The Government made a major step towards improving its corporate image last night by passing the long-delayed Public Bodies Management and Accountability Regulations during another marathon session of the House of Representatives.
Minister of Finance and the Public Service Dr Nigel Clarke, who piloted the regulations through the House, noted that the provisions demonstrated the Government's commitment to a participatory system of government.
The regulations, he said, “highlight the Government's recognition of the need to have a wide cross section of Jamaicans involved and represented important decision-making towards growth and development”.
He pointed out that regulations, which were passed by the House of Representatives in 2019, had suffered a setback when they were held up in the Senate. Since then, they have been revised to meet the challenges of reducing corruption within the public sector and will have to go back to the Senate for approval.
But the finance minister seemed confident that they would be accepted by the Senate, considering the changes that have been made to the provisions of the new 2020 Bill.
He noted that school boards would fall outside the ambit of these regulations, and they would not apply to ex-officio members of boards, who are appointed to the boards of public bodies because of their position in their offices. The financial secretary will be responsible for the creation of a database of prospective directors.
“This is pivotal towards meeting the need for transparency in the selection and appointment of prospective directors,” Clarke said.
He said that information contained in the database, such as the name, knowledge, skills and experiences of prospective directors, will be subject to due diligence checks to determine the veracity of the information.
This database will be established within the Ministry of Finance and the Public Service and will be an electronic system. Appropriate staff will be recruited and designated to carry out the duties related to the administration of the provisions of the regulations.
He said that the Government has arranged for the database to be kept in a secure and reliable facility, and has provided funding for this. Any member of the public may have access to the information by sending a request in writing to the financial secretary, but this will be limited to only current directors.
He said that individuals may be included in the database through nomination by certain interest groups, after due diligence. But, it is not limited to groups such as professional bodies, business associations, trade unions, public sector agencies representing special interest groups such as gender affairs, children, youth, consumer affairs and people with disabilities.
“So, not only can people nominate themselves, but professional bodies can put them forward and provide the competencies. What happens, and what has happened over the past several decades, is that public bodies boards are created from the minds and the roller desks of the particular minister, and that is a limited basis on which one can be nominated to a board,” Clarke said.
He noted that the selection procedures will require candidates from the database and then appointment. But, by having people being nominated from the database allows the possibility of wider selection.
Each board will have a competency profile, which outlines the core competencies required. The selection procedure will require the financial secretary to prepare a list of all eligible prospective directors from the database who meet the competency profile for the respective boards.
People can also be nominated by political parties registered under the Representation of the People Act, or members of the academic community and civil society groups, he pointed out.
Both Opposition Leader Mark Golding and Opposition spokesman on finance Julian Robinson gave full support to the proposals from the Government, and seemed confident with the responses from the minister.
Golding said he supported Robinson's comments that the work of the team that will compile the database and the fit and proper test is going to be significant and will need to be adequately resourced in terms of human resources to prevent it from becoming a bottleneck.
Prime Minister Andrew Holness also made a brief address in which he noted that the regulations were first introduced to the House of Representative in December 2019.
“It was passed here, went up to the Upper House, but didn't make it past there. But the genesis of this legislation… goes back a few years and it represents an acknowledgement of a deficiency in our public administration and the need to moderate politics in governance,” Holness said.
He added what is needed now is “to minimise, if not take out, the politics out of governance in public administration”.