Sun | Oct 1, 2023

Christopher Charles | Job description quandary in Westminster system

Published:Sunday | May 28, 2023 | 12:50 AM
In this February 2020 photo, Governor General Sir Patrick Allen makes the Throne Speech at the  ceremonial opening of Parliament.
In this February 2020 photo, Governor General Sir Patrick Allen makes the Throne Speech at the ceremonial opening of Parliament.
Christopher Charles
Christopher Charles

The massive salary increases for councillors, members of parliament (MPs), Cabinet ministers, and the prime minister have angered Jamaicans at home and abroad and led to calls for job descriptions to measure their performance. The critics argue that the use of job descriptions will allow citizens to hold elected officials accountable. The nature and operations of the Westminster system makes the use of job descriptions difficult.

Job descriptions by themselves will not automatically improve the performance of elected politicians and hold them accountable. Barbados and The Bahamas, which also have the Westminster system, have done significantly better than Jamaica in terms of economic growth and development without these job descriptions. Germany, France, and the UK are also First-World Westminster countries without job descriptions.

Jamaica is a country where style is placed over substance, heat over light, friendship over integrity, loyalty over competence, and hype over performance. The flaws of Westminster also make job descriptions difficult to implement.


The MPs debate and pass laws in Parliament, meet with their constituents, and make representations to central government to get problems solved in their constituencies.

The MPs do not have the power or the resources in the current system to build roads, schools, bridges, dams, houses, and so on. Moreover, they must rely on an inefficient civil service to get things done, unlike politicians in Germany, France and the United Kingdom that have an efficient civil service that implement transformative policy solutions. Job descriptions are useless in this situation.

In the case of the MPs doing their legislative duties, there is talk about ensuring that MPs attend parliament regularly. This requirement is a good thing, but the quality of the debate is usually very low in the House, so their presence is insufficient. Very few MPs read any technical material that can guide them in creating good legislation; their advisers are their friends, many of whom do not have the requisite competencies to do the job. MPs tend to place common sense over science, and Jamaicans with the expertise seldom make any submission to improve legislative outcomes.

Revolt of backbenchers

What is worse is that MPs, under the Westminster system, are expected to vote for legislation with their party and not based on their conscience. Breaking party ranks have ruined many political careers. Revolt of backbenchers are very rare. The parliamentary context and conventions make job descriptions a waste of time.

Most Cabinet ministers, as members of the executive, are also MPs. The remainder of the ministers are government senators. The fusion of the executive and the legislature in Westminster would require that Cabinet ministers have a job description as a member of the executive and one as a member of parliament. Should these ministers get two salaries? Working as minister and MP takes up a lot of time, without the person having sufficient time to do each job properly. Any job performance evaluation of ministers must take this into account. This work overload and time constraint problems have been cited by critics of Westminster as one of the reasons why Jamaica should move to the presidential system, where the executive and the legislature are separated.


The civil servants are policy implementers protected from political control with permanent jobs. Therefore, they are expected to be politically neutral. The ministers cannot hire or fire civil servants and cannot give them instructions. The permanent secretaries interact with the ministers and subsequently instruct the civil servants. Therefore, what is the use of the minister’s job description as accountability criteria when the ministers have little influence over the civil servants who implement policies. The ministers have the responsibility to get the job done, but not the power to do so. Transferring some civil servants to some place far away from home as punishment over the years has not redounded to the advantage of ministers.


The ministers currently do not work blindly, because their ministries were established to solve domain-specific, societal problems. For example, take the Ministry of Education, tasked with educating and training our children. We already know that adequate teacher training, sufficient teachers and support staff, adequate salaries for teacher and support staff, safe schools, adequate resources, equipment and facilities, and excellent modern curricula, and excellent academic performance of students are expected. The ministers generally know these and other expected outcomes, but have not achieved much.

Politicians have not received a salary increase for 30 years, yet the populace is opposed to the large increases recently announced. The people have been evaluating politicians using core functions, and they are unimpressed. The politicians who need a significant raise do not have the sympathy of the people because of corruption, political arrogance, and the declining quality of policy solutions. Therefore, civil society must constantly pressure the political parties to recruit highly competent electoral candidates with integrity who have a record of high-quality performance in multiple domains. The private sector must stop funding political parties that refuse to do this. The public irony is that many of the critics calling for job descriptions are key enablers of the politicians’ underperformance.

Christopher A.D. Charles, PhD, is a professor of political and social psychology at The University of the West Indies, Mona. Send feedback to