Give us a smaller, reshuffled Cabinet for our 52nd Independence, PM
I believe that smaller government is better government. But I also believe that in the areas where government does play a legitimate role, we should demand that it is done better. — Scott Walker
PRIME Minister Portia Simpson Miller has announced that she will be opening, in time for this Independence, the Linstead to Moneague or Mount Rosser bypass leg of the Highway 2000 toll road started by former Prime Minister P J Patterson. She says it is her present to Jamaica on its 52nd anniversary of Independence. Continued efforts by successive administrations to improve our arterial road network have been commendable -- albeit at extremely high cost to the taxpayer -- since these roads are in effect rented/leased to Jamaica for between 30 and 50 years, in some instances. Motorists pay the rent in the form of tolls that are pegged to movements in the United States currency.
Our dollar has been as steady as Jello recently. Still, for those who have to afford the ever-increasing toll rates caused by runaway devaluation, we make significant savings in terms of less wear and tear on vehicles, fuel cost savings, increased safety — maybe — and more efficient use of time, which translate into dollars and cents. Not a bad trade-off, I admit.
I would like to humbly suggest to our prime minister that she might give us a second and even better gift this Independence. Madam PM, please make your cabinet smaller, and also do a reshuffle. Why? Big government, the world over, has been shown to be inefficient, as is happening in Jamaica.
What on earth are we doing with an 18-member Cabinet, 20 if you count Sandrea Falconer, minister of information, and Natalie Neita-Headley, minister for sport, who are said to be ministers without portfolio in the Office of the Prime Minister. Does "without portfolio" mean they do no work? Do they draw ministerial-level salary and benefits or not?
In a country with a debt of over two trillion dollars, and a population of under three million people, I fail to see how we can afford a de facto 20-member Cabinet in what Dr Peter Phillips says are times of great austerity.
I recognise that political patronage in this instance, meaning the ability of the PM to give ministerial appointments to those who assisted her to win state power, is important. I believe, however, that a government which is performing its primary functions of protecting citizens within its borders, providing and expanding a business- and people-friendly environment and creating continual increases in economic and social opportunities does not need a Methuselah-like structure.
This Cabinet is just too large and, moreover, most of this 18/20-member group are not rendering any significant, noticeable results in the delivery of their portfolio responsibilities. Additionally, a smaller, reshuffled cabinet would send a powerful signal to the country that the Government, in a practical way, is part and parcel of the national efforts to be more frugal in its operations. Big government, Madam Prime Minister, is not in style again.
I have said in this space already that there are only four, now five ministers of government who are producing any results that seem to be benefiting the majority of people in this country. These are: Roger Clarke, Dr Peter Phillips, Dr Omar Davies, Rev Ronald Thwaites, and Dr Fenton Ferguson, albeit that his recent "run wid it" statements have doused my confidence in him.
Roger Clarke has been achieving/inspiring double-digit increases in agriculture against challenging odds of drought and the ubiquitous taste of too many Jamaicans for imported produce — notwithstanding that we have the best pimento, ginger, coffee, banana, and I could go on, in the world. Clarke has been on the ground, or more so in the fields and in the trenches with the farmers.
The agro-park initiative from what we know thus far has been reasonably successful, and agricultural exports of a few local crops are up for the first time in many years. Of course, some of the recent successes in agriculture are springing from the work of former Agriculture Minister Dr Christopher Tufton, who brought it from the brink of disaster and some say made agriculture "sexy".
Dr Peter Phillips, despite the runaway devaluation of the local currency, has managed to somewhat keep the Jamaican ship afloat. As to how long he will be able to keep the wheels of the economy steady and away from the icebergs is another matter. Recent legislation, except for the draconian amendments to the tax-collection laws — albeit seemingly dictated by the IMF — could benefit business confidence, job creation and economic growth in the coming years. For now, though, Phillips will have to become a more adroit trapeze artist, since joblessness and no-growth recovery will not assist the Government at the next polls.
Dr Omar Davies has done a rather better job in the Ministry of Transport, Works and Housing compared to his sojourn as minister of finance and planning. Continued order in the transport sector is noticeable, and the Jamaica Urban Transit Company continues to roll, despite amassing massive debts. But, at least mechanisms are being set in place to cauterise the losses.
While the environmentalists have not forgiven him for his "two likkle lizard" comment, his usual forthrightness is part of his brand. Under his leadership, the National Works Agency has done quite a bit of work to improve infrastructure, in some rural parts especially.
