Robert Wynter, Contributor
During the past week, we witnessed an excellent conference by the Brian Meeks-led Sir Arthur Lewis Institute of Social and Economic Studies. The conference, which ran for four days, included members of government, academia, private sector and civil society discussing a wide range of topics reflecting on the past 50 years, while preparing for the next 50.
We await the summary of the conference deliberations, hoping that Professor Meeks and his team will mobilise the Government into positive action. The presentation that attracted my greatest attention, however, based on a newspaper report, was that delivered by the newly elected president of the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica (PSOJ), Chris Zacca.
Mr Zacca told his audience that the underperformance of the Jamaican economy is the basis for all our challenges and that blame should be placed squarely on national leadership, not simply political leadership. In attempting to bring his own organisation to book, Mr Zacca said that the PSOJ needs to be held accountable for its stewardship over the years, having failed to deliver on its motto, 'Free Enterprise and Watch Jamaica Grow'.
We must recall that Mr Zacca is in his second term. By his own admission, he has failed to perform effectively, like all other PSOJ presidents before him. He now has a chance for redemption and needs to ensure that at the end of this two-year term, Jamaica's economic environment is in substantially better shape than it is today.
ABRIDGED HISTORY OF PSOJ
Prior to 1978, the Jamaica Chamber of Commerce (JCC) was the leading industry association in the island, and was frequently consulted by Government on policy and other critical matters. With then Prime Minister Michael Manley making strident steps towards democratic socialism, the business community perceived threats to their interests and had little confidence in the then JCC president to effectively take on Manley.
It was against this background that the PSOJ was formed, with Carlton Alexander as its first president, to lobby Government in achieving a strong and enabling economic environment in order to preserve the influence of businesses and capital against a rampaging Manley.
Initially established as an umbrella organisation for other private-sector groups, the PSOJ's strong appetite for financial resources resulted in a 1986 resolution to allow individual firms to become members, thereby becoming a bastardised-umbrella group competing with its own members for new members. The ability and willingness of conglomerates to pay substantially higher levels of membership dues created a major shift in power to an inner circle of influential individuals. That 1986 resolution effectively spelt the death knell for real democracy within the PSOJ, as all major decisions have been taken by this inner circle. Incidentally, a subsequent 2003 resolution allowed individuals to become members.
Mr Zacca knows very well about this concentration of power. It was the inner circle which decided that Bill Clarke, then CEO of Scotiabank, should succeed Bev Lopez as president a few years ago. All went according to plan until Mr Clarke brazenly announced, prior to the elections, his intention to transform the PSOJ to be more democratic.
This did not go down well with the inner circle, and young Chris Zacca was hoisted on to the electoral platform. Zacca went on to defeat Bill Clarke at the polls, and a clearly upset Clarke picked up his marbles and went home threatening to withdraw Scotiabank's membership and depriving the PSOJ's coffers of some $1 million annually.
EYES NOT ON MISSION
Over the years, the PSOJ has lost its, focus and the extent of this loss is best demonstrated by the contents of its 2011 annual report posted on its website for all to see. While the organisation's mission is very clear - "to effectively advocate on behalf of our members for the implementation of public policy that enables strong sustainable private sector-led economic growth and development" - there are no mission-critical performance targets and no strategy to achieve the mission. This is despite the fact that the report indicates that a strategic planning session was held with objectives to develop same.
Not surprisingly, I find no evidence of the performance of the PSOJ, rather a list of activities which bear little resemblance to the mission. The statement by the president highlights launches of policy frameworks, policy papers, as well as youth projects (Obra and YUTE). As the organisation's purpose is to lobby Government to create an enabling economic environment, having a suite of policy papers is similar to having a full warehouse with nothing being delivered. The youth projects, while commendable, do not adequately address the mission of the organisation, and seem better suited at the Ministry of Youth.
The annual report, and indeed the PSOJ itself, can, therefore, be characterised as being more form than substance, giving credence to Mr Zacca's declaration that the organisation needs to give account of its stewardship. In being mission focused, by contrast, Mr Zacca has now committed to halving the cost of energy - not simply to develop energy policies to do so.
It boggles my mind that the powerful PSOJ executives and association presidents countenance this glaring lack of mission focus in the PSOJ, while in their respective companies and in their respective annual reports, profit and return on equity (mission) are paramount.
HAPPY WITH STATUS QUO
I suspect that Mr Zacca's sojourn in the public sector may have paralleled Saul of Tarsus' journey to Damascus. Having seen the light, the new Chris Zacca has now declared that the PSOJ, although very active, has not effectively performed for many years, and as president he must ensure it does not continue unabated.
In the report, he stated his intention to restart partnership talks with Prime Minister Simpson Miller; however, he must understand why these talks failed in the first place. It is no secret that many private-sector interests, particularly among the PSOJ power-broking elite, are quite satisfied with the state of affairs in Jamaica.
Many have made their fortunes on the back of what Bill Clarke once termed a "failed state" Jamaica and are not willing to upset the proverbial apple cart. It is against this background that Mr Zacca must internalise that the PSOJ must be transformed very quickly in order to provide the national leadership needed to influence strong economic growth. This will be an extremely difficult task, and the president will need all the support he can muster from within, and without, the organisation.
Drawing inspiration and quoting from the Daily Bread, Volume 27, January-December 2012, page 254, I suggest Mr Zacca asks God to help his and others':
Finally, Mr Zacca should ask God to give him and others the will to execute the strategy to transform the PSOJ in order to make Jamaica the place of choice to live, work, raise families and do business.
Robert Wynter is managing director of Strategic Alignment Limited, which facilitates organisational transformation and leadership development. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.