New stan­dards for govern­ment boards

Jamaica Gleaner - - OPINION & COMMENTARY -

THE EXECRATION of gov­er­nance at Petro­jam, de­liv­ered by Pamela Mon­roe El­lis in her re­port on the man­age­ment of the oil re­fin­ery, is but the lat­est high­light­ing of the need for new ap­proaches to how boards and man­agers of pub­lic bod­ies are ap­pointed to en­sure in­tegrity and ac­count­abil­ity.

For while Petro­jam is the agency in the spot­light, and may rep­re­sent the apex of brazen­ness in the mis­han­dling of tax­pay­ers’ money, it is un­likely to be the only one in the pub­lic sec­tor – as re­cent rev­e­la­tions about other in­sti­tu­tions that were part of the port­fo­lio of for­mer en­ergy and tech­nol­ogy min­is­ter, An­drew Wheat­ley, sug­gested – where pro­bity and man­age­rial de­cency have col­lapsed.

There are, per­haps, many ex­pla­na­tions for what hap­pened at Petro­jam, in­clud­ing, some will in­sist, Ja­maica’s chronic prob­lem of, and tol­er­ance for, cor­rup­tion. The pro­posed so­lu­tions will be myr­iad.

Some of the an­swers, how­ever, are not overly com­plex, nor do they re­quire much time to im­ple­ment. They de­mand only po­lit­i­cal will. Ar­range­ments for choos­ing mem­bers of public­sec­tor boards are among the eas­ier is­sues, for which there is al­ready emerg­ing bi­par­ti­san con­sen­sus.

WHAT LED TO THE FI­ASCO?

There are two pri­mary rea­sons that lead, ul­ti­mately, to fi­as­cos. One is that ap­point­ing per­sons to boards of pub­lic bod­ies is not solely, or, often, firstly, about an in­di­vid­ual’s com­pe­tence to the job. Rather, board ap­point­ments have be­come part of the spoils of po­lit­i­cal of­fice, to be dis­trib­uted to party sup­port­ers, in part, as eco­nomic feed­ing troughs, or so­cial pres­tige.

Even when ap­point­ments are free of these most per­verse con­sid­er­a­tions, govern­ments, as Nigel Clarke, the fi­nance min­is­ter, ob­served in June, face sig­nif­i­cant con­straints in find­ing the best tal­ent. They gen­er­ally want to ap­point known sup­port­ers on the pre­sump­tion that they will faith­fully pur­sue the poli­cies of the ad­min­is­tra­tion of the day.

But as Dr Clarke noted in June, there are around 190 pub­lic bod­ies in Ja­maica, each with be­tween seven and 17 di­rec­tors. “So, in­com­ing ad­min­is­tra­tions can strug­gle to ad­e­quately fill over 2,000 board po­si­tions on a change of govern­ment.”

He has pro­posed cre­at­ing a data­base of prospec­tive board mem­bers, based on com­pe­tency pro­files, and hav­ing per­for­mance in­dices against which per­sons are mea­sured once they have been ap­pointed to ser­vice. He also sug­gested declar­ing min­i­mum place­ment for women and “in­de­pen­dents”, which we take to mean per­sons who are not known to be po­lit­i­cal, and the stag­ger­ing of ap­point­ments so that all mem­bers would not have to va­cate their seats on a change of govern­ment or the ap­point­ment of a new min­is­ter.

SIM­I­LAR IDEAS

Some of these ideas are sim­i­lar to ones ad­vo­cated by the op­po­si­tion leader, Pe­ter Phillips. They, broadly, have the sup­port of this news­pa­per. How­ever, we are yet to see the spe­cific mech­a­nism for pop­u­lat­ing the pro­posed data­base and are un­clear on the pre­cise roles civil-so­ci­ety or­gan­i­sa­tions, in­di­vid­u­als, or even po­lit­i­cal par­ties will be able to play in this ven­ture, and how.

As we said pre­vi­ously, this news­pa­per be­lieves that board open­ings should also be ad­ver­tised, al­low­ing per­sons who believe they are qual­i­fied to of­fer them­selves for po­si­tions and for others to pro­pose them. Fur­ther, board ap­pointees, and es­pe­cially chair­men, should, as Dr Phillips sug­gested, not only re­ceive let­ters/in­stru­ments of ap­point­ment, but should be made to sign spe­cific con­tracts, hold­ing them to ac­count­abil­ity and good con­duct.

In­deed, the obli­ga­tions of mem­bers of the boards of pub­lic bod­ies should be equal to the gov­er­nors of pri­vate-sec­tor com­pa­nies. Fur­ther, with re­spect to some spec­i­fied pub­lic bod­ies, gov­er­nors should be re­quired to un­dergo fit-and­proper tests, sim­i­lar to what is de­manded of per­sons who work in the fi­nan­cial-ser­vices com­pa­nies and mem­bers of their boards.

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