Overburdened OPM

Thursday, March 21, 2019

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Prime Minister Andrew Holness has defended his decision to take temporary control of the Ministry of Education, Youth and Information, following the firing of minister Ruel Reid yesterday.

Holness told the House of Representatives that he will hold the ministry for no more than “a month or two” while he determines its state of affairs.

“My first step is to ask the permanent secretary to give me a full report of the functioning of the ministry. That instruction has has already been issued. I have assigned, earlier today, Minister (Karl) Samuda to go over to the Ministry of Education and to assist,” Holness said yesterday before cross-talk in the House caused him not to complete the statement.

But Holness was clear that Samuda would not be taking temporary leadership of the ministry as he said it is the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) that will conduct the review.

Holness further told the House that the education ministry has a strong public administration culture so he does not expect its operation, including the implementation of the Primary Exit Profile, to be impacted by the change in its leadership.

The prime minister's response came hours after a media briefing yesterday at which the Opposition People's National Party (PNP) chided Holness for his decision to assume the leadership of the ministry .

“We strenuously object to the transfer of the Ministry of Education to OPM,” Opposition Leader and PNP President Dr Peter Phillips told a hastily called media briefing.

“First of all, the Ministry of Education is of central importance to Jamaica's children. It is of central importance to any development effort in any country. You can't side steer the Ministry of Education, it needs somebody with their hands on the wheels and those hands must be exclusively dedicated to the ministry,” added Phillips.

He also pointed to the recent experience of the prime minister taking charge of the Ministry of Energy and charged that this was not a positive one.

Phillips noted that the “infamous non-disclosure agreement”, involving the former human resources manager at Petrojam, was done while Holness was in charge of the energy portfolio, and argued that the PM either took his eyes of the ball, or was involved in a cover-up.

“It is also the case that the (energy) ministry, under his watch, was not fulsome in the provision of the information requested by the parliamentary committees,” charged Phillips.

The opposition leader argued that it was only when the Petrojam matter came to a head, and it was evident that maladministration had taken root, that Holness appointed a full-time minister.

“We don't need OPM to act as a cover-up and also we are concerned because one of the agencies that we believe to be involved, HEART Trust, was transferred... from the Ministry of Education to OPM earlier and the prime minister cannot be a judge in his own matter,” declared Phillips.

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