Sat | Jan 19, 2019

Editorial | Redefining bureaucracy

Published:Thursday | February 22, 2018 | 12:00 AM
The Holness' administration has a golden opportunity to trigger a sea change in Jamaica's economic prospects.
Prime Minister Andrew Holness.
The Holness' administration has a golden opportunity to trigger a sea change in Jamaica's economic prospects.

Wage talks in the public sector tend to be characterised by angry stare-downs, grandstanding threats, and two-fisted arm wrestling.

But neither state negotiators nor labour unionists would have worked in the public interest unless they recognised their real mission and pursued a broader, more catholic goal.

Government ministries, departments, and agencies (MDAs) are not merely discrete parts in the architecture of state bureaucracy, but must be underpinned by an economic imperative.

For too long, the State has become its greatest enemy, a caricature of a bumbling, bungling, plodding ogre that inhibits, rather than energises, commerce. This metaphor has been validated by a historical culture of complacency and ambivalence that has bred frustration and corruption.

While we acknowledge that there have been marked improvements in service quality across a number of MDAs across political administrations, particularly in the last 12 months, governments and public-sector groups have not gone far enough in redefining their mission under the expansive rubric of economic growth and development.

Every ministry, regardless of its narrow self-interest, must be oriented as a driving force towards the ultimate achievement of Jamaica's potential.

Therefore, the education ministry, for example, should not be viewed plainly as a manager of students' academic and extra-curricular outcomes from diapers to gowns and mortarboards.

Rather, the education ministry, as well as the labour ministry - as we have referenced in previous editorials - has a fundamental mandate to produce a skilled and knowledgeable workforce that can accomplish the economic outcomes that can transform this country.




Armed with data on the existing skill bank and forecasting labour quotients as specific sectors such as the business process outsourcing, construction, hospitality, and other industries, MDAs must position themselves to facilitate growth boons.

Overhauling, maintaining, and reviewing service-quality standards must be front and centre of a tunnel-visioned focus on growth. So, for example, municipal corporations ought to have an express-pace committee that close-marks construction applications for multi-household or commercial developments with, say, a maximum 30-day throughput, even if that service carries higher fees for preferential treatment. And the multiple layers of oversight and approval should be flattened, but without undermining safety, logistics, and other considerations.

These construction sites are microcosms of economic activity that sop up labour, fund families, and grease the gears of industry. The consequences are immense from both a micro and macroperspective.

And on another front, high-school managers should recalibrate their philosophy to focus more on churning out graduates equipped with technical and vocational skills, primed for finishing at universities, colleges, or entities like the HEART Trust-NTA, to provide the army of plumbers, electricians, ship workers, engineers, and architects who can give the economy the kick in the pants it needs.

Permanent secretaries ought not to be beholden to political gamesmanship but must demand accountability and set measurable, time-bound targets. Efficiency must be the watchword of 21st-century governance.

The Holness administration has a golden opportunity to trigger a sea change in Jamaica's economic prospects. If it can harness all arms of Government to rally behind this cause, five-in-four, or better, will not be a pipe dream but a formality.