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Editorial: Workings of a superministry

Published:Wednesday | March 9, 2016 | 3:00 AM

Among the more intriguing aspects of how Andrew Holness has structured his Government is the creation, in the Office of the Prime Minister, of a superministry for the economy, job creation and growth. Its portfolio, it seems, includes housing, water and related sectors, and critically, initiatives to drive investment and GDP expansion.

There are echoes in Mr Holness' formulation of the Ministry of Development that P.J. Patterson headed after the 1989 general election under Michael Manley's premiership, and Mr Manley, before he became ill, appeared inclined to model his role something akin to an executive presidency. We are not aware of any serious analysis of the achievements of Mr Patterson's ministry in the time that it existed, or why such superministries have not in the past delivered as expected - as the anecdotal evidence

suggests is the case.

There are, however, some significant differences in characteristics between Mr Holness' offering and what has gone before. Not least of these is the fact that Mr Holness will be assisted by three ministers of full Cabinet rank - Daryl Vaz, Horace Chang and Derrick Smith - among whose jobs will include "central coordination and logistical planning of the growth agenda".

But more important, as Mr Holness highlighted, its location will give the ministry - and by implication, its ministers - "the political imprimatur of the Office of the Prime Minister" in accelerating and implementing initiatives. Indeed, as powerful as Mr Patterson was as Mr Manley's deputy and heir apparent, he wasn't then the prime minister.

There are, however, potential pitfalls to be avoided by Mr Holness and his helpers, especially Mr Vaz, who we expect to concentrate on removing regulatory and other logjams that delay investment proposals from ideas to projects in the ground. One of these may be called the Edward Seaga syndrome.

There is anecdote, perhaps apocryphal, that in the 1980s when Mr Seaga was prime minister and the Ronald Reagan-inspired Rockefeller Committee was attempting to steer US investment to Jamaica, Mr Seaga responded to their complaints about red tape by installing a hotline from which he called igniting bureaucrats into action. In the past three years, Jamaica has made significant strides on various global competitiveness indices by structured approach, including via legislation, in making business rules transparent and predictable and, importantly, by fixing the macroeconomy.

Put differently, special initiatives to accelerate projects to shovel-readiness, as important as it may be in the short term, are ultimately no substitute for reconfiguring the bureaucracy in an overarching reform of the public sector, as well as maintaining fiscal and broader macroeconomic stability. We know Mr Holness appreciates this.

Mr Holness, or perhaps Mr Vaz, will have to be clear on the respective roles of the economy ministry and Karl Samuda's industry, commerce and agriculture. Some of the regulatory and investment promotion issues that are likely to concentrate Mr Vaz's mind are traditionally the purview of Mr Samuda's ministry. We, for instance, assume that the investment promotion agency, JAMPRO - which is supposed to be a key driver of

foreign direct investment to Jamaica and is likely to be an area of emphasis for Mr Vaz - remains in Mr Samuda's portfolio.

Mr Vaz and Mr Samuda will have to be careful and coordinated to avoid becoming entangled in duplicated effort and squabbling over turf. Economic growth and job creation are too important for that.