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No better time for job descriptions for ministers, Mr Holness

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

In his address to the remaining 14 members of his 19-member Cabinet on Sunday, Prime Minister Andrew Holness made a powerful argument, we believe, for the need to craft a job description for elected members of the Government.

Mr Holness had made that promise in the run-up to the 2016 General Election but failed to keep it, no doubt because he had such a razor-thin majority that he seemed clearly not prepared to offend anyone.

That is perhaps understandable because just one Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) Member of Parliament crossing the floor to the People's National Party (PNP) would have toppled the Government, or force him to go back to the polls.

This time round, Mr Holness has no such excuse. Indeed, he has an embarrassment of riches in the number of MPs — 48 so far — from which to draw, and hence can afford to not be hamstrung by any one who threatens to cross the floor.

But it is also in that very big number that lies the need for a job description for elected members of government, especially ministers. Many have shown over time that they were not fully cognisant of their roles in their assigned portfolios.

We found the prime minister's sober speech to his charges at King's House very instructive. It is not too often that one hears a leader of party and Government making the argument for what we interpret as the need for job descriptions at the very beginning of a new term.

Stressing that the country is at a turning point which will be determined by the character of governance, Mr Holness posited:

“We are at a tipping point, something new and good and powerful can happen in our country, by our actions, if we decide as ministers to exercise the power and authority vested in you by these instruments with the highest level of integrity, dignity and efficiency.”

He argued that based on the Jamaican system of governance, ministers are not expected to be experts in their portfolio areas, but that the public is of the view that those selected to head ministries should have significant competence in the areas of their appointment.

“The Cabinet must be returned from the people that are elected... so what then is the essence of a minister? Is it competence in a subject area or is it good judgement to administer the affairs of the public, to be able to filter good advice from bad advice, to find the right people to be advisers?

”What is the essence of the ministerial responsibility? Is it knowledge of the subject or is it integrity of the character of the person, that the discretion and power vested in the minister will always be used for the public interest and not for personal interest?” the prime minister said.

He said that while he acknowledged and understood the concerns of the public, much of those could be satisfied by deeper knowledge of the mechanics of government.

It is heartening to see the prime minister grappling with the dilemma which Government members could face. And while he did not go on to reiterate his promise to craft job descriptions, it follows logically.

As in the private sector, nothing concentrates the mind of a CEO and managers as clearly written job descriptions, which form the basis for promotion or demotion.

Go for it, Mr Prime Minister.