No red-tape republic
SAVANNA-LA-MAR, Westmoreland — Concerned that partisan politics and foot-dragging delayed work on a project being done by Westmoreland Municipal Corporation, Prime Minister Andrew Holness on Wednesday launched a broadside against red tape that breeds inefficiency.
He is hoping Jamaica’s change to republic status will provide the impetus needed to hold to account people in authority.
According to Holness, it took five years to construct a building that, he thinks, could have been done in a day.
“Did local politics have anything to do with it [the delay]? Were there problems with contractors? Did the technocrats and civil servants move apace?” he asked during the ground-breaking ceremony for a male ward at the Westmoreland Infirmary. “Who has the power to hold them to account? Is our system structured to hold people to account for the delivery of services, or is it just structured to name and shame and talk, but no real accountability for change?”
Speaking with journalists after the ceremony, the prime minister said there were lessons to be learned from the delays seen on the project because, “Many of the obstacles faced here were avoidable, political, and some of them were inefficiencies and deliberate time wasting.”
The work done on the infirmary falls within the remit of the local municipal corporation, the majority of whose members were elected on an Opposition People’s National Party ticket. The corporation has had a stormy relationship with Local Government Minster Desmond McKenzie, sparring over delays in moving squatters from land earmarked for a fruit and vegetable market to delays in the work done at the infirmary.
However, Holness noted that the problem is not confined to that local authority but is also evident in central government.
“We face this throughout Government, where projects that should be completed quite easily are complicated by all kinds of obstacles. This Government is committed to a more efficient bureaucracy so that we can close what has always hampered us — the inefficient deficit,” he vowed.
“We were always hampered by the financial deficit. We were simply not growing and we did not have the capital budget. Now, we have a capital budget, but it is simply being hindered by the pace at which the bureaucracy works. That has to be the next effort now for this Government,” Holness added.
He is hoping that Jamaica’s transition to a republic will be accompanied by a change in attitude.
“When we are seeking to move to a republic, a part of that must be a signal to our arms of the State that we must take greater responsibility for ourselves, the goal and missions we set ourselves, and we must not be comfortable with lax implementation on execution. We must not be comfortable with missed deadlines and poor quality of service, and we must make constitutional arrangements such that they support the efficiency and dignity of the State,” urged Holness.
While legislative changes are needed to get over this hurdle, he said, that will not be enough.
“It is a change in culture. Legislation can spark that change, but before you get to that stage, in parallel with that we have to start the education, the policy, and the public discourse about being a more efficient country in implementing projects,” said the prime minister.
The Westmoreland Infirmary was constructed in 1890 under colonial arrangements as part of the old hospital. In 1964, the current Savanna-la-Mar Public General Hospital was constructed after its original location was destroyed by fire in 1958. However, the building was reconstructed and became the home of the infirmary.
While a new female ward was constructed more than a decade ago, the male ward remained in one of the old structures. With funds provided by the National Housing Trust, construction for the new ward — valued at $53 million — began in 2017.