The role of prime minister, as head of a country’s government, is in many ways comparable to that of the chief executive officer of a company. He (or she) is responsible for overseeing implementation of the strategic agenda, monitoring progress and is ultimately accountable to voters in the case of a government and shareholders in the case of a company, for whatever the outcome, especially if it is negative.
It is not insignificant that in our system of government, the political administration is always defined by the name of its leader. This feature emphasizes not only the primacy of the prime minister as “primus inter pares” but also, more importantly, that the buck stops at him or her. It is also worthy of note that in our system, persons appointed to serve on the executive at the level of Cabinet do so at the pleasure of the prime minister and discharge their public duties on his or her behalf.
This having been said, keen observers of politics naturally would have been taken aback by a rather puzzling comment which Prime Freundel Stuart made to this publication on the sidelines of a public event last Friday. After Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler had earlier in the week expressed satisfaction with the initial performance of the controversial National Social Responsibility Levy (NRSL), saying it had generated $50 million in the first three months since it took effect on July 1 and was on course to raise “just over $200 million” during the current fiscal year, Mr Stuart was essentially saying that he was in the dark.
“The minister can say what he feels like saying,” Mr Stuart told Barbados TODAY, “but I don’t have all of the data on the performance for the first quarter and when I get it, I will speak on it.” One, naturally, is left to wonder why Mr Stuart thought it necessary to make this point which may be interpreted by some Barbadians as casting doubt on what his minister had said in the House of Assembly last Tuesday.
The Prime Minister’s comments obviously raise a number of questions. Is he effectively managing, keeping a tight rein on his ministers or are they allowed to do and say as they please? Considering Mr Stuart’s remark that “the minister can say what he feels like saying,” is this a case where Mr Sinckler spoke prematurely? Further, did Mr Sinckler share the information he had on the NSRL’s performance with Mr Stuart before he spoke last Tuesday? From Mr Stuart’s comments, that does not seem to have been the case. Where is Mr Stuart getting his data from and is from the same source as Mr Sinckler?
Mr Stuart’s comments certainly do raise questions about the level of communication between himself, Mr Sinckler as a key minister and Cabinet as a whole. As the NSRL happens to be a key policy issue in the context of the Government’s economic strategy, one therefore would have thought that critical information related to its performance would have been fully discussed between the Prime Minister and Minister of Finance and then at the level of Cabinet before any public announcement is made, especially considering that the NSRL is also a contentious issue.
The tax measure which went up by 400 per cent from the original two to ten per cent in Mr Sinckler’s presentation of the Financial Statement and Budgetary Proposals last May, is opposed by both the private sector and trade unions which cite its negative impact on the cost of living among other things. To push their case for a reduction to five per cent, the unions and private sector staged a demonstration that brought an estimated 20,000 persons on to the streets of Bridgetown in late July. However, Mr Stuart was adamant that the NSRL would remain as is until a review was conducted at the end of September.
The seeming differences between Mr Stuart and Mr Sinckler on the issue of the initial performance of the NRSL does convey the impression of a serious communication problem at the ministerial level. If this is indeed so, it is no wonder that Barbadians have consistently complained of poor communication on the part of the incumbent Democratic Labour Party (DLP) administration which somehow seems to miss the critical point that effective communication holds the key not only to their success in Government but indeed every other sphere of human endeavour.