What gets measured gets done: Our problem with analysing Budgets and Gov’t data

“If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there.”

This is one of the first quotes you learn when trying to understand Monitoring and Evaluation. Given current realities in Trinidad and Tobago, it seems applicable.

I recently finished reviewing the National Budgets presented during the period 2006 to present—no, it is not that I have nothing to do; taking care of my two daughters with my wife and being a transparency advocate keeps me busy.

You see, for me a Budget statement must not be looked at as a singular event in time; the policy prescriptions must have evolved over a long time rather than just in the year since the last Budget statement. Hence my curiosity about what these now old statements offered.

Now these statements go through two PNM administrations, one UNC/COP administration—there never was any political party called the People’s Partnership after all—and five ministers of finance.

Photo: Sport Minister Darryl Smith (left), Finance Minister Colm Imbert (centre) and former Trinidad and Tobago international hockey goalkeeper Joey Lewis at a sod-turning event.
(Courtesy DMRCTT)

From looking at each of these statements, I have noted the following:

  1. We suck at revenue collection. In every budget statement, there is talk of leakages. Under the PNM,  there is talk about the creation of a Revenue Authority; the UNC/COP talks about having consultants do a “a comprehensive review of our tax system. This review will cover the entire tax system, including tax policy, administration, and enforcement.”
  2. Apparently, the major areas for diversification are       Agriculture, Marine/Yachting, Manufacturing, Tourism, Downstream Energy Industries, Outsourcing Financial Services, Creative Industries, Fashion and Food. Countless incentives and tax breaks have been offered but yet we are still reliant on oil and gas.
  3. We have spent billions every Budget on Education, National Security, Health, Housing, Public Utilities, etc; yet, crime is high, healthcare is expensive—because we have to go private—people still need houses, not everywhere gets a reliable water supply, etc. Have we seen any major impact of any of this spending?
  4. The reform of local government and of the public sector seems to be unachievable. Apparently it can’t be done. Wow!
  5. CEPEP and URP need to be more productive and assist in manufacturing and agriculture and slowly move away from Gov’t assistance. I will believe it when I see it.
  6. Poverty reduction is always on the cards; some may argue, though, that we do the opposite and have a Poverty Enhancement Programme.
  7. We love to tax things to make more money or punish bad habits (casinos) or offer tax incentives to encourage business—who, by the way, are always complaining—or reduce tax or offer tax relief to create more disposable income and so increase savings (Amazon, here I come).
  8. I can’t seem to figure out the Clico/CL Financial puzzle (2008 to present).
  9. Recycling and waste management are important to save the environment—every time it rains, we see how well that has worked.
Photo: A satirical take on health care.
(Copyright Mark Anderson)

I highlight these things to make the point that words on a piece of paper read and debated every September/October mean nothing if not backed up with real action. We as a people need to start holding our politicians and government officials to account and really demand results.

While the numbers are good, we need to move beyond them, which is when the “So what?” question becomes critical.

So what if you fixed and built 500km of roadway? So what if we now have two hospitals? So what if we trained 10,000 people in different skills? So what if we spent more money or less money this year than last year?

What difference does all of that make if sick people have to wait two days to get access to a hospital bed, working people have to take two hours to reach to work from 20 km away or qualified peopl can’t get a job with the real skills they possess?

For me, therefore, the most important document laid in this year’s Budget Statement has to be the National Performance Framework 2017-2020. Now I would admit my bias here because I am trained in Monitoring and Evaluation—though my wife is more the practitioner than I am—and I did work a bit on the Committee for the Creation of a National M&E Policy.

Photo: Motorcycle policemen perform during 2017 Independence Day celebrations.
(Copyright Office of the Prime Minister)

This NPF 2017-2020 is deliberately designed to measure Government’s  implementation progress and Government’s performance in the context of their recently completed Vision 2030 National Development Strategy, which makes it a document we need to study and use to inform our questions to ministers.

The media, civil society and we, the general public, need to be less concerned with activities and outputs and more concerned with outcomes and impacts. There needs to be a concerted effort to change the focus of discussion and—by re-positioning our questions—to force Government, regardless of who is in power, to feel bound to provide reasons, data and evidence to back up what they are saying.

We live in times that are challenging but I also believe that these are also opportune times for us to also change old habits and re-focus our country to compete in the global environment of the 21st Century.

A government must be of the people, for the people and by the people. The key word is people and it is time that we the people demonstrate that there needs to be a two-way discussion in order to turn this country around.

No government or no political party is bigger or has more power than we the people united as one and willing to question and seek answers for whatever decisions they may make on our behalf.

Photo: Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley addresses the audience in his “Conversations with the Prime Minister” series.
(Copyright Office of the Prime Minister)
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  1. Why don’t we give Dr Rowley a chance to correct the wrongs of Kamla’s corrupt past Administration. Imagine Medical Institutions paying $150.00 per year to the State as tax while our earnings are taxed monthly and we don’t earn their level of income and they want to protest because Dr Rowley is trying to correct the wrongs of this country. All these business who are complaining especially those gambling houses can close down because they continue to encourage immortality in this country. All these hurricanes and earthquakes are a warning to this world that the rich who believes they have power really don’t – true power belongs to Almighty God and he has allowed Dr Rowley to lead this country at this time so let him do the Job God has given him the authority to do. He doesn’t smoke weed. He doesn’t drink rum and get on television and speaks in a slurred voice. He doesn’t encourage wrong doing in office like Kamla who fired Gary Griffith for coming out and admitting that the former Attorney General ask him to lie on his behalf. He haven’t allowed a minister to investigate himself as Kamla did when Ms Honeywell sent a letter to her asking her to investigate a matter that involved money being paid out against the State concerning prisoners where Private junior lawyers were being paid large sums of money in winning lawsuits against the State where Anand Ramlogan were alleged to be a part of – yet it was sent to him to investigate. The list goes on. However we see Dr Rowley seeking out those in high office who were or are determined to put state funds in their pockets such as those corrupt managers in wasa who sought to burn down wasa to hide their corrupt activities where a non corrupt manager was assassinated at his home in Diego Martin because he was standing in their way. He hasn’t try to hide any corruption on the port but has sought out those who continue to profit from wrong doing on the port – the report is out for public viewing. Look at the scandal under the ministry of sports which was headed by big mouth Anil Roberts, million of dollars were given away under the disguised of bringing sport to the poor neighborhoods. Look at Kamla’s mansion how could Kamla’s income as a parliamentary member and her husband’s income as a Doctor support the cost of such a house? Mind you Kamla was never a top lawyer nor her husband any top sorted after doctor. Mr Manning was the longest Parliamentarian in Trinidad yet he died without having a mansion to live in even though he was prime minister for three terms.
    Let’s give Dr Rowley the support he needs in trying to bring back dignity and accountability to this country.

  2. Agreed, We need Constitutional Reforms to hold Politicians accountable for mismangement of the public purse..making it a criminal offence to squander the Country Revenues…and we must have short term and long term plans for the Country..This Vaps Lotto Politics have to stop! Every 5 years it is like finding a surprise bag of goodies for the politicians, friends and families..it is disgusting!!

  3. A nation living in fear of the people they chooses and watching the country heading for socialism

  4. Objectivity seems to be needed. Not based on favouritism.

  5. we all know the solutions but we afraid

  6. And ourselves. They are a part of the society. Start looking within.

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