Sat | Jan 19, 2019

Gov't committed to improving corporate governance in public sector - Clarke

Published:Thursday | December 13, 2018 | 12:00 AMPaul Clarke/Gleaner Writer
Makeba Bennett Easy (left), chief executive officer of the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica (PSOJ), speaks with Fayval Williams (centre), Minister Without portfolio in the Ministry of Finance and the Public Service, and Howard Mitchell, PSOJ president. The occasion was the Public Bodies Corporate Governance Awards at the Jamaica Pegasus Hotel in New Kingston yesterday.

Minister of Finance and the Public Service Dr Nigel Clarke says that the Government is serious about improving corporate governance in the public sector.

"I am absolutely serious about improving corporate governance in the public sector. Without public trust, democracies cannot thrive, and so it is in the national interest to do everything that we can to increase public trust in the State," said Clarke during his keynote address at the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica (PSOJ) Public Bodies Corporate Governance Awards ceremony at The Jamaica Pegasus hotel in New Kingston yesterday.

He was speaking against the background of the recently tabled auditor general's report into the operations at Petrojam and its parent company, the Petroleum Corporation of Jamaica (PCJ).

The minister said that the Government was interested in the fundamental reforms that improved public trust.

 

Need for risk-taking

 

He noted that in order to effect change in a meaningful way that would positively impact the country, the Government would have to do things differently by taking risks.

"But to take risks, it means sometimes that the risks may pay off, sometimes they may not. It is because of what I just described that public trust is so important. Because when public trust is entrenched, Government can take risks in the interest of the people to advance our collective welfare, with the knowledge that the public understands that these actions are being taken in their interest and their interest only. And even if it does not pay, we know that action was taken in our interest," he stressed.

"So that is why actions that erode public trust need to be dealt with forcefully and firmly because public trust is the only currency that we have."

Mark Golding, opposition spokesman on finance and the public service, noted that it was important that solid governance principles are adopted and practised.

"This is obviously a critical time for us to be united around moving forward in a positive direction. We will support, as the Opposition, the efforts of the PSOJ to lobby the Government to elevate corporate-governance standards," said Golding.

"As we have seen in recent times and in looking backwards, there is grave danger in not having solid governance principles applied and followed in entities that are charged with responsibility for the public, including the management of assets."

He called the auditor general's report "a damning indictment on the total lack of governance structures and governance approaches" in the handling of what is actually the largest business enterprise in Jamaica.

He said that Parliament's Public Accounts Committee meeting on Tuesday, which was eventually aborted, shed more light on the operations at the state-owned oil refinery.

"In that meeting, more came out as to what was the effective blocking of the internal audit function within the PCJ group from operating in a robust way so as to protect public assets. It's a litany of woes that have been taking place there," noted Golding.

The National Health Fund was named the overall winner at the awards. The entity also copped four sectional awards, including first place in the category Function and Structure; first runner-up in the category of Corporate Governance Policies; and second runner-up in the Compliance and Disclosure of Information category.

paul.clarke@gleanerjm.com