persons may well have technical qualifications but their presence in Ministries is because of their political connections rather than their technical skills. The best persons are not selected for technical jobs because political criteria is often introduced which favours the political appointees.
The second problem is that Ministers are often selected for their technical ability. But these Ministers end up being poor politicians. They have a great deal of technical knowledge but they really cannot manage power which is the primary responsibility of politicians.
The problem with governance in Guyana must be laid squarely at the feet of the government. The government needs to understand that technical positions have to be filled by technical personnel. In filling technical positions there should be an open and competitive process in which the best person emerges regardless of that person’s perceived political affiliation. You want the best person in the right positions rather than political appointees who are not the best.
Unfortunately, what is happening is that the government is stacking the public sector, from the lowest level to the highest level, with political favourites, rather than with personnel who can get the job done directly.
The result is that the public sector becomes bloated because the political appointees in technical posts who know that they do not know everything have to find experts who know what the political appointees do not know. The government ends up paying two persons to do one person’s work.
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