Better governance needed in Jamaica's administration

Better governance needed in Jamaica's administration

By Al Edwards

Friday, December 02, 2011

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Over the past year and more so in recent weeks, Jamaica's glaring paucity of adequate governance measures has become alarmingly clear. More recently, the management of the Jamaica Development Infrastructure Programme (JDIP) has come under scrutiny and been found wanting.

Initially the auditor general Pamela Monroe-Ellis's report on the US$400 million roads programme did not elicit the howls of condemnation that now surround the ill-fated project. However, when the shadow minister of transport Dr Omar Davis raised concerns in parliament, many private sector bodies called for the whole JDIP programme to be overhauled.

The JDIP fiasco
The auditor general's 12 findings in her probe put Minister of Transport and Works Mike Henry in a tough spot and meant that he would have to provide categoric answers.

According to Pamela Monroe-Ellis, JDIP was replete with unaccounted and unapproved spending and the withholding of information from the auditors. Among the transgressions were:

- The Road Maintenance Fund could not identify any work for a $23.2 million road project which the National Works  Agency had deemed as being satisfactorily completed.

- The National Works Agency used $102 million of JDIP money to refurbish its offices. This was not approved by the National Contracts Commission (NCC). In fact that contract was not put to tender.

- Not all the sub contractors' contracts from China Harbour Engineering Company (CHEC) were approved by the NCC

- An absence of adequate records.

- The NWA failed to properly monitor the JDIP project.

- The NWA contract was not put to tender, instead it was handed to CHEC.

The recent CEO of NWA, Patrick Wong, has submitted his resignation to the Minister of Transport and Works. He has made it clear that there was no impropriety on his part. Earlier this week Mike Henry resigned after many called for him to go, citing that ultimately he was responsible for JDIP and so he should do the honourable thing and fall on his sword. Well, he has done so in a dignified manner.

Henry has taken issue with some aspects of the auditor-general's report and said that had he known of the NWA's plans he would not have allowed the spending of $102 million of JDIP's money to refurbish its corporate offices. The question is, how could he have not known, and does he not bear ultimate responsibility for this almighty mess? The Chinese who loaned the government the money to carry out the biggest infrastructure programme the country has seen must be very embarrassed about these unfortunate events.
Commenting on the JDIP fiasco, Opposition spokesperson on finance, Dr Peter Phillips, said: "What is clear is that you had a runaway rogue agency operating on its own without reference to the ministry, without reference to Parliament, without reference to anybody excepting perhaps the minister, and it was doing as it pleases with money belonging ultimately to the people of Jamaica."

