Mon | Aug 21, 2017

Editorial: A mission of integrity and competence

Published:Friday | March 4, 2016 | 3:00 AM

When Andrew Holness settles down to running the Government, there will be something other than the personalities in his Cabinet that people will use as an early signal of whether he is really serious about ending political cronyism and battling corruption in Jamaica: the people he appoints to the boards and as heads of public agencies. In this regard, Mr Holness should know there will be special focus on portfolios such as transportation, construction, infrastructure development, and local government, which have notorious reputations as conduits through which public resources are leaked to friends and supporters.

While the problem remains profound, and Jamaicans continue to believe their country to be corrupt, there have been obvious gains in the fight against graft and towards transparency and accountability by public officials. For example, in this year's Corruption Perception Index by Transparency International, Jamaica was ranked the world's 69th least corrupt country among 168 nations surveyed. In the previous survey, it was 85th of 175 countries, an unadjusted improvement of 16 places.

This reduction of public scepticism has, in part, to do with a raft of legislation passed in recent years as part of a broader project of economic reform to lessen executive whimsy and bring greater certainty and order to fiscal decisions and policy formulation. But a good part of the change reflects the response of the political executive to civil-society agitation.

Among the examples of this are the Economic Programme Oversight Committee that monitored the outgoing Government's performance under its agreement with the International Monetary Fund; the Electricity Sector Enterprise Team (ESET) that addressed derailed projects in the energy sector; and the board with key private-sector officials installed at the National Solid Waste Management Authority to replace the hapless group of mostly party supporters.

The country, with these and similar successes, may have stumbled on to a model for removing partisan political considerations from policy and project development and implementation and bringing the best minds on board, without undermining the authority of elected political executive to govern. Rather, the process represents a broader and higher order of national engagement.

 

ENGAGING THE PRIVATE SECTOR

 

So, among Mr Holness' first order of business must be engagement with the private sector and other key stakeholders to mark out those areas of economic and national life which ought to be beyond partisan jousting, but the subject of national consensus. This must lead, with urgency, a process for defined, solution-oriented discourse - rather than a forum where everyone comes to have a moan - and mechanism for the selection of new ESET-like groups.

Indeed, Mr Holness may want to use this mechanism to help determine whether candidates for some other public appointments meet the necessary fit-and-proper criteria for the post, based on skill and competence and not political purity.

Mr Holness should also make it a matter of priority that the new Parliament complete work on the law establishing a single anti-corruption agency for public officials, including legislators. But recent events insist on more robust reporting requirements for public officials and greater transparency about their filings. It should also include a parliamentary register of gifts to, and employment by, members of parliament, as well as for agency executives to periodically report who is compliant and where they hold their assets.