I was early to join armchair critiques of the 22-man committee to develop a roadmap to recovery from covid19.
To be fair, the team includes three women, one a Cabinet minister the Prime Minister described as there “to do some accounting/secretarial work.” “Keith from a different age and cave,” one of my men’s group colleagues remarked, in the middle of arguing who was at the table didn’t matter materially.
Forget mission or method: the taskforce’s composition itself loudly begged the question of who Government sees as valuable to the recovery exercise, many critics noting, despite its unwieldy size, significant gaps in representation of critical sectors and actors.
One member the PM singled out as representing “the public interest” is among a handful of non-profit leaders who’d visibly raised issues about the epidemic’s social impacts. A small-business chamber executive and ally of the Emancipation Support Committee, he’s become more famous for his advocacy that institutional policies are biased against men, and for followers without his political skills who lead with rankly misogynist and homophobic views.
But look how Keith could out Trump even Trump, I was reminded, persistently in awe of Dr Rowley’s brilliant shortcomings as a leader. But why not make more, similarly unorthodox appointments?
The committee reflects the limits of this Government’s vision of what both recovery and participatory governance entail. More importantly, it hinges on an old, familiar fail – as recently as the start of this five-year administration – blue-ribbon panels who produce bold analysis and recommendations for Government to shelve or wriggle out of.
All that’s been said.
What perhaps hasn’t is that Government doesn’t need a panel to forge a roadmap to recovery. Worldwide, the covid19 disaster has given politicians new opportunities for leadership and – especially in states like ours with deep citizen insecurity – has fuelled an eager embrace of authoritarian management, positioning those using courts or other avenues to safeguard human rights during the epidemic as unpatriotic, and rendering opposition politicians laughing stocks. As political leader, Rowley already has more capital in the current moment than he’s ever had to forge transformative measures he may have long lacked the courage to.
Also true is that powerful, effective ideas often don’t survive committee processes unless special attention is paid to creating an enabling environment for collaborative solution-building.
Afra Raymond’s is one voice reminding us, further, that incapacity to implement solutions – not to imagine them – is our foremost problem. How many dusty roadmaps are buried in Cabinet’s drawers?
What our hasty, imperfect roadmap process signals, troublingly, is a persistent narrowness in this political establishment’s vision for making planning participatory, as we move into the post-coronavirus era. How long will we continue to rely on this “consultation” model that allows proposals to be buried and ignored, cherrypicks who gets a voice, and involves at best inefficient machinery for nurturing visionary ideas? So far at least, Covid19 hasn’t leveraged the transformational opportunity to build a new framework for participatory governance.
Disruptive ideas also aren’t welcome. The PM’s inaugural address made clear things Government doesn’t want to listen to at all: “any suggestions that we should increase existing welfare [or]...contributory pensions.” His horizon for recovery is blinkered to “rebuilding our productive sector, creating employment, boosting productivity, manufacturing, trade and the services sector, improving revenue collection and reducing unsustainable expenditure.”
Fascinating in his remarks, however, is the following: “Conceptually, civil society can provide an effective conduit for the implementation of many Government-funded social programmes. Non-Governmental organisations can enhance the Government’s execution capability and support the objective of keeping the country afloat in the recovery period. The readiness and health of this sector to be deployed must be evaluated.”
This reflects somewhat reductive thinking that social services are the bailiwick of non-profits, not social justice advocacy and state accountability, or the kinds of innovation we often give lip service to when boosting our “creative industries.” It’s a kind of magical thinking about infrastructure it actually takes for non-profits to deliver quality services. And unawareness about how fundamentally unfriendly and uncoordinated existing state policy is towards the charitable giving that’s the lifeblood of these groups – how non-profits pay several taxes, any surplus they roll over from one year to another is subject to taxation, and tax breaks to donors are significantly limited and require several hoops. I keep arguing one of the cheapest things Government can give citizens in times of hardship is greater guarantees of human rights protection. Making the Equal Opportunity Commission & Tribunal a national human rights institution, or expanding their remit to health conditions, age and LGBTI status, as the current Add All 3 campaign urges, is one measure recovery could include.
Another is state investment in shared machinery that improves the execution capability and health of our non-profit sector. The Inter-American Development Bank, Cropper Foundation and what remains of the 2014 Civil Society Board have all been working on this. None sit on the roadmap panel. But member Gregory McGuire, to broaden participation, invites anyone without a seat to email him one-pagers at Ignitett2020@gmail.com.