Wed | Sep 23, 2020

Orville Taylor | A $16-million lesson in governance

Published:Sunday | September 13, 2020 | 12:21 AM

It is not simply a $16-million mistake; it is a betrayal of the public trust and incurring of a debt which should be paid. None of the perpetrators of the egregious wrongs at ‘Petrojelly’ have to dig into their pockets to pay for their travesties; and the spectre of impunity continues to loom.

Every single cent which is generated by government corporations, the revenue system and which is spent must have tight levels of accountability. Thus, it is not simply about nepotism and cronyism, or spending money on personal or unapproved projects or activities, which is pretty clear. Accountability must be in regard to the consequences of breaches of protocols and procedure, especially when they lead to serious economic burdens on the public purse. My view is that if heads of enterprises were held personally liable for the breach of well-known guidelines, not only would there be less corruption, but the social antipathies, such as violence and homicides, would be less.

Last week, the Industrial Disputes Tribunal (IDT), established by the Labour Relations and Industrial Disputes Act (LRIDA), ruled that former general manager of Petrojam, Howard Mollison, was unjustifiably dismissed and thus, in accordance with the act, should be compensated to the tune of just under $16 million.

Mollison’s dismissal was not a knee-jerk. Someone in authority gave the green light after some consideration. Despite the evidence that persons in the human resources department were underqualified for the positions, it is unthinkable that given the long history of industrial relations at the corporation which was established under the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) administration, headed by Edward Seaga in 1982, that no one knew about the Labour Relations Code.

MIX UP AUTHORITY AND POWER

Beyond the Code, common law and pure common sense, plus disciplinary and other procedures within the organisation, give very explicit processes as to how contracts of employment may be terminated justifiably. However, one of the big problems with powerful minorities, who learned their malice on the plantation during the period of slavery, is that they often mix up ‘authority’, which is the legal and appropriate ability to carry out tasks, and ‘power’, which is simply the ability to do whatever what one pleases, despite the will of others or rules.

My reference to the plantation is not coincidental. Conversations with my colleague, Verene Shepherd, often speak to the ‘context’ of black slave drivers on the plantation beating their peers with more zeal than the Tallawahs getting whipped by the Knight Riders. However, be that as it may, what we need to acknowledge is that many of the former enslaved Africans keep these legacies and they colour every aspect of our lives.

In the private sphere, where we aspire towards ‘ice cream browning’ complexions, good hair (although we pronounce it like the tyre brand), speaking with a Ja-fake-an accent, it is bad enough. However, when we find ourselves in the new Great Houses, often located physically and socially distally from the pulse finger, we become worse than the former slave masters. Covering ourselves in the trappings of our masters and colonial planters, we massage our egos with the titles; some earned, some ascribed and some inherited, but all give us feelings as if we are something different. Worse it is when decent well-thinking people sit at the new versions of the knight table, the boardroom table, and support decisions, which they know are indefensible when brought to the public light.

ACT OF CORRUPTION

Such luxuries should not exist in government corporations or entities which get sizeable chunks of their budgets from the Jamaican people. Improper treatment of workers and other acts of occupational detriment have repercussions. If you wantonly disregard the rules of the organisation or external guidelines in furthering your personal interest or malice against another worker, it should not only be seen as an act of corruption but a dismissible offence, and the financial burden of the misconduct should be borne by the one who deliberately put the institution in disrepute.

Now, please understand that this is not a labour law analysis; it is one steeped in models of behaviour change. Only when those who do wrong to others within organisations are held to book will we see a reduction of all of the social pathologies which plague us.

Some of the bright people in this country might have missed it, but in a number of my publications, conference and workshop presentations, I have pointed to the correlation between decent work, including fair labour practices and human rights at work, on the one hand, and productivity, the aforementioned violence on the other hand. This is not just history; it is scientific sociology and praxis.

Our LRIDA and the Code are creatures of Hugh Shearer and Michael Manley. Let us stop tainting their legacies.

- Dr Orville Taylor is head of the Department of Sociology at The University of the West Indies, a radio talk-show host, and author of ‘Broken Promises, Hearts and Pockets’. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and tayloronblackline@hotmail.com.