Sat | Sep 22, 2018

Mark Ricketts | The Sykes effect on change

Published:Sunday | June 17, 2018 | 12:00 AM

On Friday, May 25, this year, Jean-Ann Bartley, in a letter to The Gleaner, made a powerful observation that the Jamaican people are partly to blame for the bad policies pursued by governments.

Using repetition and the time the PNP ran the government to prove her point, she said we rarely called the party to book by sending a message that it was not OK to allow the Jamaican dollar to slide rapidly for over two decades. Her drumbeat continued that it was not OK to have usurious interest rates, and she might have added, which led to FINSAC and to persons and businesses all across the island suffering a fate equivalent to financial death.

A message should have been sent, she continued, that it is not OK to accept ongoing inflation and stagnation. She could have ended by saying a message should have been sent that it was not OK to accept lacklustre growth year after year. The letter writer concluded that after decades of indifference, arrogance, and insensitivity, as if Jamaica was PNP country, the party finally got a wake-up call.

I contend that wake-up calls should not happen only during elections but should be ongoing during every administration's time in office. Better yet, Government should be obliged to do the right thing, even if it's not popular or is not a soft option.

When Prime Minister Holness appointed Bryan Sykes as acting chief justice, a clear vacancy existed for the post of chief justice, but Holness literally put Sykes on probation to prove his mettle. Jamaica was up in arms; the Opposition party, lawyers, political thinkers, media personnel, the voices on call-in programmes, editorial boards, letter writers, social media commentary, everyday people all maintained a sustained attack on Holness.

Even with that, the prime minister, obstinate to a fault, still tried to justify the correctness of his decision by offering up unconvincing justification. For weeks he laboured in his arguments as he delayed making the right choice in appointing Sykes chief justice. The public would have none of it, and eventually the prime minister capitulated.

But why should it have come to that, when the acclamation Sykes received from the legal fraternity underscored he was the right choice in a country short on first-rate managers, leaders, and exceptional professional talent. Beyond the chief justice's extraordinary legal mind, the judiciary must be independent, and not subject to overreach by an executive branch corroded by tribalism, partisanship, cronyism, and one-upmanship.

 

GUIDING PRINCIPLE

 

Even without the public outcry forcing appropriate action, doing the right thing in all instances should be the guiding principle. That is not what is happening, and the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica (PSOJ) alluded to it recently.

The prime minister's misadventure in the Justice Sykes affair lasted for a month, but most things seem to be a nine-day wonder, as the public grows weary of ongoing agitation. Politicians, aware of this, generally wait things out, knowing they will die a natural death. The $400-million police used-car fiasco is an excellent example. Today, taxpayers are none the wiser, but seem as if they can't be bothered. That's reason number one.

Second, the pace and outlandishness of scandals and fiascos not only make each one short-lived but the public increasingly become inured to it all. They simply can't keep up. As they are wrapping their minds around one, there is another one waiting in the wings. If it is not Cornwall Regional Hospital, there is a constant stream from the auditor general, Pamela Monroe Ellis. She is always reporting on the absence of due diligence, inexcusable long delays in external audited reports, non-authorised expenditure, and the absence of transparency and accountability.

Most times, loyalty, partisanship, cronyism, and nepotism override merit-based appointments and competent management and leadership.

On Wednesday, June 6, The Gleaner reminded us of Monroe Ellis' findings where monies from a fund set up to provide emergency support for the dispossessed were gifted by a staff member to family members and friends. Less than two months ago on the front page of The Gleaner, the auditor general, covering the years 2012-17 (that involves both administrations), documented funds for the poor being diverted as loans to staff members and to companies owned by staff members in the Ministry of Labour and Social Security Rehabilitation Programme Policy (RPP).

Third, Parliament has substituted derision for criticism. Norms, mores, conventions, rules, regulations, are being bypassed in childish undertakings of gotcha, or as playful episodes in our much-heralded games of yesteryear, hide and seek, or last lick.

 

LAST LICK

 

The sense of last lick or one-upmanship was in evidence a few days ago following discussions and questions and answers about the number of advisers and consultants who hold more than one full-time job and who are paid large sums of money but are absent from an officially declared list. Specific names of known consultants not on the list were called out, and what made the exercise even more disheartening was that information, especially about party hacks, was hidden, and officials, including ministers, did not have a clue as to numbers and who worked in their ministries.

The JLP's response to many of these issues was about loyalty to inspire confidence, not competence to assure performance. Another response centred on one-upmanship rooted in the gall of the PNP to be asking questions when their sin was more horrific, their guilt more blatant, and their excesses less artfully disguised.

I thought the Holness government was about setting the bar high and elevating us to higher heights regarding good governance and doing the right thing. I did not know it was about articulating evident weaknesses in their predecessor's administration then scoring points.

- Mark Ricketts is economist, author, and lecturer. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and rckttsmrk@yahoo.com.