Columns

First, the good news...

Jean LOWRIE-CHIN

Monday, January 13, 2014    

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First, the good news. Shaggy & Friends, supported by corporate Jamaica, showed that if we gather top talent, if we have a convincing message, and if we are well-organised we can galvanise wide support for a good cause. We saw it happen at that benefit on January 4 on the grounds of Jamaica House. Advertised to begin at 8:00 pm, we heard the opening words of the first emcee at exactly 8:00 pm. I was so surprised that I almost checked the GPS on my smartphone to make sure that we were in Jamaica -- this was certainly not "Jamaica Time".

Just a few weeks before the Shaggy & Friends event, Orville "Shaggy" Burrell was honoured for his support of Food for the Poor projects; his lovely partner Rebecca Packer was on hand to receive the award. In a conversation with Shaggy and Rebecca at the homecoming for beloved Tessanne, I learned the extent of the generosity of this inspiring philanthropist. He was saying how much he admired Food for the Poor and I explained that the charitable entity retained only five per cent of donations for administration. He remarked to Rebecca: "You know, maybe we could do that to keep it going all year." It was then I realised that every single cent earned by Shaggy and his generous friends from the concerts over the years had been turned over to the Bustamante Hospital for Children.

Rebecca Tulloch related to me that it was the advanced equipment donated by Shaggy & Friends' efforts that saved the life of her baby nephew: "After the baby was discharged from Bustamante Hospital, I saw Shaggy at an event, and went up to him to thank him. I told him that it was because of the machine he donated that my nephew had survived."

"I saw that tears came to his eyes and he brushed them away quickly, because as his song says, 'big man don't cry'," she said with a smile. Rebecca happens to be the niece of Graham Russell, from the famous Australian pop duo Air Supply -- now that would be a great hook-up for next year's Shaggy & Friends concert!

Do you see what I see?

As I saw the government officials having a good time at the Shaggy event, the words of that Christmas carol kept ringing in my head: "Do you see what I see? Do you hear what I hear?" The concert was such a metaphor for what Jamaica needs: talent, patriotic fire, and professional implementation.

It took me back to the three years I spent as a member of the oversight Consultative Monitoring Group (CMG), led by that champion for Jamaica Peter Moses, reviewing the excellent work of the Public Sector Transformation Unit (PSTU) at the Office of the Prime Minister. The dynamic PSTU head, Patricia Sinclair-McCalla, and her team researched efficient public sector models in fellow Commonwealth countries and engaged dedicated permanent secretaries in consultations. The CMG -- all volunteers -- spent many hours listening, reading and deliberating after which a final set of recommendations was submitted to Cabinet in December 2012. Having fulfilled our mandate, the CMG resigned en bloc.

Peter Moses commented: "Reflecting on the experience of being the chairman of the CMG, I first was extremely impressed by the professional and effective work ethic of the PSTU, driven of course by the energy and experience of Mrs Patricia Sinclair-McCalla. Throughout the exercise it became clear that the anticipated resistance to change was not forthcoming from within the core of the public sector, but that in fact there was recognition that changes needed to take place to improve the efficiency of the sector and that these stakeholders wanted to be a part of the exercise."

He continued: "Once the initiative was seen as not merely a job-cutting exercise, but more as a review of existing systems and structures to create savings from an improved structure and efficiencies, then the engagement was extremely productive. We never denied that there would be a reduction in the overall number of jobs, but that this would be driven by a process and in a transparent manner. Against this background, ownership was then shared and the only disconnect that sometimes surfaced was at the ministerial level, where staff and minister were not yet on the same page."

He said there was concern about the lag in implementation, but noted: "Some optimism, in this regard, surfaced recently with the announcement that a new oversight team will be selected to focus primarily on implementation."

This implementation cannot come too soon. One of the Commonwealth countries visited by Mrs Sinclair-McCalla and her team, in 2012, was Singapore, internationally known for public sector best practices. In a press briefing reported by Elaine Reckord of the Jamaica Information Service last year, Mrs Sinclair-McCalla said: "One of the lessons we have learnt, and which we would like to apply here, is the shared corporate services, labelled shared services in Singapore. In Jamaica, ministries and agencies have individual back-office operations (administrative functions), such as human resource, finance, legal services, ICT, asset management, procurement, legal services, communications, and internal audit. This modality would consolidate those administrative functions into a management entity that provides service to a cluster of ministries."

Rampant indiscipline and criminality

The Government should know that some of the most steadfast, patriotic Jamaicans are losing patience with the productivity-defying pace of their bureaucratic processes. This, coupled with increasing anxiety over the rampant indiscipline and criminality in the country, is not good for the foreign direct investment that we are said to be courting.

Flow's Marketing Director Donovan White explained to Nationwide's Cliff Hughes that the recent vandalism of Digicel and Columbus (Flow) fibre-optic cables is one of a series of acts which some link to the scrap metal trade. Is it time to suspend and review this exercise again?

Hero driver Dennis Butler

If Jamaica looks like it is a burning tanker on the verge of exploding, clearly we need someone like driver Dennis Butler at the wheel. Last Thursday, in an amazing act of bravery, the tanker driver for the Total petroleum company, on realising that his extinguisher was no match for the spreading flames, jumped back into his burning truck and drove it to a safe area before exiting. Seconds later, the truck exploded on Mona Road, echoing as far as the UWI campus.

Dennis Butler's heroic act saved many lives. Many more are waiting to be saved by our leaders. Please take the risks -- media is here to watch your backs.

lowriechin@aim.com

www.lowrie-chin.blogspot.com

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