Editorial

USF saga demonstrates need for new public boards rules

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

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The imbroglio engulfing the Ministry of Energy and its agencies is a clear indication of the way in which partisan politics can damage people and institutions in this country.

It also signals the dire need for the new rules recently outlined by Finance Minister Dr Nigel Clarke to guide nominations, selections and appointments to public boards.

As we have stated before, the boards of public bodies will, for a number of obvious reasons, remain critical to the island's governance structure.

We maintain that these boards provide to the country, almost for free, people with the necessary expertise, often in highly technical matters.

As such, some of these individuals — especially those who are not politically blinkered — get an opportunity to contribute to the country's development.

We had reason to reflect on this after the Universal Service Fund (USF) last week issued a denial that its former chief executive officer, Dr Hugh Cross, was cashiered without cause in 2016.

The USF was forced to go public with Dr Cross's matter after it was suggested during a meeting of Parliament's Public Administration and Appropriations Committee that Dr Cross was among a number of senior Government employees who were fired without cause after the Government changed in 2016.

Dr Cross challenged his separation from the USF but, according to the agency, abandoned that action after it emerged that he had signed a new contract with a start date before the expiration of the old contract.

This discrepancy, the USF said, gave the board, which was appointed after the change of Administration in 2016, reason to probe the circumstances surrounding the issue.

Based on the information released by the USF, Dr Cross's new contract was also signed by Bishop Wellesley Blair who, at the time, was no longer chairman of the USF board.

The agency said also that “nothing in the minutes of the old USF board suggested that Dr Cross's contract was to be renewed”. This, the agency explained, was likely because, on February 4, 2016, four days after the announcement of the general election date, the finance ministry issued a circular advising public boards that no new appointments to executive positions should be made until after a new board was appointed.

If the information provided by the USF is true, then Dr Cross, and indeed Bishop Blair need to respond.

In fact, an explanation is even more necessary from the bishop, given that he is the chairman of the Opposition People's National Party's Integrity Commission, a fact that his detractors could use against him.

Bishop Blair, we suspect, may have a very good explanation that could prevent any adverse speculation. However, he needs to speak.

That aside, we again voice support for the new rules outlined by Minister Clarke, especially as they require, after a change of Government, retention of at least a third of the previous board directors to ensure continuity in governance.

The country should not allow partisan politics to prevent Jamaicans with talent from serving.

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