Sat | Aug 18, 2018

JaRistotle’s Jottings | Safeguarding our democracy

Published:Thursday | August 9, 2018 | 12:00 AM

Jamaica has had its fair share of governance challenges, such challenges invariably arising when, knowing that regulatory systems are not up to par, governments have nevertheless chosen to ignore existing inadequacies and further compounded the problems by utilising people with insufficient expertise, subjective agendas and questionable integrity to manage such systems.

This is hardly comforting when one considers democracy as a representative system of government that should be managed at all levels by people with the appropriate expertise, objectivity and integrity but which has been repeatedly flouted by successive governments.

Our core rights, freedoms, privileges and very existence can be seriously railroaded if we do not have an appropriate battery of safeguards in place. Such safeguards should first address the robustness of the system of government itself and the attendant structures within the system, as well as that of the people who are utilised to administer the system.

Hiring people with the appropriate expertise and experience is a management function, however, as is oft the case, human inputs can corrupt the process. The same can be said in relation to government appointees whose agendas are invariably more aligned to the appointing politicos than to the organisations to which they are appointed. These subjective factors can and do have major implications for the organisations and individuals concerned and dealing with such anomalies can be more difficult than finding a bean in a forest, even with the use of a spectrometer.

More important, regardless of whether the hiring process is flawless or has been corrupted, or if the matter involves a political appointment, the integrity of the individuals concerned should be reasonably assured through a formalised security vetting regime. When one thinks of the scope of responsibility entrusted to senior executives in the public service, and the sensitive nature of the information which they will likely become privy to, I daresay not enough emphasis has been put on the assurance of integrity.

The concern does not cease at the senior executive level, but filters down to subordinates, dependent on the particulars of the respective government agencies and individual appointments and job requirements. It is also equally applicable to individuals appointed to serve on boards of directors and equivalent positions by successive governments.

The last thing we want to incur are government employees and political appointees having chequered pasts and questionable associations, where the only thing keeping them out of prison is a lack of substantive evidence and their political connections. With formalised background checks, not only in relation to criminal records but also ongoing investigations and intelligence reports, we should be able to exclude such persons from access to sensitive information and thus disqualify them from holding certain employment positions or appointments.

 

Security clearance system

 

We often get a whiff of the term 'security clearance' in the movies. No clearance, no need to know, and so it should be in our government service and system of political appointments. All government employees and political appointees should undergo compulsory security screening and training, and be assigned a relevant level of clearance which will determine what documents and information they are authorised to read, hear and handle. Similarly, every meeting under the auspices of a government agency should be classified according to the agenda items, and only persons holding the minimum clearance or above should be allowed to participate.

Only then will objective dialogue on sensitive matters be accomplished, rather than individuals rightly keeping quiet because of the presence of unvetted participants. These safeguards will also enhance the sharing of information among individuals, agencies and our overseas partners.

Expertise without integrity is a recipe for disaster.