An opportunity for Holness
The JDIP has been characterised by fundamental breaches of governance and rules of transparency and fairness. Andrew Holness moved quickly to cauterise the wound, but could have definitively made governance the hallmark of his administration.Yes he took away the JDIP project from Mike Henry, but had he sacked him immediately it would have sent a powerful message to his cabinet that he is not a first among equals to countenance such recklessness in his government. It was the perfect opportunity to signal to the country what is in store from the Holness regime while at the same time eviscerating those likely to oppose or make trouble for him. He may well have thought that Mike Henry was too big a fish in the party to unsettle, particularly so close to a general election, and in the words of the 36th President of the United States,Lyndon Baines Johnson, "It's probably better to have him inside the tent pissing out,than outside the tent pissing in." Rather take the claws and fangs out of the tiger rendering it as threatening as a pussycat. This is the second time in three years that Henry has been stripped of a major project. Golding took away the direct responsibility for Air Jamaica from Mike Henry and gave it to Don Wehby. Henry's resignation statement was sombre and to the point. It read: " In light of the ongoing attacks on the JDIP, which continue despite the prime minister and I having acted to address the issue, as the line minister, I take full responsibility for the issues which have arisen and tendered my resignation as minister of transport and works with immediate effect."
This has the effect of not compromising Holness and so having to be seen to publicly throw Henry under the bus. Each man walks away with a modicum of respectability, a hoping that very little political fallout will hurt the electoral campaign. To his credit, Holness has moved quickly to address concerns surrounding lack of governance and rampant corruption. Speaking to supporters in Alligator Pond earlier this week during the JLP's Manchester road tour, he said: "If there are things wrong in our Government, we are not hiding it because we don't stand for corruption. You have a leader who takes firm decisions when it comes to that, and that is what the Jamaican people want; it means as your leader, that is what you will get, strong and decisive leadership. So when they ask me who is responsible, I don't tell them to go ask the PNP, I say I am responsible; I take responsibility. I deal with the matters."
Shenanigans at the FSL
The shenanigans at Fiscal Services Limited (FSL) is also a cause for concern. This state agency is responsible for the information technology systems for the revenue departments of the various ministries. Here it went ahead and hired people on fixed-term contracts without the approval of the appropriate government departments. The auditor general discovered that seven persons were hired at a cost of $33.7 million without the approval of the Ministry of Finance. She also discovered profligate spending on the part of FSL which cannot be accounted for and egregious breaches of procedure.
Lapses in governance committed by both leading political parties
Serious lapses in governance are not be confined to only the present administration. The opposition did its utmost to bring to light the unseemly details of the Dudus/Manatt affair with K.D. Knight emerging as the ' Star Boy' of the Commission of Inquiry. Both Knight and his colleagues insisted that the general public had a right to know why it was that the government was unwilling to comply with the United States extradition request for Tivoli Gardens head honcho Christopher 'Dudus' Coke. So it cannot be that now it wants to have the Trafigura matter held in camera and not before the appropriate court. It smacks of double standards and runs contrary to notions of fairness and transparency which are the bedrocks of governance.
Also, it cannot be that at a time when the world over many political leaders engage in televised debates particularly with an impending election, the Leader of the Opposition appears reluctant to come before the nation and present, explain and defend her party's policies. The debates are eagerly watched and provide an opportunity unlike any other for the electorate to judge the respective political party leaders as they face off against each other head-to-head. This should pose no problem for Portia Simpson Miller and she should be able at this stage in her political career to articulate her vision for the country.
Effective governance is essential to the administration of any country although a country like China which is growing at above 10 per cent a year may well disagree. Many would say that China would rank poorly on most scales of good governance yet its economic and financial growth over the past ten years has been incredible. So is governance that important after all?
In Jamaica where there resides little faith in political agencies and government institutions, governance is vitally important. The country has declared that it wants to hold developed-country status by 2030, that status would be difficult to attain without adhering to good governance practices. According to G.Mark Hardy of the Association of the United States Navy, governance is the process whereby persons entrusted with the future of an organisation excercise oversight. Closely related to governance is compliance - adhering to policies, rules and regulations. He believes that organisations stray into trouble when they fail to exercise their duties properly.
Adhering to the highest standards of ethical behaviour
Hardy insightfully writes and this goes right to the heart of the matter as far as Jamaica is concerned: "Compliance means more than just following the rules. It means adhering to the highest standards of ethical and honest behaviour, proper and efficient management of the organisation's resources, and maintaining accountability of leadership and workers. Thus, these two concepts - governance and compliance - are closely related. Governance provides the expectations for proper behaviour, and compliance delivers on that behaviour."
