Digitisation 2

Writing in Forbes magazine Ann Latham argues that a good strategic framework provides focus by limiting the number of directions an organisation runs.

She said: “You’d be foolish to try to extend all your products while simultaneously expanding all your markets while also ramping up capacity or shifting your business model to include new types of production, sourcing, sales, delivery, and partnerships. This isn’t just an issue of capacity. It is also an issue of risk, learning, complexity, and credibility.”

Latham is considered the Queen of Clarity. She works with business leaders to create strategic clarity and is founder and president of the Boston area management consulting firm, Uncommon Clarity.

The need for a clear strategy and focus is crucial in business and while globally the advent of COVID-19 has left most businesses and governments in the fog of war, unfortunately T&T has been in this state for well over a decade.

You see a strategic focus is not just important for companies but also for countries, especially one like T&T, a small island developing state, in which the government’s role in the economy is so large that it has a direct impact on business and the well being of each citizen.

The last time the country has had anything close to a strategic plan was its Vision 2020 document. Yes not vision 2030, which is essentially a rehash of Vision 2020 in changed circumstances. So we have not had a strategic focus and without it, the country will limp along as it is doing now, tossed and turned by the waves of international change, hoping for another energy boom, which seems increasingly unlikely.

The country has lost at least 15 years already and the truth is from the Prime Minister’s Cabinet appointments it will be no surprise if we lose another five years.

Part of the vision 2020 document talks about diversification and finding new revenue streams. It identified key sectors and what may be done to develop those sectors. Unfortunately, as a country we were not prepared to stay the course. We were not prepared to focus our collective efforts on the diversification efforts and with energy prices at record levels we saw an opportunity to spend on projects, and spend we did.

Had we focused on diversification then we would have been in a stronger position now to deal with the fallout from the coronavirus pandemic. We would have been in a better place. So yes, we have already paid a price for choosing the easy road and not demanding of our government implementation of a plan that was put together by the best talent in T&T and which was destroyed on the alter of political expediency and tribal politics.

A lack of focus has other consequences. The latest outbreak of COVID-19 that has already more than doubled the number of citizens who have died, causing pain to each one of their families and friends; that outbreak was allegedly caused initially be the porous borders that allowed easy entry into the country of illegal immigrants. It is lack of strategic focus that is in part responsible for those deaths and the challenges we are facing now.

Both the Chief Medical Officer Dr Roshan Parasram and National Security Minister Stuart Young are on record as suggesting the source of the recent outbreak was illegal entry into the country and Ministry Young went further asking people to tell law enforcement about undocumented people being in the country.

You see the vision 2020 document spoke about the need to increase the ability of the security services to protect the borders, inclusive of significant increases in the numbers and capability of the coast guard.

Perhaps the ministry that implemented the Vision 2020 document with the greatest urgency and fervour prior to 2010 was the Ministry of National Security with the late Martin Joseph at the helm. History will be kind to Joseph who was perhaps the most consequential National Security Minister in the country’s history.

Joseph oversaw the formation of the Air Guard, he was responsible for setting up SAUTT, he reformed the way the police service was operating by having a training academy which was different in focus and scope from the training college.

He allowed the police commissioner to have the power over his men and women including being responsible for discipline and the budget and he invested heavily in modern equipment including CCTV cameras, and a 360 coastline radar system.

But after that we had a new government bent on destroying anything their predecessor built up and cancelled the OPVs, disbanded SAUTT and sold the airship. The Rowley administration went further to weaken the airguard by grounding the helicopters in a move that can only be described as penny smart and pound foolish. The inability to patrol the borders is in part due to a nun-functioning airguard and the Prime Minister and his Cabinet must take full responsibility for this recent upsurge in the COVID-19 cases which has had devastating effects.

Weeks away from the next budget and we are waiting to hear how the Minister of Finance Colm Imbert will allocate his resources.

This is going to be another difficult financial year for the country and Minister Imbert will have to tell us how he plans to steer the country forward in a time of a pandemic with relatively low economic activity and real pain in the rest of the Caribbean.

What we have not heard a word on are the recommendations of the Roadmap to Recovery committee which the Prime Minister seems to be keeping close to his chest.

The country has been led to believe that the Roadmap to Recovery committee will provide that strategic focus that I have been talking about as necessary. So far all we know is that it calls for more money to be spend on agriculture and on the need to digitise the public sector.

Part of a strategic focus requires you to take along your employees and in the case of the government, the citizens.

In other words you must have an esprit de corps. This government has never been good or seem to care about communications. They see the population as one to be led and not one to find consensus with. That part of democracy is too hard and messy for this administration. But to be sure the government will fail if it does not reach out to solve the problems and if it does not have a strategic plan. The country must demand no less. The country must demand transformational leadership from the Prime Minister and his Cabinet. We cannot afford to loose another five years hoping one or two projects will impress enough people to re-elect the PNM into government in 2025.

The country only has to look at the poor performance of the National Gas Company in its latest financial report for 2019 to see that we cannot hope for a rescue from the energy sector.

The NGC’s performance showed a $2 billion or 83 per cent decrease in after tax profits. In 2019 the NGC had to dip into its cash reserves for more than $3 billion taken out of the business and part of that was to give the government a dividend of over 600 million. This is the same government who accused the UNC of raiding the NGC’s coffers.

In addition, as day follows night, the NGC is likely to show a loss in 2020. So there will be no saviour coming.

The country has to focus, it must improve its ease of doing business, it must have a grand plan that it articulates to citizens and we must stay the course. Those who have more years ahead of them than behind them deserve no less.