Ronald Thwaites has made some imprint on the education map. He has kept the stakeholders generally in the loop — although some differ on that. And has quietly — some differ on that too — been pushing for amendments in the archaic laws that govern the operations of the education sector. His continuation of a few initiatives to improve educational outputs, namely examination passes in English and mathematics and other core subjects are commendable.
Of late, though, we have scarcely heard anything about efforts to complete the revision of the Code of Education Regulations and the proposed Jamaica Teaching Council legislations. What is going on there, Minister? Have those initiatives been put to bed or are they on the back burner until after the local and general elections to come in 2015 and 2016? There is insufficient urgency about these matters.
Dr Ferguson has managed to refurbish many rural health centres and has been doing a reasonable job of putting out numerous fires in the health sector. He has kept a usually volcanic group of health professionals working under very difficult circumstances, but increasingly it seems we are set for an eruption any time soon. He might do well to spend more time listening and attending to the rumbling sounds of the health volcano and less time taking about sustaining pork barrel politics and 'spoils' distributions.
All the other ministers are wafflers and general non-performers. The worst of these are, of course, Phillip Paulwell, Lisa Hanna, Anthony Hylton, Robert Pickersgill, and Derrick Kellier. Interestingly, I note that Kellier has been placed to oversee the Ministry of Agriculture while Roger Clarke recuperates — and I hope he does so speedily. The wisdom of giving one of the worst-performing ministers the portfolio of the best defies logic. What of promoting evidently bright and idea-orientated individuals like Fitz Jackson or Julian Robinson, albeit temporarily?
To enumerate the failures of the non-performers in the Cabinet would take more space than I am afforded in this newspaper. One thing is sure: the deadweight needs to be shed, and fast. Smaller, more efficient government is needed now!
In this respect, I make the following suggestions to the prime minister. Please reduce the size of the Cabinet to 12 and send the rest to concentrate on doing work in their constituencies. Some ministers are retained only because there is little else to choose -- testimony to our sad state of affairs. Accordingly, I suggest the following minister retentions, portfolio expansions and/or adjustments.
* Prime Minister — Portia Simpson Miller
* Minister of Finance, Planning and the Public Service — Dr Peter Phillips
* Minister of Transport, Works, and Housing — Dr Omar Davies
* Minister of Health — Dr Fenton Ferguson
* Minister of Education, Youth and Culture — Rev Ronald Thwaites
* Minister of Justice, Labour, Social Security, and Welfare — Mark Golding
* Minister of National Security — Peter Bunting
* Minister of Tourism, Entertainment and Sports — Dr Wykeham McNeill
* Minister of Mining, Investment, Energy, Technology, Science, and Commerce — Julian Robinson
* Minister of Local Government, Social Services, Water, Environment and Climate Change — Fitz Jackson
* Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries — Roger Clarke
* Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade — A J Nicholson
Jamaicans need to see a substantial tangible act of solidarity from our Government. We need to see and feel that they are part of the sacrifice that the country is being asked to bear — not only in words.
While I would not ask parliamentarians to take a pay cut — by world standards their salaries are competitive — a smaller, more efficient Cabinet surely is not an unreasonable request at this time. When the prime minister says she feels the pain, stress, and understands the hunger and hardships of the Jamaican people, she needs to demonstrate this with action. This is a glorious opportunity.
Jamaica and the Social Progress Index
Professor at Harvard Business School, Michael Porter, probably the most cited scholar in economics and business in the world today, aided by professors Scott Stern and Michael Green, recently released the ground-breaking Social Progress Index (SPI) for the second year. It makes for fascinating reading. The SPI combines several dimensions of social progress, benchmarking success, and catalysing greater human well-being. The indicators examined in the SPI include:
Basic Human Needs
1. Nutrition and Basic Medical Care
2. Air, Water and Sanitation
4. Personal Safety
Foundations of Well-being
1. Access to Basic Knowledge
2. Access to Information and Communications
3. Health and Wellness
4. Ecosystem Sustainability
1. Personal Rights
2. Personal Freedom and Choice
3. Equity, Tolerance and Inclusion
4. Access to Advanced Education
The 2014 report notes that Jamaica is ahead of the United States with respect to Access to Information and Communication. Jamaica is ranked 22 and the USA 23. Iceland and Norway are ranked first and second, respectively. Jamaica also ranked higher than the USA with respect to mobile telephone subscription, placing 82 and the USA 83. Saudi Arabia and Kazakhstan are first and second. Jamaica is ranked 43 of 132 countries in the survey.
My philosophy is not a bean-counting accounting 'look at this'. It is a philosophy that smaller government is better government, and government that is closer to the people is best of all. — John Bolton
Garfield Higgins is an educator and journalist. Comments to firstname.lastname@example.org