‘Give us back full autonomy’
Judith Ramlogan, chief executive officer (CEO) of the Companies Office of Jamaica (COJ), is suggesting that the original mandate given to executive agencies has been diluted and that the Government has clawed back a portion of the delegated authority given to CEOs when the agencies took on their new status in 1999.
Executive agencies are currently under the microscope of the Government, with consultants just concluding a strategic review of these entities and their performances since inception. The findings of the team of consultants have reportedly been submitted to the Cabinet Office.
The Cabinet is expected to be given a copy of the report for deliberation.
About 16 years have passed since at least four government entities began their journey as executive agencies, and today, there are about 10 such public bodies.
The first four government entities to have been accorded executive agency status in 1999 were the Registrar General's Department, the Administrator General's Department, the Management Institute for National Development, and the COJ (then Registrar of Companies).
The head of the COJ is of the view that the level of autonomy given at the outset has been watered down, especially as it relates to human resources.
"The executive agency is still held to very high standards, with a lot of monitoring taking place, but we cannot do the job that we were formed to do because there are limits," Ramlogan told The Gleaner.
Stringent targets are set for executive agencies, similar to those of the private sector, and if these entities want to hire the requisite staff to carry out critical tasks, they have to go back to the Ministry of Finance for approval, a process that can be protracted.
The salary scales for executive agencies are set by the Ministry of Finance and are said to be comparable to those in central government.
"The Government had said the executive agencies can hire staff, manage staff, and fire staff if they don't suit the organisation. You can set your salary scales based on your ability to pay - that was the concept originally. That has not happened," the COJ boss argued.
more attractive salaries
However, for some newer executive agencies, the salary scales are said to be more attractive than their original counterparts, resulting in the movement of staff to the proverbial greener pastures.
As part of the just-concluded strategic review of executive agencies, extensive consultations have taken place with permanent secretaries, the CEOs of these agencies, ministers of government, and other stakeholders.
Owen McKnight, former head of the executive agencies monitoring unit in the Ministry of Finance, cited governance structure as one of the major areas highlighted for attention, noting that the role of advisory boards in relation to executive agencies was an issue of concern.
He said some advisory boards work with and monitor their respective agencies, but others want to act like management boards, dictating to CEOs how the entities should carry out their daily operations, while other advisory boards have very little to do with their agencies.
On the issue of advisory boards, Ramlogan expressed the view that these groups were not suited for the system of executive agencies. She said that executive agencies need a strong oversight body that would address their issues and concerns.
"We would really like a champion," said the COJ boss.
Dr Carlton Davies, former Cabinet secretary who piloted and played a major role in the implementation of executive agencies in Jamaica, was one such person, the COJ head noted.
McKnight told The Gleaner that some of the ministries do not have a proper structure to effectively monitor executive agencies.
"It is my understanding that part of the restructuring and transformation of the public sector is having CEOs appearing before the Public Accounts Committee other than the permanent secretaries," he revealed.