Cronyism hard to defeat but controllable

Wednesday, April 02, 2014    

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We return today to an issue we started on Sunday, the busines of cronyism, which is a debilitating problem in the Caribbean region, including Jamaica.

Cronies are special people who have made their careers by carefully planned and cultivated relationships with people in positions to help them. They provide their sponsors with unquestioning loyalty and reliable availability. In some cases, they do have some skills and so will not embarrass their mentor.

Cronyism is pandemic in the public sector but is much less so in the private sector. However, private sector cronyism exists and is crucial to businesses in economic difficulty. While the leaders of big business do not allow cronies to attach themselves to their companies, they buy protection, consideration and access by contributing money to the two political parties. They assiduously cultivate politicians with favours, none of which could be classified as a bribe.

There are a group of professional cronies who oscillate between feeding off the state when their political party is in power and in turn helping to maintain the sponsor when their political party is in opposition. When the party is in power, the sponsor allows the "income-generating crony" to maximise economic gain and the "wealth-generating crony" to optimise contracts.

When in opposition, income-seeking cronies assist their sponsors by running errands, purveying information and discreetly carrying out political tasks. While the sponsor is out of political office, wealth-generating cronies have to provide financial support and material support, such as the use of motor vehicles, office space and the like.

This game of political cronyism operates all over the world. In Jamaica it is no better or worse than anywhere else. The question is, what can be done about it?

One important step is to establish rigorous transparency in the selection of persons to be appointed by politicians by first, creating job descriptions for every post; second, setting up transparent application and selection processes for all posts; and third, establishing some institutional oversight mechanism along the lines of the Public Service Commission.

For example, we were pleased in 2008 when the decision was taken to select the current director of public prosecutions, Ms Paula Llewellyn, through this process, instead of the traditional practice of the prime minister recommending an individual.

Cronies who cannot be full-time and who get the minor reward of being put on boards of directors should be subject to screening to ensure they have some knowledge of the subject area of the organisation and they should be given a course on what are the duties of a board director.

The steps we have recommended could immeasurably improve the performance of the public sector and send a signal that selection for jobs in the sector is based on merit.

Of course, these measures, will not relieve the country of the hardcore serial cronies who make a life-long practice of feeding off the State. Indeed, old cronies never retire, they just get recycled because they either need the money or they love their proximity to power.





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