Thu | Aug 17, 2017

Letter of the Day | HEART triple merger forebodes bad marriage

Published:Wednesday | February 8, 2017 | 2:00 AMRobert Gregory

THE EDITOR, Sir:

The imperative for urgent public-sector reform and transformation, as pivotal to the achievement of sustained economic growth, development and prosperity for Jamaica, is now broadly accepted.

What appears not to be broadly appreciated is that the first step in any reform or transformation process is a shared vision of what the reformed or transformed Jamaican public sector will look like, its core functions, and purpose. It is based on this consensus or vision that an effective and transparent process of reform can proceed, following the old rule of thumb that 'form follows function'.

We have embraced the understanding that the role and purpose of government in today's globalised market economy is to FACILITATE AND ENABLE sustainable social and economic growth and prosperity through private innovation and initiative. Notwithstanding the occasional and seemingly random instances of shared-services arrangements, divestment and privatisation, the public still has no framework understanding or vision from which to rationalise and support these actions.

Case in point is our Government's recently announced plan to consolidate into one, three public bodies, each with distinctly different statutory functions and purposes:

a) The HEART Trust-NTA, funded by a training levy of three per cent of employers' wage bill, enabling HEART-NTA to ensure the training and certification of a globally competitive, quality Jamaican workforce available for the levy/paying employers.

b) The Jamaican Foundation for Lifelong Learning (JFLL), funded from the Consolidated Fund through the Ministry of Education, with a mandate to provide adult learners open access to education and certification opportunities, ranging from basic literacy to high-school equivalency certification.

c) The National Youth Service (NYS), funded from the Consolidated Fund through the Ministry of Education, with a mandate to provide out-of-school and unattached youth with a transition bridge consisting of resocialisation and training interventions, enabling them to mainstream into society and sustain their lives and livelihoods.

KEY QUESTIONS

If we seek to rationalise each of these public bodies, we must ask questions: Is this body's function still necessary? Could its function be effectively performed either fully or in partnership with the private or NGO sectors?

In a partnership model, what financial savings would be realised between a negotiated government subvention and the cost of operating and staffing a public body?

If the answer to the first two questions is yes and the cost of a negotiated subvention less than the cost of operating the public body, divest. If the answers to the questions are no, close the public body.

In the absence of the above rationalisation process, the proposed consolidation of HEART-NTA, JFLL and NYS will be akin to integrating a mango, breadfruit and tomatoa consolidation that will gravely compromise the mandate impact of each entity, and, in the case of HEART-NTA, compromise the provisions of the HEART Act, with regard to the purpose of the training levy for workforce development. This cannot be what public-sector transformation was intended to achieve.

ROBERT GREGORY

Consultant/Leadership Coach