Former PSOJ boss supports pay hike for MPs but...
Former head of the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica (PSOJ) Howard Mitchell addressing a forum hosted by the Jamaica Accountability Meter Portal, under the theme: Strengthening Citizens' Role as a Partner for Improved Governance and Accountability, held Thursday at Liguanea Club in New Kingston. It was in collaboration with the PSOJ and partners, including the European Union, and the British Government. (Photo: Karl McLarty)

FORMER president of the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica (PSOJ) Howard Mitchell says he is in favour of better pay for the political directorate and civil servants as a whole, but has pointed to the irony of the complaint from Members of Parliament about a lack of information surrounding their salary arrangements.

Parliamentarians have been complaining in recent weeks that they are being kept in the dark about their new salary rates as the Government moves to pay out billions in back pay and new rates to central government workers.

"We don't know what they're doing, so it just shows that a lack of information creates confusion, fear, and concern," Mitchell said on Thursday in his address at a forum hosted by the Jamaica Accountability Meter Portal (JAMP) under the theme 'Strengthening Citizens' Role as a Partner for Improved Governance and Accountability' staged in collaboration with the PSOJ and partners, including the European Union and British Government.

"Our society must "step up inna life" with knowledge and access to facts…not with "licky licky" client/patron politics nor tribally exclusive scarce benefits and spoils issued from the plantation of the partially independent State, mimicking the punishment and reward syndrome of our slave masters," Mitchell asserted, speaking against the background of issues of transparency in the public sector and a lack of average citizens participation in the national governance process.

He decried shame on the country's political system, categorising it as a mimicry of its colonial past and urged citizens to stop allowing themselves to simply be ruled and shunning an active role in the governance process.

"It is the system that I reject; that system has dirty shadows that require light and a good broom," he said. "Our resources are not great because as a country we have squandered our assets…wasted our capital to the brink of disaster. Thankfully, with great sacrifice, we are pulling back from the brink of economic disaster, but that great sacrifice and discipline requires full disclosure of all the facts, not just the pretty facts but the ugly facts too."

Mitchell stressed that leadership should maintain the mutual respect that allows for free dialogue and be transparent and accountable in accordance with a social contract. "It also requires that tacit and implied agreement that the citizens elect their representatives to lead them, not to rule them".

However, he said Jamaicans remain in a kind of master and subject mindframe in which most are prevented from enjoying that social contract, denied access to the facts and the metrics of performance of those at the helm.

"We are still on the plantation, and I offer no apology for saying it because I mean that we are still on the plantation of our minds where the majority of us are only partially participating members of a civil society, and we don't understand that we are as important as the State and the private sector in the governance of the society.

"We live in constant mistrust of the private sector and the State collaborating to exploit our lives as previously happened for 300 years. Perhaps that is why many of our citizens have taken themselves away from the traditional society and have gone to a parallel economy to do their business as many did after Emancipation," Mitchell told his audience, which included representatives of the British High Commission and the European Union.

He argued further that there is also a "plantation" of institutions which hold Jamaicans in servitude to customs and precepts which are not applicable to present-day situation and needs, and where many Jamaicans are blocked and prevent us from access to information and benefiting as equals in a functional society.

The attorney-at-law also called for more resources for judges to do their work and better working conditions, free from interference and being hampered by laws which seek to take away their discretion. He said, too, that the police must be given better training and more non-lethal equipment while being held accountable for corruption and neglect. "The institutions that the British left behind must be supported and managed and modernised," he remarked.

JAMP Executive Director Jeanette Calder, meanwhile, urged Jamaicans to take a proactive approach to information and presented a suite of digital tools that the group has made available to enable Jamaican citizens to proactively engage in the processes to improve public financial management and parliamentary accountability. The tools include a public procurement tracker.

BY ALPHEA SUMNER Senior staff reporter saundersa@jamaicaobserver.com

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