Tue | Apr 25, 2017

Editorial: Sensible moves on boards, divestment

Published:Sunday | May 3, 2015 | 5:00 AM

In the midst of inexplicably foolish actions like Derrick Kellier's job-scything and potentially ruinous assault on manufacturers, the Simpson Miller administration has been up to some positive things.

It appointed sensible governors, chaired by Dennis Chung, for the National Solid Waste Management Authority, on which we previously commented. Simultaneous with those appointments was the naming of new directors for the National Housing Trust (NHT), which has been the recent subject of controversy, mostly, in our view, misplaced, over its acquisition of Lennie Little-White's Outameni living museum facility in Trelawny. But whatever the merits of that argument or others about the governance of the Housing Trust under the leadership of its previous chairman, Easton Douglas, Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller could hardly have done better in his successor than in Carlton Davis, a long-time public servant, former Cabinet secretary, and global expert on the bauxite and alumina.

First, this is Dr Davis' second stint as the NHT's chairman, having held the post in the early 1990s when he presided over an overhaul and upgrade of its governance structure, including clearing its backlog of audited accounts and insisting on credible financial reporting arrangements.

It is, however, not only that Dr Davis has the experience of the past and an appreciation of what is to be done. He brings with his technical competence an unbendable honesty that is intolerant of flim-flam, or the twisting of policy or the law to accommodate partisan, political outcomes. Further, the choice of Dr Davis' deputy, the actuary, Daisy Coke, an old-school type with a reputation for a tough adherence to the rules, suggests the prime minister may be serious about the NHT repairing its image and returning to its core role of delivering shelter to its contributors.

These appointments indicate that, when forced to do so, governments, even if they have to be more diligent, can find competent persons of high integrity to serve on the boards of state entities. They, perhaps, can enhance this with a little creativity and greater transparency in the selection process.

The Government, for example, might advertise and invite applications and/or nominations to public bodies for which boards are to be appointed or on which places are to be filled, even if the naming of the chairman or a proportion of the governors rests with the minister. Further, a parliamentary committee could be made to scrutinise and give final approval to the appointees.

It is not only with board appointments that the Government has done well recently. Finally, it appears, the Government is making headway in the divestment programme. Having previously concluded a long-term operating lease for the Port Authority of Jamaica's container/trans-shipment facility on the Port of Kingston to the French consortium Terminal Link CMA CGM, the administration last week disclosed that five applicants, including two with Jamaican partners, have been shortlisted for Kingston's Norman Manley International Airport, on whose upgrading the Government has invested heavily, but whose continued operation and expansion it can little afford.

The administration appears to have got serious about ridding itself of another loss-making business, the petroleum marketing company, Petcom, and we expect that Mr Chung's board will be so inclined with the public dumps. Unfortunately, there doesn't appear to be any urgency about divesting the horse-racing company, Caymanas Track Limited, a huge lossmaker that the Government has no business operating.