ALTHOUGH losing the information portfolio, Daryl Vaz appears to be the biggest winner in Prime Minister Andrew Holness’s Cabinet changes announced this week.
Vaz was Tuesday named minister without portfolio with responsibility for telecommunications and public sector efficiency which will cut across all ministries to achieve business process re-engineering, according to Holness.
At first glance, Vaz appeared to have lost a high-profile portfolio in information, apparently because of his controversial nature. But besides keeping the glare of the news cameras on the individual, the information ministry was overrated because it was never treated as a full ministry and has always been appended to other subjects — starting from its creation for Paul Robertson who was minister of information and culture in the People’s National Party (PNP) 1989-93 administration.
The addition of public sector efficiency, however, has given Vaz a status akin to the storied minister of mobilisation, Dr Donald Keith “DK’ Duncan during the mid- to late 1970s PNP Government.
Duncan was charged by then Prime Minister Michael Manley with getting the Government to operate as one interconnected unit instead of the lumbering collection of ministries operating in splendid isolation. Its outcome was to be an efficiently run state apparatus that would reduce waste, cut red tape and render the public sector more customer and business friendly.
This was key because the PNP government had a policy of controlling the “commanding heights” of the economy.
The ministry, however, was dogged with controversy as some ministers appeared to resent what was seen as Duncan’s interference in the running of their portfolio and his apparent influence on the spending of their budget.
Moreover, in the socialist climate of the times, some were suspicious of the objective of the super ministry and the ambitions of a minister who was seen as intemperate, a far cry from the mellowed politician of today.
The Opposition Jamaica Labour Party and its leader, Edward Seaga were also highly critical of the ministry, seeing it as part of the democratic socialist philosophy and a way of manipulating government in favour of the PNP.
But people who were less tied to the political parties hailed the establishment of such a ministry as an astute move that would cause the government to deliver far more than it was doing at a time when the public sector was seen as a vast wasteland of state resources — human and financial.
In the end, the success of the ministry of mobilisation was questionable as government bureaucracy and waste remained a major issue of discontent for Jamaicans and investors, in particular.
In 1998, almost two decades later, the PNP Government commissioned GraceKennedy boss Douglas Orane to reduce waste in the public sector and thereby cut down public expenditure. A year later the administration reported that it had saved some $147 million from the implementation of the recommendations contained in the report of the Task Force to Reduce Waste in the Public Sector, commonly known as the Orane Report.
The implementation of some of the recommendations required an enormous amount of preparatory work to change systems and procedures. The rationalisation and utilisation of space and the rationalisation of allowances and overseas missions accounted for the largest portion of the savings.
Vaz will work especially closely with the Industry and Commerce Ministry, Holness said, as he is especially tasked with removing the obstacles in the way of business.
Prime Minister Holness, in his swearing-in speech Sunday, stressed the need to cut waste and free up money to be spent on improving the service offered by the public sector.
Vaz’ experience troubleshooting problems for his former boss, Bruce Golding, will serve as a rehearsal for his more direct and intense interaction with the entire government network. It’s a hard burden to shoulder.