Cabinet's report cardFriday, November 26, 2021
According to the Concise Oxford English Dictionary, the Cabinet is a committee of senior ministers responsible for controlling government policy. It is chaired by the prime minister who is regarded as the “first among equals” (primus inter pares) and comprises ministerial heads of departments which may also include state ministers and ministers without portfolio.
It is to be noted that a minister without portfolio, while having the rank of Cabinet minister is not usually assigned to oversee a particular government department or other permanent areas of responsibility. Meanwhile, the state minister is designated as a junior minister and is assigned to work with a specific Cabinet minister.
It is my considered opinion that because of a persistent political culture based on the distribution of spoils and scarce benefits, Jamaica's Cabinet continues to be top-heavy – peopled by an excessive number of individuals, some of whom are only there because the respective prime minister have to reward loyalty and seniority and, quite frankly, provide jobs for the boys – and girls.
At present there are 15 ministers in addition to the prime minister, complemented by three ministers without portfolio and eight state ministers.
This weekend the ruling Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) will be staging its annual conference, so it is perhaps most timely and worth the while to provide test scores for these elected officials who have the privilege and, sometimes, burden of administering the affairs of this problem-plagued country.
My assessment will focus solely on senior ministers, starting with the man in the hot seat, Prime Minister Andrew Michael Holness, who not only chairs the Cabinet but oversees the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM).
The mission statement of the OPM is: “To provide visionary leadership in developing, coordinating, managing, and implementing policies, programmes, and projects that meet the needs of all our stakeholders. Through advances in communication and management technology, continuous retooling and a highly skilled and motivated staff, we will consistently meet the expectations of our stakeholders while maintaining good governance and financial prudence.”
In my humble estimation, the stakeholders are the people of Jamaica. Have most of the stakeholders' expectations been met? Interestingly, the OPM's vision statement reads: “The leader in advancing government policies and programmes that contribute to the well-being of all Jamaicans.” This is underpinned by the core values of “excellence, accountability, collaboration, integrity, professionalism, transparency, respect”. Really, Prime Minister?
A dispassionate and careful analysis of the aforementioned in terms of the stated objectives can only elicit a C+ rating at this time.
It is important to note that the OPM comprises the Constituency Development Fund (CDF); Culture, Health, Arts, Sports and Education Fund (CHASE), Electoral Commission of Jamaica (ECJ), The Human Employment and Resource Training /National Service Training Agency Trust (HEART/NSTA Trust); Jamaica Defence Force (JDF), Jamaica Information Service (JIS); Jamaica Social Investment Fund (JSIF); JISCO-Gansu International Industrial Park and Special Economic Zone Project; National Housing Trust (NHT); National Identification System (NIDS); Public Broadcasting Corporation of Jamaica (PBCJ); Registrar General's Department and Island Records Office; Social Partnership; State Protocol; and Vernamfield Aerotropolis Development Project. Talk about top-heavy!
With all of these responsibilities under his belt, further compounded by the addition of the Ministry of Economic Growth and Job Creation, a somewhat superfluous portfolio, the prime minister must be having some sleepless nights. Nevertheless, he continues to exude a fairly good command of his job and responsibilities and appears to be a hard worker, so I am prepared to give him an overall rating of B+.
As for his peers in the Cabinet, here goes:
•Audley Shaw, minister of industry, investment and commerce, C+. Now obviously approaching the twilight of his political career, Minister Shaw appears to be marking time. Adding to his woes is the tacking on of the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries after the unfortunate resignation of Floyd Green – a not-so-right move by the Holness as that ministry needs, now more than ever, a full-time minister.
•Dr Christopher Tufton, minister of health and wellness, B. The consummate marketer, he has managed to deftly sugarcoat just about every problem plaguing the health sector, but he is very hands-on and very committed to his task.
•Daryl Vaz, minister of science, energy and technology, C. Much more is expected from this go-getter who had attracted the nickname Mr Fix-It. Well, there is much to be fixed in his area, but so far it has been a lacklustre performance.
•Delroy Chuck, minister of justice, B. Apart from his sometimes jocose and intemperate stance on some matters, he has brought much to the table.
•Desmond McKenzie, minister of local government and rural development, C. Do we really need a Ministry of Local Government and what really is happening in the area of rural development? This portfolio needs some serious revamping and the outspoken minister should lead the charge.
•Edmund Bartlett, minister of tourism, A. Mr Tourism. Enough said!
*Fayval Williams, minister of education, youth and information, C+. Somewhat out of her depth and has been “given basket to carry water”. Such a talented and amenable politician who deserves to be placed in a ministry that best suits her talents.
•Dr Horace Chang, minister of national security, C+. It has been said that the road to hell is paved with good intentions.
•Karl Samuda, minister of labour and social security, C. He has served his country well and should be given a golden handshake so as to make way for an energetic and more hands-on manager.
•Dr Nigel Clarke, minister of finance, A. He is getting the job done without much fanfare and braggadocio, although the devaluation of the dollar is an albatross around his neck.
•Olivia “Babsy” Grange, minister of culture, gender, entertainment and sport, A. Can she do anything wrong? More work needs to be done in the area of the creative industries and rural sports development, though, Minister.
•Pearnel Charles Jr, minister of housing, urban renewal, environment and climate change, C+. Has he been set up to fail? Too much on his plate, but he is hanging in there with much gusto.
•Robert Montague, minister of transport and mining, D. The proverb, “Bad luck worse than obeah,” seems to apply.
The current Cabinet lacks synergy and a unified sense of purpose. Against this background, it is perhaps more than advisable that Prime Minister Holness shuffles his Cabinet as one of his new year's gifts to the nation, which may be a plus for his campaign going into the upcoming local government elections.
Lloyd B Smith has been involved in Jamaican media for the past 45 years. He has also served as a Member of Parliament and Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives. He hails from western Jamaica, where he is popularly known as the Governor. Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or firstname.lastname@example.org.