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Cabinet changes coming

BY ALPHEA SAUNDERS
Senior staff reporter
saundersa@jamaicaobserver.com

Thursday, August 16, 2018

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PRIME Minister Andrew Holness admitted yesterday that since the resignation of science and technology minister Dr Andrew Wheatley he has considered changes in his Cabinet with the appointment of a new minister to take over the portfolios of the former minister.

“I wouldn't term it as that (a reshuffle), but there will be some moving around…some realignment. There will be some changes obviously, and I have already started consultations on that just to ensure that, in making those changes, in correcting one problem I don't create another problem. The public is entitled to be anxious about this, (but) I am only going to move at what is the pace of what is right,” he stated at his quarterly media briefing held at Jamaica House at which he fielded questions on several issues of national interest.

Wheatley, before resigning on July 30 as minister of science and technology, was earlier stripped of the energy portfolio in the wake of a corruption scandal which rocked the State oil refinery, Petrojam. The Office of the Prime Minister first assumed the energy portfolio and then those of science and technology when the minister walked away after sustained calls from the Opposition People's National Party for Holness to sack him from the Cabinet.

Senior management staff at Petrojam also resigned in the wake of the scandal at the oil refinery.

Holness said there have been ongoing back-to-back meetings since last week with all boards under the science and technology portfolio. He explained that the boards, many of which had their term of office extended, must now be properly empanelled before a minister is appointed, and that it is during this process that the minister will be appointed.

He said the boards are generally properly empanelled with functioning chairmen, governance training, regular meetings, and with proper mandates but, like all other ministries there has been various levels of disconnect. “A lot of the slowing down of Government starts at the policy level, where there is conflict between what the civil service administration understands to be policy and the direction coming from the minister…I am seeing some of that,” Holness told journalists yesterday.

He said that some of the policy decisions taken have not been actioned and would now be implemented. “I am going to take some time to go through [and] give the policy directions where necessary,” he said.

Meanwhile, the prime minister said he agreed with public opinion that he should be mindful of an overburdening of his office with too many ministerial responsibilities, but that ultimately the buck stops with him as head of the Government.

“I wish to assure that I am putting in place the necessary solutions to ensure that I can very early divest myself of some of the responsibilities that I have taken on. In a sense some of these things are inescapable when you're the prime minister, because you are ultimately responsible. So you have to have the capacity to take on some of these issues but recognise that you're not superhuman,” he told journalists.

Holness indicated that for now he will be keeping the energy portfolio because of its critical nature to the national development. “There are so many issues in that portfolio that require the attention of the prime minister to get them resolved. But they are not issues that require day-to-day detailed management. They are really very high-level policy issues that need to be resolved,” he outlined.

The prime minister stressed that there are a number of high-level decision that he wants to see through, such as the commissioned review of Petrojam, and the divestment of Wigton Windfarm Limited, the State-run wind energy facility. “The energy portfolio has good administration from the civil service point of view, and as soon as the (Petrojam) commission delivers its report and the divestment agenda is clear, then I don't need to have that under my supervision anymore,” he said.

He stressed that he has taken care not to take high-level policy decisions unilaterally, and has gone the route of constituting commissions, such as those set up to review Jamaica's position in the Caribbean Community, and most recently, the Petrojam review committee.

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