Daraine Luton, Senior Staff Reporter
CIVIL SOCIETY leaders have said no to the calls for Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller to quickly reshuffle the Cabinet she appointed in January.
Addressing a Gleaner Editors' Forum at the company's North Street, Kingston, offices last week, Carol Narcisse, chairperson of the Jamaica Civil Society Coalition (JCSC), said the focus must be about good governance and not the persons in ministerial positions.
"We have a responsibility as media and as civil society. We cannot make the people of this country think that to go back to doing it as was done in the previous administration, where we changed how many ministers of national security in three years [is the answer]," said Narcisse.
In the last administration, then Prime Minister Bruce Golding replaced Derrick Smith as national security minister after eight months with Colonel Trevor MacMillan.
The latter was subsequently replaced by Dwight Nelson, who held office until the change of political administration in January.
But Christopher Zacca, president of the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica (PSOJ) and member of the JCSC, told the Editors' Forum that Jamaica must develop the culture of firing non-performing ministers.
"One of the few constitutional levers we have in effecting good executive leadership is firing a man or woman from the Cabinet.
"I think it is something that is not done enough, and frankly, when it is done, a lot of times there is just some shifting rather than outright expulsion," said Zacca, even as he refused to weigh in on whether the time has come for Simpson Miller to shake up her Cabinet.
ADDRESS GOVERNANCE ISSUES
Zacca, however, joined hands with other members of civil society who said addressing governance issues is critical for the country to prosper.
Narcisse pointed to the need to implement various aspects of security reform, which has been lagging for years.
"It goes beyond Bunting or whoever," said Narcisse.
"You have a set of policies and programmes you want to see done, they don't happen in five years, you remove them. We need to set the bar high so it is beyond individuals in chairs. It's policy implementation."
She argued that the Jamaican electorate must become impatient with governments.
"So, like how we have one spending only one term, that is the pattern that must occur."
The Jamaica Labour Party was booted from office after one term by voters last December. It was the first time in Jamaica's history that a political party had been rejected after only one term.
Trevor Munroe, head of National Integrity Action, refused to be drawn into a call for Cabinet reshuffle.
He said critical governance issues, such as campaign finance reform, have been agreed on but have not been followed through.
"That has to do not with any single member of the Cabinet that we don't have campaign-finance reform," he said.
EFFECT FUNDAMENTAL REFORMS
Munroe pointed to the perception of rampant levels of corruption and said successive governments have not done enough to effect fundamental governance reforms.
"(Contractor General) Greg Christie made 50-odd special investigations in his tenure. A number of them found there was nothing; others did. There has been one prosecution - Kern Spencer.
"Three-plus years ago it started, three witnesses of 27 have been heard; the man who stole ackee gets three months, a conviction upheld by the appeal court," added Munroe.
Spencer, a former state minister, was arrested in 2008 and charged with corruption and money laundering.
The charges arose out of his alleged mishandling of the Cuban light bulb programme, from which, the Crown alleges, he improperly benefited. The case has been stalled in the court.
On the other hand, Junior Christie, 30, was sentenced to three months by Senior Magistrate Judith Pusey after he pleaded guilty to praedial larceny. He stole 45 pods of ackees from the grounds of King's House last November.
The appeal court last month rejected his appeal to have the conviction overturned.
"What is that telling you? This has nothing to do with who in the Cabinet should stay or who should go. It has to do with fundamental issues of governance," said Munroe.
He continued: "You have a Parliament that meets 45 afternoons per year. Sixty-three people on full-time pay and you have an average legislative agenda of 120 different items.
"At the end of each legislative year, you get 25 or 30 bills passed. My focus is on the governance issues rather than who should stay or go from the Cabinet. We have had Cabinet ministers come and Cabinet ministers go."
That is a view that is shared by the Reverend Dr Paul Gardner, immediate past president of the Jamaica Council of Churches, and Robert Stephens of Jamaica United for Sustainable Development.
RESHUFFLING WON'T LEAD TO CHANGE
As Stephens puts it, "Reshuffling the deck of cards is not going to make any difference unless those fundamental issues are addressed."
Similarly, Gardner said, "The fundamental issue is not about reshuffling a Cabinet member."
According to Gardner, a Cabinet reshuffle would not give Jamaica the traction it needs in terms of governance issues.
"The legislative agenda is out of whack in terms of what is to be done. Our parliamentarians are not focused on their core responsibilities, which are to legislate, to deal with policies. Therefore, our responsibility is having them refocused."
Opposition Leader Andrew Holness has so far refused to comment on whether the time has come for a Cabinet reshuffle.
But Floyd Green, president of Generation 2000, the young professional affiliate of the Jamaica Labour Party, wants to see the back of Peter Bunting, who heads the national security ministry.
"The prime minister should reassess her appointment of Peter Bunting as minister of national security, as within the past 10 months, the only piece of legislation he has brought to the House is the traffic ticket amnesty," said Green.