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Gleaner Editors' Forum | Good governance will bring back support for politics

Published:Sunday | September 9, 2018 | 12:00 AMErica Virtue
Howard Mitchell (left), president of the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica, greets Dr Christopher Charles (right), while (from second left) Professor Alvin Wint, Cecile Watson and Greta Bogues look on ahead of a Gleaner Editors' Forum held last Thursday at the newspaper's North Street, Kingston, offices.

Poor governance, lack of accountability and transparency in the public sector have been cited among the leading reasons for increasing voter apathy towards the Jamaican political process, making it unattractive not only to millennials but to the general populace.

The governance process was the subject of discussion at a Gleaner Editors' Forum last Thursday, with representatives of the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica (PSOJ) and the University of the West Indies.

Asked how to make politics and governance more attractive to the population, Gail Moss-Solomon, general counsel, and corporate secretary at the GraceKennedy Group, said introspection was the place to start.

"I think we have to figure out how we influence behaviours, and from where I sit in the private sector, it's an easier question to answer. Our behaviour as an entity is influenced by our shareholders and our consumers. We know that there is a plethora of studies that show people invest in companies that have demonstrated good corporate governance, it actually makes the price go up," Moss-Solomon told journalists in attendance at the forum.

The test, she said, was transferring that framework to the public sector, but she also questioned whether it was enough.

"They have to see tangible results coming out of the implementation of good principles of governance that will make them say, it's making a difference for the country and it's making it something that is more attractive for me."

Howard Mitchell, who heads the PSOJ, said Jamaica was a democracy and it was both good and bad.

"The private sector is not by any means innocent of bad governance practices. It is just that the profit motive and the end result of profit is a very rational executioner of punishment, and if you are irrational and inefficient people will stop coming to your gas station," Mitchell said.

Government, he argued, gets away with being inefficient and there is no sanction until election time.

"Governments make decisions which are inherently foolish about used cars for the police, and they are not sanctioned ... . Government makes all kinds of moves, without dialogue, communication or understanding and they fail because of that. So that is natural in a democracy where we can only sanction every four or five years, that you have a seething underbelly of criticism, that comes out every time, even when they do something good," Mitchell proffered.


The best message


Dr Christopher Charles, University of the West Indies senior lecturer in the Department of Government, said good governance is the best message of any government.

"If you have good governance you are going to win most of the time. Most of the time we stress on the government, not because the private sector is not important, but the private sector doesn't offer themselves and say 'vote for us, we are going to build the country'. They are entrepreneurs, and they offer service and goods for a profit," said Charles.

"But, the people who offer themselves in competitive elections to say 'vote for us, we have the solution', 'vote for us and we will do it', we have to hold them accountable first. However, all institutions have to be held accountable, but the primary persons we have to hold responsible are successive governments," he said.

Jamaicans have shown their disdain for their bad governance by shunning elections, and voting in smaller numbers in national polls.

Professor Alvin Wint, who is a member of the audit committee of National Commercial Bank boards, said there is a tendency for politicians to be self-seeking and to operate with self-interest, and Jamaican politicians were not singular in that respect.

"This is where the broader discussion of governance at the national level becomes appropriate, the checks and balances, accountability, the media and civil society so that collectively we can keep saying to the politicians, 'we are holding you accountable'... ," Wint challenged.