With governments in the region plagued by the practice of packing the Boards of state-run entities with their favoured political appointees, the present administration in Jamaica is moving to table regulations in the country’s National Assembly that will effectively de-politicise the Boards of public-sector bodies by, among other things, ensuring that a third of those appointed by a previous Minister or administration be carried over to a new Board.
“When you serve on a public Board, your role and function is not allegiance to a party or to the party that formed the Government when you were appointed. Instead, your allegiance is to the instrument of your appointment, the governance principles on which you were appointed and, by extension, to the people of Jamaica,” the island’s Finance and the Public Service Minister Dr Nigel Clarke said in making the disclosure recently that the Cabinet had approved the proposed changes in May.
“As such, transparency, diversity and continuity will be key watchwords regarding the appointment of future boards of public-sector bodies going forward,” the Minister is further quoted as saying.
With membership of Boards of state-run entities widely regarded in the region as ‘perks’ to be distributed at the discretion of the political administration in office, occupancy of such positions has long been characterized by what can be described as a ‘musical chairs’ syndrome, with individuals moving on and off state boards with changes in political administration.
A report in the Jamaica Gleaner last week said that Clarke, in addressing members of the Montego Bay Chamber of Commerce strongly criticized the decades-old system. “It is inefficient and ineffective. It doesn’t allow for suitable diversification, nor for the range of skills necessary to be represented on each Board as no Minister, no Cabinet has names of 2,000 persons at their fingertips, classified by competence, qualification and experience,” Clarke charged. The Jamaican Cabinet, according to Clarke, has approved a set of policy guidelines for the nomination, selection and appointment of the Boards of public bodies in keeping with its commitment to public-sector reform, good governance and societal equity,
According to the Gleaner report Clarke says that under the present system of appointment, there are approximately 190 public bodies each with board membership ranging from a low of seven to a high of 17 persons, noting that incoming administrations could struggle to adequately to fill more than 2,000 board positions on a change of government.
Part of the criticism that has been leveled at governments in the Caribbean, not least here in Guyana is what is felt to be numerous instances of arbitrariness in the appointment of personages to state Boards, utilising criteria that takes little more than political loyalty into account. The prevailing selection criteria has come under criticism from groups and individuals who contend that such arrangements run the risk of both institutionalising a trend of incompetent Boards and denying Boards the vital tool of institutional memory which is often critical persons to their efficient functioning.