All change brings with it some level of dislocation. It is for this reason that people fear change and why the term change management is so important to the task of organisational development and transformation. In addition to the difficulties associated with managing change in an organisation, a concomitant hurdle is that of choosing from the many options available. That is why decision-making is as much an art as it is a science. Indeed, one only knows that a decision is the right one when we evaluate the results that can be traced back to that decision some time in the future.
To facilitate this evaluation, theorists distinguish between the short (one year), medium (three-five years) and long term (greater than five years). The outlook in the short run can be very different to what eventually happens down the road. Therefore, it is critical that the solution be calibrated to the problem that we are trying to solve.
A Cabinet reshuffle when viewed in this light takes on even greater significance. It can mean simply moving the ministers to different portfolios without changing or modifying the portfolios. A cursory review of the last Cabinet reshuffle reveals change on a massive scale. New ministries have been created and some portfolios have been chopped and changed. Fresh faces have been brought into the Cabinet and some have left the stage.
To identify just a few changes: The management of water was removed from Public Utilities and placed in a new ministry; Land and Marine Resources was moved from Food Production; the Ministry of Planning was given a haircut and Caribbean Airlines (CAL) was moved from the Ministry of Transport; Ministry of Finance was given additional responsibilities as was the Ministry of Housing.
By all accounts this is change on a massive scale and the immediate by-product will be massive confusion as staff have to be moved, relevant expertise found and modalities of inter-departmental co-operation developed, staff acclimatised and the resultant range of human issues associated with such changes. Who will be promoted or demoted? Whose responsibilities will be expanded and with it, the issue of compensation adjustments. Whilst no one will have their existing compensation packages adjusted downwards, those with additional responsibilities may not be compensated accordingly. That aspect of the change raises thorny issues that will take some time to sort out.
But the biggest issue is the matter of interdepartmental co-operation and policy formulation. Once you increase the number of moving parts in a machine you increase the risk of things going wrong. This difficulty is exaggerated when one considers that executing policy is difficult enough when one agency is involved. When multiple agencies are involved, the possibility for error or omission is greatly increased.
The Ministry of Housing, for example, is already challenged to build or to have enough houses built. To this is added the additional responsibility for the management of Land and Marine Resources. How will transportation policy (land, air and sea) work alongside the Ministry of Finance's responsibility for CAL and which skills will be moved from Transport to Finance?
Similarly, the Ministry of Finance has been given an express responsibility for the management of the economy. While this was always a derived responsibility, it does raise several intriguing questions. A key issue highlighted by the Central Bank Governor in his last report is that of our country's competitive position relative to our neighbours in the region and wider afield.
In this regard, the fate of Trinidad Cement Ltd and its recent standoff with the union is instructive. Whilst the Labour Minister may be a conciliator, the new Minister of Finance will have an even greater role to play. One recalls the policy of wage restraint with a five per cent negotiating cap, from which the government subsequently backed away. The subsequent "fudge" facilitated the paying of allowances which do not count as part of pensionable salaries. The calculation of the percentage salary increases did not include these allowances.
The organisational drag arising from these moves will be sorted out in the medium term as dysfunctionalities are resolved. Meanwhile, we are in the fourth consecutive budget deficit and the recent shift in ministries will add to the upward creep in the expenditure profile. But the national debt is rising. The Minister will need to recommend some difficult budget restrictions and reductions for 2013.
The new minister may well find his position compromised with both the unions and the wider public as a consequence. It is now clear from his own statement and the many inconsistencies which were contained therein, that Mr Howai received what can only be described a "signing" bonus. Public service is a thankless job and invariably comes at great personal sacrifice. Mr Howai has been given a platinum parachute which raises serious issues about how the next CEO from a State enterprise will be treated when he is "persuaded" to respond to the call of public service. It matters not what would have been the position if he were at Republic, Royal or BNS. They are not owned by the state.
A previous minister of finance failed to convince a very sceptical public that the withdrawal of her deposit was an arm's length transaction without foreknowledge of the impending demise of the institution. That cloud persisted throughout the remainder of her term in office. Mr Howai must now persuade his colleagues to do more with less. He is likely to find that they and his publics are no less sceptical. He may even reply as did a former minister of finance that he took no vow of poverty. In the short run we don't as yet know how this will play out, but he can expect many challenges.
• Mariano Browne is a former minister of government