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Government to centralise legal services

Published:Thursday | March 19, 2015 | 12:00 AM

The Government is to centralise legal services as part of a move to reform the public sector.

Cabinet has approved an action plan for the Public Sector Modernisation Programme, which will see a shared-services model being adopted for four main areas of government operations within the next 18 months.

The areas are legal services, communications and public relations, asset management, and privatisation and outsourcing.

"The idea behind shared services is to gain some economies of scale by consolidating some areas of work, particularly some of the more transactional areas of work carried out across ministries in different areas," said Veneice Pottinger Scott, who is now head of the Public Sector Modernisation Division.

A consultant has been hired to complete a report for an optimal shared service model.

significant savings

Pottinger Scott told The Gleaner that service-level agreements are to be established to determine the provision of services to government entities.

"It is supposed to bring significant savings and speed in terms of the delivery of different services," she told The Gleaner.

"Just think about what we are doing in the back-office services for the private sector (it is) the same thing. In Montego Bay, you can go and find people doing accounting for General Electric," explained Patricia Francis, chair of the Public Sector Transformation Committee.

"General Electric is wherever, and right here, we are doing the back-office work. It is a similar thing. The concept is that you outsource, but you are outsourcing to a government entity where you consolidate the back-office work of a number of ministries," she added.

Specifically as it relates to legal services, Francis said it is going to be done with the assistance of the Attorney General's Department.

"The real problem with legal services in Government, the constant complaint is that it takes too long to get the attorney general's opinion on a number of things that need to move forward speedily. One way of addressing that is to incorporate the legal officers in the various ministries and agencies, who will be operating under the auspices of the attorney general," Francis said.

uniformity of standards

She told The Gleaner that the reform efforts will see the legal officers being trained to ensure a uniformity of standards, and thereafter, when opinions are given it will be the opinion of the attorney general.

"The attorney general will be governing how they operate in these ministries, and it also means that you will be able to draw on legal officers based elsewhere to do work in other ministries," Pottinger Scott said.

She said further that it is now government policy that attorneys will only be engaged from the private bar if there is specific expertise there that is required by the Government.

Finance Minister Dr Peter Phillips, in opening the Budget Debate in Parliament, said the shared-services model is intended to address system-wide inefficiencies in the public sector.