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Editorial: Peter Principle meets Jennifer Edwards

Published:Friday | March 13, 2015 | 9:41 PM

When Jennifer Edwards, a ruling-party politician and one-time aide to Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller, was being made executive director of the National Solid Waste Management Authority (NSWMA), this newspaper warned of the dangers inherent in "misalign[ing] executive talent and the job to be accomplished".

Last October, we made a formal declaration of what was obvious for a long time: that Ms Edwards shouldn't have been given the job in the first place. Her Esau-Jacob handlers squealed loudly in protest.

In recent days, as Kingston, and areas substantially beyond, have been choked by respiratory illness-inducing, commerce-disrupting fog - the result of another of the not-infrequent fires at the city's dump - it has been comprehended as a metaphor for Ms Edwards' place at the NSWMA. That is, her rapid acceleration up and beyond the Peter Principle. Jennifer Edwards was promoted way beyond her competence.

But that's not the worst bit, of which there are two parts. One is that Ms Edwards, genuinely it appears, doesn't believe that to be the case; the other is that those who made the decision to give her the job were, we sense, cynical about it. In that regard, they would have played true to the recent history of the NSWMA in treating it as spoils for the political victor.




It was a year ago that there was a fire of similar magnitude and effect at the NSWMA's Riverton City dump in the capital, the public outcry from which jolted the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA) into insisting that Ms Edwards' organisation operates in accordance with its permits, including enhancing its security and compacting and burying its garbage. Not surprisingly, it is only since this latest outbreak that NEPA appears to be serious about compliance, which we suspect to be in breach.

Ms Edwards will, no doubt, claim that her agency just can't afford to be compliant - that the J$815 million in subventions it will get from the Government this fiscal year and the J$307 million it expects to earn from commercial activities just can't pay the bills. But that is only part of the issue.

The larger problem at the NSWMA is leadership - conceptually and otherwise. And with big and small things.

We do not get from Ms Edwards that she perceives the NSWMA, and particularly its role in solid waste management, as a big idea, embracing specialised skills, as opposed to a large company that merely collects garbage to be deposited at a dump. And even if she appreciates the conceptual frame of the former, Ms Edwards appears neither to have commanded nor internalised it. So, any public articulation of it by her has been, at best, weak, thus she has been unable to build public support for the resources to ensure its realisation.

Further, the NSWMA has been hardly aggressive in developing entrepreneurial schemes.

It is a signal of Ms Edwards' mindset and skills at management when her admitted solution to too much garbage being thrown on the ground around skips, rather than in them, was to remove the vessels; that the NSWMA remains secretive about its accounts, which appear to be years behind; and that up to a score of workers are required to clean less than 50 metres of verge.

The NSWMA may have a resource problem, but the Peter Principle is a more precise explanation for its crisis.