Editorial: Mr Holness’ Cabinet
By now, Andrew Holness should have taken full measure of the team he will have in Gordon House and be well on his way to crafting his Cabinet. He has no time to dawdle for the Government he will lead, after the Jamaica Labour Party's victory in last week's general election, has much work to do, most of it difficult.
But the new prime minister must understand that haste is no substitute for good judgement. In this regard, we will watch closely the quality and size of the ministerial team he selects, hoping that Mr Holness appreciates that the executive ought not to be a currency for the repayment of favours for loyalty, except where there is a coincidence of reward and talent.
We make this point being fully aware of that part of the reality and art of the politics of trade-offs. And in this context, we appreciate some of the dilemmas faced by Mr Holness.
First, his has not been an easy ride as the leader of the JLP. He has survived several challenges - whether open or insidious - to his leadership with the support of some of the party's old guard, who, having stayed on in representational politics, would be better placed as Mandarins on the backbenches than as members of the executive. Some will now insist on repayment.
The narrowness of the JLP's victory, with a mere three-seat majority in the Parliament, leaves Mr Holness with a potentially shallow backbench, which previous leaders often sought to control or mollify by doling out what amounted to ministerial sinecures. In the circumstance, there is often the sense of an executive tripping over itself.
It is this approach to government and governance that Mr Holness must avoid. He must appoint the best talent to portfolios, regardless of their age, seniority in the party, or their perceived loyalty to its leader. Indeed, Mr Holness has an opportunity to pursue this approach to the allocation of skills, while beginning to address what, if it persists, could prove to be a silent, though existential threat to our democracy - the alienation of Jamaicans, especially the young, from the political process. Indeed, it is quite telling that a mere 47.7 per cent of the electorate voted last week.
Mr Holness has in his parliamentary team several young, bright and talented individuals, some of whom it would probably make sense to award full ministerial portfolios without having to go through the ritual of apprenticeship.
What is important is that the prime minister holds his team accountable for performance in the portfolios and adherence to the broader principles of governance. In this respect, Mr Holness has, uniquely, established a clear standard by which he and his Government can be judged.
He promised: "Every minister in my Government will be given a consequential two-and-a-half year job letter, setting out their key performance targets, as drawn from our manifesto, towards economic growth and job creation, for which they will be held to account. Additionally, immediately upon appointment, they will be given their targets of low-hanging changes that must be made within the first 90 days of our new administration. This will set the cascading example throughout Government."
The performance criteria in these letters must be far more specific than the generalities of the manifesto and they should be published.