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The politics of naming public monuments and appointing consultants

Raulston
Nembhard

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

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The St Catherine Municipal Corporation has passed a resolution asking for part of the north-south highway to be named in the honour of former Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller. The Government had earlier announced it would name the entire highway in honour of former Prime Minister Edward Seaga, because of his contribution to the development of downtown Kingston and the development of the tourism product on the north coast. The two resolutions betray, in no uncertain terms, the detritus of tribal partisan politics in Jamaica.

I cannot recall a Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) Government naming an important national monument in the honour of a People's National Party (PNP) operative. Neither can I recall a PNP Government doing so for a JLP operative. If I am wrong in this assessment I would be happy to be so corrected. What is without dispute is that very seldom is a prominent monument named for any other citizen who is not a politician. There is hardly an important roadway that has not been named after a politician. The AGR Byfield Highway, Winston Jones Highway, Bustamante Highway, and a few others are just some that have been so named.

One has not seen a T P Lecky Highway, despite the signal contribution of this gentleman to Jamaican animal husbandry. Neither have we seen one named in honour of reggae icon Bob Marley or cultural icon Rex Nettleford. It is likely that less prominent monuments may be so named or a side street committed to the memory of such individuals, but the prized monuments are the preserve of the politicians and it is very questionable that this should be so given their poor governance of the country since Independence.

This is not to say that people are not deserving of the honour bestowed upon them, but why the preponderance of naming things for politicians? Are they so different from the rest of us that they should be so honoured and more deserving people overlooked? The plain truth is that this happens because politicians themselves are the ones who preside over these matters. They will continue to honour their own until they are prevented from doing so by an electorate that has largely aided and abetted the process.

The time has come to remove this responsibility from the hands of the political directorate and place it in those of an independent body. Such a body would nominate, after public distillation of the matter, such a person to be recommended to the governor general for appointment. The politicians can make their views known in the public debate like any other citizen, but they should not have the power to nominate. The history of their nominations to date reeks too much of the putrid, tribal, partisan politics that has been a scourge on the body politic of the nation. Such practices must stop.

Consultants and results

Then there is the appointment of government consultants to posts in the Government. Because of the tribal nature of our politics, successive governments have seen it fit to appoint people who support their viewpoints to posts in the public sector. Thus, the Jamaican civil service has been politicised over the years. Again the matter has raised its ugly head with various people having been appointed by the Holness Administration to work as consultants.

It must be conceded that a political party, when it wins power, should have some leverage to appoint people to sensitive posts who they believe can best help them to carry out their philosophy of government. No one would want to deny them the privilege of doing so. In fact, in industrialised countries like the USA, political appointees resign when there is a change of administration to free up the new administration to make its appointments. Often people are retained in sensitive posts.

But we know how things are in Jamaica. We often do not know where the interest of a party ends and where the interests of the people of Jamaica should begin when there is a change of administration. There is no doubt that the situation needs to be cleaned up. Sensitive posts to which political consultants are to be appointed must be identified and the work to be done well defined. Posts should not be created simply to give someone a job. They should be necessary posts that will augment the work of a particular ministry and the work of the regular civil servants. The value of the work to be done for the people of Jamaica must come with a clear set of deliverables, with periodic reports on whether these deliverables are being met. After all, the consultant may not think so, but he or she has a shelf life and the people should see value for the money that they are being paid.

If this was being done the country would have been apprised of the work being done by Delano Seiveright, senior communications consultant and strategist with the Ministry of Tourism. What precisely is the work he is doing that could have caused him to rack up close to $9 million in a 15-month period? He is either a very busy person or he is just a plain busybody, flying hither and yon in the accomplishment of tremendous feats. You would think that he is the minister himself and Edmund Bartlett his assistant.

The sum is an astronomical figure, which would suggest that Seiveright is making waves to enhance the prospects of the tourism ministry and by extension the wider Jamaica. We need to hear from the Ministry of Tourism, however, just what exactly are these accomplishments that justify this heavy spending.

Transparency and accountability must be the order of the day. With the reform of the public sector well underway, the Government has a great opportunity to clearly define the role of political consultants in the public sector.

Dr Nigel Clarke, minister of finance, has been speaking well to the need for transparency and the ending of political patronage in the award of jobs in the sector. We will see soon enough if his actions and that of the Government match his rhetoric.

Dr Raulston Nembhard is a priest and social commentator. Send comments to the Observer or stead6655@aol.com.

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