EDITORIAL - More on Wallenford
We are grateful to Donovan Stanberry, the permanent secretary in the agriculture ministry, for his explanation of the meandering that has characterised the divestment of the Wallenford Coffee Company, which, apparently, is typical when selling government enterprises.
Thirteen months ago, the Development Bank of Jamaica (DBJ) announced the divestment of Wallenford to Michael Lee-Chin's AIC International Investment. The implication was that it was a done deal.
But in the past fortnight, Mr Stanberry disclosed that is only now that "all conditions" have been satisfied for "a definitive agreement". In a subsequent letter to this newspaper, responding to our comment in these columns, he clarified that Parliament is yet to approve the central government's assumption of Wallenford's debt, so that the new owner can acquire the firm free of those obligations. Further, fiscal considerations meant that the Government could not have absorbed the Wallenford debt in the previous financial year.
Lawyers, Mr Stanberry said, too, had spent the past year reviewing the agreement, while negotiations took place with Wallenford's creditors, who apparently needed to be assured of how, and by whom, the obligations will be honoured.
Said the permanent secretary: "Striking the optimal balance between concluding transactions with speed, while maintaining the integrity of the process, is a real challenge that government agencies face in the privatisation process."
But Wallenford has been on the books for divestment for several years. We would expect that those in charge of the process would have done much preparatory work for the sale of this enterprise - and others that are in the divestment queue - taking into account the interests of their ultimate owners, Jamaican taxpayers. Indeed, delay, which incurs a carrying cost for the business, or means that the assets lie idle, is another form of victimisation of taxpayers.
What Mr Stanberry set out was not an acceptable excuse, but a case for a more efficient and speedier privatisation, to which the DBJ and its partners should apply their minds.
Positive move by St Thomas schools
The memorandum of understanding (MOU) setting the basis for cooperation between three St Thomas high schools - Robert Lightbourne, Paul Bogle and Seaforth - doesn't go as far as we would like. But it is a step in the right direction and provides a template worthy of replication in other regions.
Our proposal is for schools in a district, especially those with the kinds of difficulties that characterise these three, to be brought under a single administrative management, but with each having individual academic principals with responsibility for pedagogy.
This MOU does not do that, but provides the scope for sharing best practices in teaching and staff development and cooperation in the engagement of parents, and ensuring school discipline. That is good.
Significant, too, is the agreement for the schools to "collaborate using the most cost-effective means to avoid the need for any incremental budget resources", which they would unlikely get from Government and which most parents can ill-afford.
There is the basis in this for creating economies of scale and lowering costs through joint procurement, as well as enhancing operational efficiencies by merging backroom operations, such as accounting and plant management.
Realised savings, in the circumstance, can be used to help lift the quality of education outcomes at the schools to levels of the pedigree of persons for whom they were named.
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