House commences debate on National Council on Drug Abuse (Repeal) Bill 2023
KINGSTON, Jamaica – The House of Representatives, on Tuesday, commenced the debate on the National Council on Drug Abuse (Repeal) Bill 2023.
The Bill will facilitate the integration of the National Council on Drug Abuse (NCDA) into the Ministry of Health and Wellness, including the transfer of assets, rights, and liabilities.
Portfolio Minister, Dr Christopher Tufton, said the integration is part of the Government’s thrust to rationalise public bodies under the Public Sector Transformation Programme.
He informed that the NCDA was established as a body corporate by the Government of Jamaica in December 1991, pursuant to the National Council on Drug Abuse Act, to review and monitor the misuse of drugs in Jamaica; undertake, subject to the approval of the minister responsible for health, measures for preventing the misuse of drugs or dealing with social problems relating to same; and consider and provide advice on matters concerning drug use and abuse.
“The NCDA Repeal Bill 2023 will effect the integration of the NCDA into the ministry as a department. Accordingly, the agency will no longer be a public body, and while the structure of the agency will remain the same, the management will no longer report to a board of management, but will now report to the permanent secretary,” Dr Tufton explained.
He advised that there will also be an expansion in the functions of the NCDA, pointing out that the entity will now be responsible for the national mental health prevention strategies.
Additionally, the minister said the management of the Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Helpline and the U-Matter Chatline, which caters specifically to persons 16 to 24 years old, will now fall within the department’s remit.
In terms of change management, Dr Tufton said the ministry has been mindful to give attention to an essential element of the transition process.
“To begin with, the development of the proposed department structure for the NCDA has been spearheaded by the Public Sector Transformation Implementation Unit (PSTIU) of the Ministry of Finance and the Public Service, along with a steering committee which was established to oversee the integration process,” he informed.
Dr Tufton further indicated that the PSTIU carried out consultations with the staff of the NCDA and the ministry, and that the review and recommendations derived from information obtained, informed the process to accommodate the NCDA as a department, as well as the legislative amendments that will be necessary to fulfil the mandate of the Cabinet decision regarding the entity’s integration.
He said a team from the Transformation Implementation Unit has been working with the ministry on the development and implementation of the change management plan, with a transition plan developed to guide the movement of staff from the old structure to the new.
These plans, Dr Tufton said, were signed off by the finance ministry, Jamaica Civil Service Association, Services Commission and health ministry.
Additionally, several staff meetings have been held with the workers, and based on the passage of time and the need to continue the dialogue, more consultations will be held in an effort to facilitate a seamless transition.
The minister said given that the old organisation was a public body, and staff are being transferred to positions in the civil service; and given that the law is being proposed to be repealed through the Bill tabled in Parliament, termination benefits will be paid to staff.
“These benefits include the payment of redundancy. The payment of the redundancy has been approved by Cabinet and will be calculated up to the final date of July 31, 2024, this is the target date for the completion of the integration process. The NCDA has individual pension plans that are not linked to the organisation,” Dr Tufton said.
Also, similar posts will be created within the ministry. Incumbents in posts will be offered related positions in the new NCDA Department or the ministry at the same time that their employment with the Council concludes.
“Of note is that the Executive Director of NCDA is on a contract that will come to an end in 2024. He will retire at the end of this contract period. The new post for Chief Technical Director for the NCDA will be advertised and filled competitively,” Dr Tufton said.
As a department of Government, the NCDA will retain its corporate services, but with direct reporting to the ministry. The Budget for the NCDA will be provided as an activity under the Head of the Ministry of Health and Wellness.
“The integration of the NCDA is to streamline the overall function of government, and based on the assessment conducted by the Ministry of Finance and the Public Service, the need for body corporate status for the agency was not a requirement for the effective and efficient execution of its functions,” Dr Tufton stated.
He said that under the Primary Health Care Reform Programme, the introduction of the life course approach requires that there be a holistic restructuring of all services provided to the population.
“The focus of the NCDA on the prevention of mental health challenges and the link to substance abuse will create synergies that should enhance the management and delivery of these services,” Dr Tufton said.
Debate on the Bill in the House was suspended.