The bureaucracy must reassert itself
If Jamaica's Government eventually finds the courage to implement, and stick with, a workable set of economic policies, its big problem will be finding the talent to manage the project.
The Government employs a lot of people. The problem, however, is that the bureaucracy has, over several decades, surrendered its authority and independence to the political executive. In its acquiescence, it has grown bloated, slow, lazy and mostly mediocre.
But all is not lost. For there remains in the permanent civil service, and other agencies, a core of talented, if overwhelmed, professionals, whose liberation can provide a strong foundation upon which to rebuild.
Their redemption, however, will require strong leadership from public-sector leaders who are not fatally compromised and who are willing to assert the logic of the old line of demarcation between the political executive and civil-service professionals.
NEED TO FACILITATE ENTERPRISE
The new bureaucracy, as part of this rebuilding, has to embrace the shifting paradigm of the State from an all-embracing benevolent provider to one whose core responsibility, even as it delivers basic services, is to facilitate enterprise. This transformation must include the creation of alliances with the private sector and wider civil society, with the advantage of creating insulation against the pressures of politicians.
We do not make these assertions lightly. Indeed, this newspaper believes that the deepening of Jamaica's social and economic crisis is paralleled by a retreat of the bureaucracy in the face of probing assaults on, and eventually, the overwhelming of its authority in the day-to-day management of the affairs of the State by politicians who flex their muscle of electoral support.
The upshot: As the lines between policy creation and implementation became blurred, politics trumped economics and governance in the management of public affairs. It tells in Jamaica's high levels of real and perceived public corruption, an unsustainable national debt, and social dysfunction.
This crisis has to be addressed on several fronts, starting with strategies to deal with the debt of 140 per cent of gross domestic product, servicing of which consumes 60 per cent of the Government's annual Budget. At the same time, there must be policies that generate growth.
The Government has accepted that a starting point for dealing with the debt crisis must be public-sector reform to cut cost and waste; pension reform to ensure public-sector employees contribute more to their retirement plans, thus easing the burden on the State; and tax reform to reduce evasion and corruption and to bring more people into the net.
Implementation of these policies will require competent, technical management, which may not exist in sufficient quantity in the current pool of bureaucrats. A government keen on reform would not hesitate to find them, and a sensible bureaucracy would embrace the recruits as its rebuilds and modernises itself.
The resuscitated bureaucracy also has to work at creating a new dialogue with the private sector in which the latter is viewed not with suspicion as an adversary, but as a partner in development. It must also see civil society not only as an intrusive watchdog, but one that can help to raise the alarm when the political executive would make forays across the line.
Herein, we believe, is a route to rescuing a government that has lost its way.
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