Understanding Lee-Chin's frustrationsWednesday, January 30, 2019
In his seventh report on the work of the Economic Growth Council (EGC), Chairman Michael Lee-Chin seemed a very frustrated and disappointed man. His frustration was undoubtedly borne out of the very slow progress that is being made with respect to projects to stimulate growth in the economy. One could not escape the conclusion that as a busy man he, perhaps, feels he is wasting his time, or that his time could be better employed, attending exclusively to his myriad businesses.
Busy and achievement-oriented people like Lee-Chin have defined purposes and evidence of achievement to support their passion for progress. Such people have no patience for tardiness and lethargy. He speaks of meetings that are not attended by important personnel in the public sector, missed timelines for projects to be implemented, and the assorted delays that have stymied the work of the EGC.
Lee-Chin operates out of Canada, but has several businesses in Jamaica of which the National Commercial Bank is the flagship. When he is in Jamaica it should not be assumed that his attention is exclusively dedicated to the business of the EGC. One can be sure that he allocates time between his various other commitments and his work on the EGC. So while it would be a bit disingenuous to suggest that he wastes his time in Jamaica, because the EGC work is faltering, it should not be lost on the public the significant amount of work that he and the other EGC members are doing for Jamaica.
But let us put that aside. The concerns raised in his latest report are genuine and legitimate and must be given the importance they deserve. One of the areas of concern is the delay by the Ministry of Justice in implementing video evidence capability that would enhance the delivery of justice in the courts. This is important in the fight against crime which has been estimated to negatively impact the country's gross domestic product (GDP).
We tend to put the emphasis in crime fighting on arrest, detention or hard policing methodologies in volatile communities, but pay little attention to other critical areas such as adjudication through the courts and the quality of the justice dispensed. Often we miss the nexus between crime fighting and the judicial process that brings violent criminals under control. So while we may spend much in fighting crime in the field, we put up with a creaking justice system that does not provide desired outcomes. The video evidence mechanism would be very instrumental in speeding up the delivery of justice. Chief Justice Bryan Sykes and Minister Delroy Chuck would be well urged to speed up this process.
The AMANDA Project was also mentioned in the report. This is a system that would allow builders and developers to track online the progress of their development plans through the system. The smooth and quick passage of building plans continues to be a vexatious matter. Significantly, this speaks to the ease of doing business. Every successive government recognises the problem of the inordinate delays in approving building plans, yet none has been able to do anything of merit to assuage the anxieties of builders and developers who have had to pay increased costs and escalations as a result of delays.
Why is this such a difficult matter, Minister Daryl Vaz? Why does a building plan for a small house or a five-lot subdivision have to take more than one month to be passed through a parish council? One can understand a big development, but a three-bedroom house?
Having set the “5 in 4” per cent growth in the country's GDP, and realising that it may not be realised, one can well understand the EGC's frustrations. When one is a go-getter and pragmatic in seeking solutions to problems, lethargy is one's greatest enemy. And lethargy in the public service is precisely the kind of problem against which the EGC is struggling. This culture of lethargy and nonchalance is undoubtedly the reason for the EGC calling for a cultural paradigm shift in the way in which we approach work in the public sector. This is also a problem in the private sector, but it is more pronounced in the public sector. As one has opined repeatedly, such lethargy is related to the low productivity outcomes from many government ministries and agencies lamented by no other than the prime minister in his recent speech in Lititz, St Elizabeth.
How we overcome this culture of lethargy and inertia is a Herculean but not impossible task. It is not one that can be overcome by simply pleading to the good nature of civil servants to do better. Neither will it be overcome by higher wages all by itself. Increased wages are likely to make the lethargic worker even more so. Accent must be placed on training and enhanced human resource development and the politically dreaded retrenchment of dead wood in the civil service. Permanent secretaries must become more assertive and less afraid of the politicians. Constitutionally, they are the accounting officers in each ministry. They must pay less fealty to these erstwhile political bosses and more dedication to the independence of the work they do for the people of Jamaica.
Lee-Chin has lamented that the EGC has been given responsibility without authority. One is not sure what he is getting at here, and it would be helpful from their perspective to put more flesh on the bone of what their thinking is. What authority would they be seeking, and how could this be enforced within legislative frameworks, are questions to be pondered.
In the meantime, the country must record its gratitude for the volume of work that the EGC has done. Its members, all extremely busy people, have logged many hours without pay, and largely with the fuel of patriotism to power them. Their work must not be taken for granted — as often is the case where ingratitude in public service is an ever-present menace to good works. This column records its gratitude to them for fanning the flames of increased growth and prosperity and would encourage them not to lose hope. I firmly believe that better days are within our grasp as a nation.
Dr Raulston Nembhard is a priest and social commentator. Send comments to the Observer or firstname.lastname@example.org.