Fri | Jan 24, 2020

Editorial | Good starting point for public-sector boards

Published:Tuesday | June 12, 2018 | 12:14 AM

The devil, they say, resides in the detail, so we anticipate additional and better particulars from Nigel Clarke, the finance and public service minister, regarding the Holness administration's policy guidelines for the appointment of members of public-sector boards.

However, what the minister outlined in his speech last week to the Montego Bay Chamber of Commerce and Industry appears to be headed in the right direction and in keeping with this newspaper's position on strategies to enhance oversight of state-owned enterprises and agencies which, too often, fall short of minimum standards.

Part of the problem, as Dr Clarke observed - and which we had highlighted shortly after the Government in which he serves came to office - is capacity: too few qualified and/or experienced people to fill available board positions.

There are, Dr Clarke said, 190 public-sector bodies in Jamaica, each with a board of directors ranging from seven to 17 persons. "So, incoming administrations can struggle to adequately fill over 2,000 board positions on a change of government."

These difficulties tend to be exacerbated by the politics of board selections. The Government of the day, understandably, wants to appoint board members who share its philosophy and who it believes will faithfully execute the policies set for the agency. That, more than occasionally, translates to the installation of party loyalists and board appointments being subject to the whim of a minister.

But, as Dr Clarke argued, good governance "can't be left to the goodness of a particularly minister". He has proposed to codify the system for board membership by developing a database of prospective board members based on a pompously named Competency Profile Instrument, which will be developed for all boards, and underpinned by a Performance Evaluation Instrument.

What is not clear from the minister's statement are the specific matrices that will, or have, guided the development of these instruments and whether it is a one-size-fits-all arrangement, rather than being bespoke to specific, or categories of, boards. In this regard, while Dr Clarke indicated that his proposals have been policy-tested among "diverse stakeholders", we suggest that the specifics of the plans be published so that they can be stress-tested against the weight of the opinion of the broader public - the woman and man in the street. These concerns notwithstanding, and while taking into account the primacy of competence in board appointments, we fully endorse the idea of reserving minimum board slots for women and "independents". The mechanism for determining the latter is among the matters for which we await further details.

Additionally, we feel that all board openings should be advertised and made open to application by one who perceives oneself qualified for the job, rather than applications only being open for joining the database from which appointees are selected. This, though, insists on the amplification of the transparent selection arrangement to which Dr Clarke referred.

We are also especially pleased with Dr Clarke's embrace of our 2016 proposal of the new dispensation that board members be so staggered that up to one-third of governors straddle administrations - and ministers - thus helping to maintain competence and institutional knowledge. If a board member disagrees with the policies of an incoming minister or administration, he or she can resign.