Fri | May 29, 2020

Editorial | Opportunity for Clarke’s state board reforms

Published:Friday | June 29, 2018 | 12:00 AM

The ongoing scandal at Petrojam that forced the resignation of its Jamaican board members and could badly stain Andrew Holness' government ought to give impetus to Nigel Clarke's recent proposals for how the governors of state agencies should be selected.

At least the political momentum should have shifted in Dr Clarke's favour. So, if Dr Clarke is serious about his ideas, he should be pressing them on Prime Minister Holness, who is a close political ally. In any event, it is unlikely that the finance minister would have unveiled his broad concepts without, at least, the tacit endorsement, if not the full imprimatur, of his boss. Moreover, Mr Holness ought to be smart enough to appreciate that his public backing of the ideas could signal, except to his most cynical critics, that he is serious about seeking new and better approaches to governance and the defeat of corruption.

In two and a half years in office, Mr Holness' administration has largely weathered other claims of official corruption and the partisan appropriation of state resources. But it seems to be finding it hard to shake the saga of the oil refinery Jamaica owns with Venezuela, where officials have been accused of being freewheeling in the use of taxpayers' money, especially in rewarding friends and politically connected persons. In the face of the turmoil, the three Jamaican representatives on the board, including Chairman Perceval Bahado-Singh, against whom allegations of impropriety were also levelled, felt they had no choice but to go.

 

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The departed governors would have joined the board after Mr Holness' Jamaica Labour Party won the general election in February 2016 and would have been among the more than 2,000 people the incoming administration would have been, according to Dr Clarke, struggling to fill board seats in190 public-sector bodies.

Governments want to appoint people who share their philosophy and will carry out their policies, which, in a small country with a limited talent pool, too often means naming party loyalists with inappropriate skills and/or appointing the most talented to multiple boards. Sometimes, too, ministers see board appointments as reward for political service.

The upshot: governance suffers. And situations such as are claimed at Petrojam occur.

To get around potential political foibles or deliberate mischief, Dr Clarke, the finance minister, has suggested codifying the system for appointing boards, with the development of competency profiles, performance-evaluation instruments, and a database of skilled persons from which governments can select board members. He also suggested minimum seats for women and independents, as well as the staggering of appointments so that all members are not lost at the arrival of a new minister or government.

As we observed previously, we look forward to specific operational mechanics of these proposals. Generally, they are sensible ideas, not dissimilar to ones this newspaper has floated in the past. More important, from a political standpoint, some of them are congruent with ideas that Peter Phillips, the opposition leader, has expressed in the past.

In that regard, Drs Clarke and Phillips share common ground, which, given the confluence with Petrojam and Mr Holness' political circumstance, the former should have leverage. It is an opportunity, at least, to get a decent conversation going on an important subject. That's a good thing that could emerge from the Petrojam mess.