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Editorial: Well done, Scarlette Gillings

Published:Tuesday | July 7, 2015 | 7:00 AM

It says somehing about Scarlette Gillings that, nearly two decades later, the Jamaica Social Investment Fund (JSIF) still remains such a critical institution for infrastructure development in so many communities. That's the result of the Government's failure, over a long period, to have implemented policies that generated growth and surpluses with which to fund social investment, rather than having to so heavily rely on the help of external partners.

What speaks loudly to Ms Gillings' achievement is that most people are sorry to see her go and worry whether her successor, Omar Sweeney, will perform with similar skill. We hope he does. JSIF, in many respects, is a model institution in Jamaica whose management is worthy of emulation.

Established in 1996, JSIF was expected to be a medium-term project through which the World Bank, with matching funds from the Jamaican Government, undertook community infrastructure projects as part of the administration's poverty-alleviation strategy. Too often in Jamaica, such vehicles quickly founder, with little to show for their efforts. Usually, the culprit is compromised leadership, which allows good sense to be subsumed by politics.

That didn't happen with Scarlette Gillings. Her congeniality is deceptive. It masks a tough independence, frank determination and a drive to complete projects on time and within budget. That she was able to work across administrations and win the respect of all is no coincidence. It was not for nothing that Jamaica's international partners, so long as she was willing and able, within the rules, urged Kingston that she remained in the job.

In 18 years, Ms Gillings guided more than 1,600 infrastructure projects in 544 communities, worth nearly US$200 million. None has been involved in scandal or has been a source of significant complaint.

Happily, Ms Gillings' talents are not being totally lost to public service. In April, she was appointed to the board of the National Housing Trust, the Government's controversy-prone shelter agency. Her honesty, good sense, voice of reason and sharp mind should help the agency's new chairman, Carlton Davis, navigate its current turbulence.