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Editorial: Rethink how boards are appointed

Published:Sunday | April 17, 2016 | 12:00 AM

There may be yet more in the pipeline, but last week the Holness Government named more than 500 members of boards of 52 agencies or institutions. That, of course, is not unique to this administration.

This is usually what happens after elections and one party is voted out of office and another assumes power. It is one way, new governments believe, to be assured of the loyalty of people in critical positions and the pressing of their policy priorities. Or, articulated differently, it is a perceived protection against policy sabotage. Board chairmen tend to be the major casualties.

There are, of course, exceptions to this overriding principle. Some of the people named last week would have served under the previous administration and have been held over because they are deemed to stand above the partisan fray and bring special skills to their assignments. The latter point is important.

In a small country of 2.7 million people, and with relatively few skilled in management, or schooled in the art of governance, Jamaica is unlikely to be overrun with quality candidates to fill these board positions. We suspect, therefore, that the governing political party finds it strenuous to recruit exclusively from among the ranks of its supporters good talent in sufficient numbers to match board positions.

The upshot: The best tend to be recycled and are overburdened. With their full-time jobs, as is the case with most appointees, governors, especially when they sit on multiple boards, often have insufficient time to provide the agencies to which they are appointed with the robust oversight expected of them.

Such problems are exacerbated by the fact that it usually requires several months for new boards and their chairmen to become fully acquainted with the operations of the agencies for whose oversight they are responsible and often arrive, or leave, in the midst of major projects.




While we appreciate the right and, in some circumstances, the logic of governments to put people deemed loyal to them in critical and sensitive board positions, this newspaper believes that it is time to begin a new conversation on how the country approaches appointments to public-sector boards so that they are availed of the best talent and to prevent unnecessary upheavals and disruptions.

Indeed, board appointments might be one of those issues that the parties agree to take out of the cut and thrust of partisan politics, with the understanding that the best people, whatever their presumed affiliations, are named to these positions. Policymakers might also consider, as is often the case with private-sector boards, staggered membership, with a portion of the board retiring after a specific period, thus providing an opportunity for renewal, without upheaval.

Another of these issues to be placed on the agenda, we believe, is the sensitivity with which governments manage the recall of non-career diplomats, especially in circumstances where such appointments were very recently before the change of government.

Fay Pickersgill's posting to Beijing as Jamaica's ambassador a mere weeks before the general election is a case in point. She is unlikely to have unpacked and had barely presented her credentials before she had to do the decent thing and offer her resignation to the administration, which was very publicly accepted. It seemed like hardball, unlike how the Golding administration kept former People's National Party official Burchell Whiteman in London for two years before his recall.