All 'a-board': let's not miss this train!Sunday, December 05, 2021
Recently I came across a tweet from a Trinidadian economist outlining the recent downgrade of Trinidad & Tobago's credit rating by Moody's and thought to myself that Jamaica could have easily been in that position given the unprecedented financial toll that this pandemic has taken on our resources.
I would often be late for Sunday school, but memory verses would stick with me on a weekly basis to at least ensure I could reassure Mrs Smith that I learned something.
Romans 8:28 states that “all things work together for good to them that love God”. Many would remember that in 2018 I contemplated furthering my political career when my father and then Member of Parliament Derrick Smith announced his retirement. Having worked alongside him as councillor for the Chancery Hall Division for years, this was not an attempt to inherit the seat but rather a progression of a career path I had chosen to be mentored in and served in for years prior.
Unbeknownst to me, others shared my desire to represent the people of St Andrew North West and sought to be the successor as the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) representative in the constituency. A quick history lesson would reveal to most the work that Derrick Smith had done in that constituency for the JLP. Therefore, my decision to step back and throw my support behind the candidacy of Nigel Clarke was not easily conceived. Personal ambitions were sacrificed for what I personally believed to be national gains.
For years, the remuneration and perception of politicians has robbed Jamaica of having some of our brightest, sharpest and youngest talents entering the political arena. Hearing that Nigel Clarke had an interest and having followed his work as a senator, and Ambassador Plenipotentiary I could easily see how having a scholar such as Nigel in Cabinet would be an asset to Jamaica. Many lauded the decision at the time as selfless, but in all honesty, it was perhaps the most selfish thing I have ever done. I did it for me.
I have long believed in a Jamaica where we raise the political discourse and standards and to think that we can now start to attract business leaders to the public service was hope that I could not resist for a system that I wanted to be a part of. As if his resume was not enough, he was able to attract other local leaders, including the current Bank of Jamaica governor, to the public service and I immediately knew that we had a shared vision for Jamaica which had transparency, accountability and economic independence as it's foundation.
Despite being my MP, our discussions on these topics have been few and far spread, clouded by the demands of our constituents. I do recall his stance on public bodies and his passionate presentations on public bodies in the Parliament. Months after taking office, in June 2018 Clarke announced radical reform for public bodies that would be unconventional to Jamaican politics on both sides. The aim was to depoliticise public bodies by implementing measures to increase transparency and accountability. This included, among other things, ensuring that a third of the boards appointed by a previous minister be carried over to a new board.
Transparency, diversity and continuity were words used by the minister to describe the future of public boards. Cabinet has since then approved policy guidelines and regulations were passed by the Parliament for the governance and appointment of the over 190 public boards. I'm no mathematician, but with 15 persons; and sometimes more; on 190 boards we are looking at close to 3,000 people. Based on what currently obtains, these names are usually contacts of the political parties and ministers for the greater portion and often results on persons serving on multiple boards. Whilst there is no issue with this on my part, we must put measures in place to ensure that this system has the appropriate checks and balances to ensure that the interests of Jamaicans are protected.
The train towards greater accountability and transparency for public boards has been parked for far too long. The prime minister cannot keep booting passengers and checking tickets from the fore. While he has taken greater responsibility and demonstrated much-needed leadership when called upon, these actions should become the exception and not the norm. Rather, we need a system where the board holds itself accountable and the public is given access and insight into the process and activities of such board appointments.
The conduct of the conductors has left many standing without a seat and I must say the minister clearly has a plan to get this train back on track and I am calling for support for his road map to not only be adopted but to be quickly implemented. I did not step back to be stepped on. I stepped back because I believed in the vision for a Jamaica that can serve all Jamaicans. On December 10, 2019, the Parliament approved regulations for the nomination and appointment of boards of public bodies. This is good but we have a small issue. Most if not all public bodies are already appointed.
Given stewardship of close to $400 billion annually amongst all public boards, I see no reason for this implementation to be stagnant any further. Newly-appointed Agriculture Minister Audley Shaw recently asked members of all boards to hand in their resignation in an effort to allow him to appoint his choices freely. But I would encourage the minister and his colleagues to take it a step further and be guided by the efforts of Dr Clarke in moving forward. From all indications he has proven to be a gem in the public service; an envy of the region and I believe in this regard he is no different. Our growth and recovery continue to impress the world and we cannot afford for these efforts to be derailed. No, we must stay the course.
The days of sweetheart deals must come to an end and the grandstanding in public but joyriding in the bleachers must also end. The call then must not be who did what first but how do we ensure we put measures in place to mitigate against it in the future.
I have seen the Opposition leader's call for action, and I endorse it but let's start at home. Cleaning house may be foreign to those who have had helpers in their employ since birth; but everybody knows the look and feel and smell of dirt. On both sides.
While the prime minister can be called upon to do more, the leader of the Opposition has yet to do anything regarding the malfeasance of his party, starting with his days as People's National Party treasurer and the OCG (now the Integrity Commission) report on their conduct and abuse of public resources.
Duane C E Smith, MBA, JP, is councillor for the Chancery Hall Division (St Andrew North Western) in the Kingston & St Andrew Municipal Corporation.