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Dump non-performing permanent secretaries, says Lee-Chin

Published:Thursday | November 21, 2019 | 12:33 AM

Chairman of the Economic Growth Council (EGC), Michael Lee-Chin, says that ineffective permanent secretaries present a hindrance to the elusive five per cent nationwide growth the council aims to coordinate.

“We are calling on both political parties to change laws protecting non-performing permanent secretaries,” Lee-Chin said at a press briefing held at Jamaica House on Wednesday.

Lee-Chin said that while ineffective chief executives are fired, subpar permanent secretaries remain or are transferred from ministry to ministry.

“Until we fix this lack of accountability, there will be no public-sector transformation, and it will be difficult to attain five per cent growth in four years,” said Lee-Chin in giving the EGC’s presentation of its ninth quarterly report to the nation for the period June to November 2019.

Lee-Chin is also the chairman of Portland Holding Limited, which ultimately holds some 53 per cent of shares in NCB Financial Group, the island’s largest banking conglomerate.

The issue arose in discussions of lack of implementation of projects and procedures that would improve the island’s competitiveness, ease of doing business, and productivity. Such improvements, he said, would directly lead to billions of dollars in increased investment.

“There is no accountability at the top. Until we deal with the lack of accountability at the top, it is going to be very difficult,” said Lee-Chin about permanent secretaries. “Those who are not performing, there needs to be an exit mechanism.”

There are 14 permanent secretaries each overseeing a government ministry.

The EGC chairman, when quizzed by The Gleaner, did not give an estimate as to the number of permanent secretaries that should have their jobs placed under review. Instead, he gave context that such positions are not made permanent in other Commonwealth nations such as Canada.

Lee-Chin highlighted the full automation of AMANDA, which aims to fully streamline land development permits and licences. The project, while implemented in stages, remains four years overdue from its 2015 completion date, he said, adding that its implementation would allow the island to jump in the Ease of Doing Business ranking as it should reduce the time for permits.

“The excuses given is that a project team is required, but there is no project manager,” Lee-Chin said. “We are calling on the Ministry of Local Government, National Environment and Planning Agency, Planning Institute of Jamaica, and JAMPRO to appoint a project manager.”

CEO of the EGC, Aubyn Hill, suggested that permanent secretaries be offered seven-year renewable contracts, arguing that job permanence in the public sector, at senior levels, was no longer relevant.

“Times have changed,” said Hill.

The EGC was formed in 2016 and has held more than 450 meetings with stakeholders in the public and private sector. It developed a Call for Action report with recommendations arising from several of those meetings, with the ultimate aim of producing sustainable growth of five per cent per annum which, to date, proves elusive.