Gov't speeds up rationalisation of public bodies

Senior staff reporter

Thursday, April 12, 2018

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The Government is about to speed up the rationalisation of its public bodies over the next four-six weeks, says new Minister of Finance and the Public Service Dr Nigel Clarke.

Dr Clarke said that, during the review period, the Government will be concluding the necessary consultations with stakeholders, including trade unions and stockholders.

He added that the new timetable will consider all of the opportunities that are present with respect to: divestment of public companies that have a commercial focus which is not necessarily a key function of the Government; merging the public sector entities where they perform similar functions; and the reintegration of public bodies into parent ministries where they no longer require the status of a public entity in a body corporate form to carry out their mandates.

“We intend to start consultations with our partners in the trade union movement immediately, and once what we come up with is approved by Cabinet, we are going to get these out and put the necessary resources behind the effort,” he said.

He said that the Government intends to, eventually, integrate the timetable within the formal agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF). He noted, however, that the Government does not intend to await the next six-monthly review of the current Stand-by Agreement with the Fund.

“We cannot wait that long. Consistent with the approach that is required in a past IMF era, we are going to do what needs to be done to secure our economic independence, without prodding from anyone,” he stated.

Clarke was making his first public address since his recent appointment as Minister of Finance and the Public Service, at yesterday's forum on “Enabling Growth and Development: Unlocking the Potential of the Global Shared Services Sector”, which was staged by the Planning Institute of Jamaica in collaboration with the Inter-American Development Bank at the Terra Nova Hotel in Kingston.

According to Clarke, Jamaica has found itself with a very large number of public bodies, approximately 190.

“The complexity this introduces is simply unmanageable for a country of our size and resources,” he said.

“Let us be honest with ourselves; the sheer number of 190 compromises the ability for effective parliamentary oversight, reflection and review that are required for good governance. Further more, to the extent that with thought and creativity, we could do with fewer public bodies. It means that we are absorbing resources in time and money that could be deployed elsewhere, making our economy more vibrant and more efficient,” he added.

He pointed out that with an economy “20 times that of Jamaica”, Singapore had only 64 public bodies, including statutory boards.

Former finance minister, Audley Shaw had announced the Government's intention to embark on a comprehensive rationalisation of public bodies in March 2017. However, the process had been moving very slowly since then.

Shaw said then that it would involve “a series of phased and sequenced actions over the next couple of fiscal years, whereby public bodies will — based on time-bound action plans — be merged, closed, privatised or reintegrated into the public sector”.

He noted that the move to redirect funds of select entities into the Consolidated Fund, as opposed to keeping separate accounts in commercial banks was an initial step in this phase of the reform. Entities affected by this move are: the Culture, Health, Arts, Sports, and Education (CHASE) Fund, Jamaica Civil Aviation Authority and the Tourism Enhancement Fund.

However, Clarke confirmed that the Government has only divested two entities since — the Kingston Container Terminal and the Caymanas Track Ltd. Four entities — the Heart Trust, the Jamaica for Lifelong Learning, the National Youth Service and the Apprenticeship Board, as well as the Child Development Agency and the Office of the Children's Registry — have been merged.

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