That is why it cannot be that MPs from both major political parties can be allowed to flagrantly breach the Parliamentary Integrity of Members Act by failing to provide information on their assets as requested by the Integrity Commission. MPs who fail to comply should not simply have to pay a paltry fine but should be seriously censured by their respective parties. It is hard to see such a flippant approach being allowed to exist in more developed countries and helps to paint a picture of Jamaica as nothing more than a banana republic.
"Oversight creates visibility into the workings of an organisation. With it leaders can be measured and evaluated; they are held to a task for what they must accomplish. However, lack of oversight leads to a lack of accountability. Knowing that one's actions will not be examined creates a tendency to act in ways that are easiest or most popular. The organisation suffers a death by a thousand cuts, but no one is there to question process," declared Hardy.
The Dudus affair
Last year saw then Prime Minister Bruce Golding attempting to protect Tivoli Gardens gang leader Christopher 'Dudus' Coke from extradition which led to over 70 people killed in the ensuing incursion and irreparable damage done to the country's reputation on the international scene. The incident hurt Golding's reputation and may well have contributed to his decision to stand down as prime minister of the country. The Dudus affair was a clear case of poor governance and speaks directly to what Hardy notes as: " When there is reduced or no accountability, individuals lose alignment with the organisation's goals and future. Personal priorities begin to emerge as senior to organisational priorities. Failure to meet goals and objectives, if they are even established, no longer creates pressure to improve. People do what they want to do, rather than what they must do."
Political campaign contributions
The issue of political campaign contributions has been blithely swept under the carpet in Jamaica, with no leading political figure seemingly determined to address this matter which has blighted the political process in this country for close to 50 years. It appears now more so than ever that the will to right current wrongs is woefully lacking. The leading political parties are not forthcoming on how or who finances their operations. Can this be allowed to persist in a country that has aspirations to attain developed-world status by 2030?
The Executive Chairman of GraceKennedy, Douglas Orane has repeatedly suggested that there needs to be greater transparency in the area of political party financing. He is of the view that all donations and donors should be made public and that there has to be a maximum amount beyond which no one donor could go, and a maximum that any party could spend on an election campaign These matters have been raised by resolution in Parliament since 2002, yet to date have never been seriously addressed. This upcoming election campaign will be no different as the parties go cap in hand to the private sector.
Holness or whoever heads the next government will have to turn their attention to the awarding of state contracts to corrupt entities. This practice has been allowed to go on for far too long in Jamaica and has become a mainstay of jobs for the boys by both leading political parties. How can a government that expects to be revered as the bastion of probity be openly giving construction contracts to gangsters and the jetsam and flotsam of society? As it currently stands, the Ministry of Finance has no fit and proper requirements for the awarding of state contracts. The Contractor General has long called for the establishment of a National Independent Anti-corruption Agency but his pleas have fallen on deaf ears.
Holding senior civil service positions while being politically aligned
How can heads of state agencies where impartiality is vital be clandestine political party supporters who on the first opportunity join the fray, thereby nailing their colours to the mast while at the same time holding senior civil service positions? Surely this is not a good sign for a country that seeks to join the democratic progressive developed world. Indeed this is symptomatic of every conceivable banana republic.
Again Hardy's article " The Importance of Good Governance" is instructive, particularly bearing in mind the JDIP imbroglio.
"Ultimately a sense of entitlement results in persons acting with impunity. This is the culmination of a dangerous and fatal chain of events. Persons do what they want; they seek gain for themselves or friends at the expense of the organisation. They spend freely, decoupled from any sense of financial reality or impending crisis. They court popularity with peers or subordinates rather than enforce the mission. Leadership is a gift - a privilege to serve, not to be served with privilege. Never confuse political fluency with effectiveness. True leaders do not state a goal unless they possess the vision to achieve it. True leaders never tolerate insubordination, they insist on mutual respect. True leaders generate assets, not consume them. True leaders embrace change and continuously experiment with possibilities. True leaders subordinate their ego to the mission. Effective governance creates the demand for true leadership; it is the ultimate guarantor of organisational success."
Closer to home, Professor Trevor Munroe who founded the Centre for Leadership and Governance has consistently called for greater attention to be paid to governance issues in Jamaica. Professor Munroe is recognised as one of the Caribbean's leading public scholars with vast experience in matters of democratic governance.
In the publication "Transforming Jamaican Democracy Through Transparency:A Framework for Action," Professor Munroe argues that in designing tools for increased transparency, both the present context of Jamaica's democratic institutions and the historical roots must be considered.
He theorises that with the decline of traditional means of representation and the rise of new forms of citizen participation, such as the media and civil society organisations, transparency initiatives will only succeed with the transformation and strengthening of formal institutions of authority and representation.
The Centre for Leadership and Governance surveys have consistently shown that Jamaicans have plenty of confidence in traditional institutions such as the family, schools, universities and churches as pillars undergirding Jamaican society. It is a different story, however, when it comes to the integrity of government, political parties, the police and private sector companies.


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