Trevor Munroe | Let Labour Day 2022 begin greater accountability
Jamaicans are observing Labour Day 2022 with a number of headlines fresh in mind.
• “Public sector workers give seventy-two-hour strike notice”
• “JCSA withdraws notice”
• “More than 2,000 NWC workers strike over compensation”
• “Jamaica’s airports reopen following one-day strike”
• “NHT workers add to the wave of strikes hitting Holness Government”
In another area, similar headlines.
• “Massive roadblock in Westmoreland as residents demand better roads”
• “St Ann residents protest poor roads”
• “Residents, taxi operators protest over bad roads in York Town”
• “Taxi operators in Norwood protest over bad road conditions”
• “Three days of protests over bad roads in Point Hill yield results”
So far “results” have been the exception rather than the rule in respect of deplorable road conditions. Fortunately, however, in relation to issues affecting workers and employees, pressure from the trade unions and advocacy from civil society are producing more positive results. The authorities, particularly the minister of finance and the public service, are committing to more meaningful communication and consultation with employees and their organisations. In some cases, this is already under way. Out of crisis the Government and the leadership in relevant agencies now have the opportunity to live up to promises made and thereby reduce discontent, instil greater trust, and build greater equity. In this way, The Gleaner should never have to report circumstances which led to the headline of May 31, 1938 “East and West, North and South, on Properties and on Road, Labour Demands More Pay”. Then, 84 years ago, it had to take an all-island upheaval to initiate the changes which brought Independence, improved living conditions, and ultimately established the principle that our Government, ministries, departments and agencies must be transparent, accountable, and perform to adequate, stipulated standards.
In that regard, underlying the widespread protests and inadequate responsiveness is the issue of the National Works Agency (NWA), the adequacy of its performance as well as its resources and the level of its accountability. So that our people may receive answers to these questions, I have written to the auditor general, in part as follows:
“Your last Performance Audit of the NWA was published in December 2015, almost six and a half years ago. Two “Key Findings” of that Audit were firstly that “NWA’s Quality Management System needs improvements to provide adequate assurance that road reconstruction and rehabilitation projects are completed based on prescribed quality standards and procedures.” Secondly, the Audit indicated that “NWA did not conduct timely calibration of critical testing equipment … which increases the risk that the standard specifications for the quality of the road network may not be met”.
…to remedy these deficiencies, the 2015 Report “strongly” recommended that: “NWA … obtain international independent quality certification to provide greater assurance that the Agency’s Quality Management System is adequate”… moreover the 2015 Report went on to state “the quality of the Nation’s road infrastructure could be compromised if NWA does not immediately implement changes to its Quality Management System to prevent contractors from submitting falsified material test results.”
PUBLIC PROTESTS THAN CONFIDENCE
Six and a half years later, public protests, rather than public confidence, in relation to the conditions of our roads is the order of the day and appears to be increasing. It is therefore in the public’s interest to know to what extent these recommendations to secure the nation’s road infrastructure have been implemented, and if not, the reasons for this shortfall. Should the explanation be unacceptable, measures ought to be applied to address the deficiencies and sanctions applied to those responsible.”
In relation to the matter of accountability I have written to the minister of finance as follows: “The NWA is a budget-funded entity, as such the agency, in accordance with the executive agencies’ act, “shall within three months after each financial year prepare and forward to the responsible minister, an annual report of the activity … during the financial year, including a statement of its accounts audited...” In ensuring the accountability of this body the law goes on to require that this report “shall be laid on the table of the House of Representatives and the Senate within four months after the end of the financial year (Sections 3 and 4 Executive Agencies Act 2002).”
As at May 9, 2022, the Status Report on the submission of Annual Reports of Government entities on the Cabinet Secretary’s website indicates that the period covered by the last Report to Cabinet by NWA was 2011/2012 to 2013/2014 and this was considered by Cabinet on 28th February 2022. Moreover, the last Annual Report published on the NWA’s website relates to the period 2010 to 2011. On the face of it, based on the information available to the public, the NWA has been and is currently in breach, at least for the last seven years, of the Accountability and Transparency requirements under the Executive Agencies’ Act. Should this be the case, this is clearly unsatisfactory, especially against the backdrop of the Financial Secretary’s circular of August 2020 to all budget-funded bodies. That circular repeats the Annual Reporting Requirements noted above and states, in part, “Accounting Officers are hereby required to institute measures that will bring the delinquent entities into compliance within the shortest possible time…”
The public therefore needs to know whether the NWA is in compliance with the accountability measures required by law. If the agency is not, what measures are being taken to hold the entity to account? To the extent that apparent non-compliance continues, should not the attorney general be requested to institute proceedings against the officers responsible?
As we commemorate the workers’ struggle of 1938 on our Labour Day 2022, let those who have ears to hear take note of comments, primarily on social media, from residents across the country.
• “Money is there to fix the road; go and fix the road”
• “What a shame and disgrace … they are busy making highways and not fixing the roads the poorer class of people have to use”
• “Nothing will change them until the people push back”
• “Inna Jamaica yu haffi fight fi what yu want” (From taxi operator, Darliston, Westmoreland, May 16, 2022.)
These words should not be so true for the workers, the disadvantaged majority and the vulnerable 84 years after 1938. Jamaica should not rank 120 of 154 countries on the 2020 Oxfam Commitment to Reduce Inequality Index.
Let the unrest surrounding Labour Day 2022 provide the opportunity for the authorities to restore trust in Government and its agencies. Let the authorities practise good governance principles that they preach: responsiveness, transparency, accountability, equity. Respect is due to all, particularly to those on whose labour – our youth, women, children, civil servants, security forces, teachers, health workers, household workers, skilled and unskilled workers, self-employed, small, medium, big business, Jamaica’s progress and prosperity shall depend.