Tue | Sep 19, 2017

Jaevion Nelson | Public-sector reform could stifle youth

Published:Saturday | April 15, 2017 | 4:00 AM

The Government must ensure that the holistic development of our youth is not stifled by the public-sector rationalisation, which is currently being implemented.

I take note of the announcement made earlier this year that the National Youth Service (NYS), HEART Trust-NTA and Jamaican Foundation for Lifelong Learning (JFLL) are among more than 80 public entities that will be merged, closed or divested as part of its efforts to rationalise the public service.

There is absolutely no question about the clear and urgent need for these recommendations from the 2011 report to be implemented. One hopes that it will improve efficiency, reduce waste, and facilitate greater development in our communities, among other things.

I have long questioned the value of having so many entities with similar mandates and programmes so scattered across the Government. This was particularly obvious where youth development is concerned. This is something many of us have been discussing for several years and there was even more discussion between 2008 and 2011 when then parliamentary secretary, Warren Newby, was the focal point for youth issues in the ministry led by Olivia Grange.

A letter by Sanjay Lewis, who was at the time part of the Jamaica Youth Advocacy Network (JYAN), advising the Government to merge the youth organisations that were published in this paper on June 24, 2011, is evidence of this.

I therefore welcome the move wholeheartedly. It's truly wonderful to see this is finally being done. However, I must say here that I have concerns about the potential of the merger to stymie our young people's development. The Opposition has also raised their concerns as well.

Any decision that is not guided by the current realities will also reverse the achievements that are already reaping results. Therefore, there need to be more consultations, further discussion and, importantly, consideration by the Government.

There are several key considerations that Minister Ruel Reid must act on and manage well in order to ensure that progress towards greater youth development can continue. I worry about the likelihood of there being greater focus on HEART initiatives since both JFLL and NYS are being merged into it. I worry that the focus will largely be on training and there will be fewer opportunities for empowerment of our young people. Will there be a dedicated stream of programmes around youth and student leadership and governance?

 

COMMENDABLE ACHIEVEMENTS

 

There has been some noteworthy achievements that are commendable. A dynamic 14-member Youth Advisory Council that does policy monitoring and provides advice to the Cabinet around human rights and justice, education, and youth development, the National Youth Parliament was reconvened with a more focused mandate and structure, the number of young people on public bodies has increased, placement of summer workers increased by 20 per cent to 6,000 young people, and Graduate Work Experience Programme (GWEP) moved from 350 persons to 500.

Last year, Youth Month was successfully staged. Of note is the reconvening of the National Youth Parliament and the Around the Table series that brought young entrepreneurs in contact with some of Jamaica's leading business persons, including Adam Stewart, Garth Walker, Joey Issa, Nicole McLaren, Agent Sasco, Jason Henzell and Butch Hendrickson.

The National Youth Policy is to be resubmitted to Cabinet for approval. Another Youth Innovation Centre (formerly Youth Information Centre) was completed and to be opened some time in the summer. The review of Students' Councils is under way. More work is being done with students' unions at the tertiary level. Their partnership with National Integrity Action (NIA) bodes well for our country.

Minister Reid describes mergers as a "rescue mission" to ensure "every child in Jamaica [can] get an opportunity for their full personal, intellectual [and] academic development".

One sincerely hopes these and other successful youth empowerment and development programmes will continue and be brought to scale so that more of our young people across the country will benefit. It is critical that we continue to provide our young people with opportunities to develop themselves and achieve their fullest potential.

A risk we run, though, is thinking that young people's needs are centred around training and employment. Priority must be given to initiatives that ensure young people are meaningfully involved in process to foster their development and that would allow them to become directors of the process and their own destiny.

- Jaevion Nelson is a youth development, HIV and human rights advocate. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and jaevion@gmail.com.