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Gordon Robinson | Accountability first, increased salary later

Published:Sunday | May 28, 2023 | 12:52 AM
Dr. Nigel Clarke, minister of finance and the public service,  speaks at the post cabinet press briefing at Jamaica House in Kingston on May 24.
Dr. Nigel Clarke, minister of finance and the public service, speaks at the post cabinet press briefing at Jamaica House in Kingston on May 24.

As I promised last Sunday, the reaction to announced salary increases for MPs, Ministers and Councillors has been overwhelmingly contentious.

What did you expect from a system that allows Cabinet to pay itself whatever it wants? Democracy demands accountability and transparency especially when paying oneself other people’s money. So, this isn’t democracy.

In a stout defence of the new salaries, Nigel Clarke ( Leadership salaries in public service; Gleaner; May 21) wrote:

“Salaries of cabinet ministers have been benchmarked to the salaries of permanent secretaries for the better part of 50 years… And pay for [MPs] has tracked 62.5 per cent of the cabinet minister’s pay since 1990. In updating ministerial and parliamentary pay, the existing framework, which has been used for 37 and 33 years, respectively, has simply been applied to the new central government salary scale.”

Bollocks!

Nigel, for how long was BOJ Board selected in a partisan political manner before YOU changed the system to make BOJ more independent? For how long were members of the political directorate eligible for appointment to public boards before YOU just announced they were no longer eligible?

Why come with this fool-fool argument “it’s been like this for 50 years so…..”?

So. WHAT?

Permanent Secretaries are career civil servants appointed by Governor General on advice from an independent Public Services Commission. How are Ministers appointed? Jamaican Permanent Secretaries’ salaries were adjusted based on an analysis by Ernst and Young using performance indicators and job descriptions. How were Ministers’ salaries adjusted?

Space only allows one of many examples. Today, I’m picking on Ambassador Sheila Sealy-Monteith, Permanent Secretary in Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade. She holds a Bachelor of Arts General (Hons); an Advanced Post-Graduate Diploma (Hons) in International Relations; and Master of Science in international Relations. She also holds a Professional Certificate in Human Resource Management from Carleton University, Canada and is a Graduate of the Public Sector Senior Leadership Program.

Our rotten system of governance forced this PM to pick the majority of his cabinet from a cabal of 49 whose main qualification was to convince a geographically selected cadre of voters (too many residing in garrisons) to vote for John (or Jane) Q. Politician as MP.

So let’s move on to Nigel’s second big point:

“levels of pay for the leadership across the administrative public sector have been dramatically below what is required to retain the most competent public servants and interest them in leadership opportunities and/or to attract external candidates.

…Prior to now, we have subordinated the long-term good to fear of distorted short-term optics. That cannot continue. Our collective vision for Jamaica can only be realized if some of the most talented and promising young persons our education system produces see public service as a viable first choice career option. If Jamaica is to succeed, the public service must also be attractive enough to allow lateral recruitment of accomplished private citizens, across diverse fields, into positions of public sector leadership.”

Sigh.

Let’s not linger on his cruel implied indictment of the “competence” of today’s political leadership. We know ALL about that! It’s the blinkered, nonsensical “attractive enough” argument that should detain us. Does Nigel not KNOW that public service via political leadership is currently so attractive that even the Opposition Party has multiple applications from wannabe candidates prepared to mount street protests if they don’t get the work?

OBVIOUSLY the attraction isn’t the pay. So, Nigel, What. Is. It?

Allow me to be presumptuous enough to teach political neophyte Nigel Clarke, a few facts of political life. The reason many of us won’t enter representational politics has NOTHING to do with money.

NOTHING!

It has everything to do with the rotten, corrupt, totalitarian system that only works to ruin the reputations of persons of achievement should they be foolish enough to walk through that door into the room of evil expectation that either swallows us as we eventually “run wid it” or spits us out as abject failures for insisting on principle.

No amount of money will attract Nigel’s “most talented and promising young persons”. Money attracts money-grubbers. It wasn’t money that attracted Nigel. But not all of us are as brave, or protected, as Nigel. Our reputations need systemic protection.

So, boiled down to gravy, here’s the chronology on which we should be focused in this salaries brouhaha:

(1) Teachers, nurses, police, doctors etc threatened with lengthy delays in new salary payments if they don’t stop negotiating for more and sign on the dotted line in days;

(2) Hurried, suspect “mandates” are leveraged from browbeaten public servants but a steadfast Teachers’ Association President refuses to sign. A Vice President substitutes;

(3) Many “new” salary payments are delayed. When received, multiple complaints of lower-than-expected amounts are published;

(4) Then, in Nicodemus style, massive salary increases are announced for Councillors, MPs, Ministers, PM and GG all approved by Cabinet without negotiation, independent analysis or public consultation;

(5) Opposition Spokesperson on Finance announces the Opposition has no problem with the increases;

(6) By the next day, after howls of protest, Opposition spins 180˚ and opposes the increases. But no PNP Councillor or MP rejects the pay rise;

(7) Producing an illusion of which David Copperfield would be proud (Houdini didn’t do illusion), Mark Golding says (my translation) “Gimme di increase; I’ll give 80 per cent to charity UNTIL public sector anomalies are resolved”. But he doesn’t name the charities; doesn’t say how his contributions will be made; doesn’t preclude the “contributions” from being political (a.k.a. vote-buying); nor specifies the “anomalies”;

(8) PM says increases will result in greater accountability and promises future new accountability tools;

(9) More protests including from every politician’s nightmare, the Church, are followed by Information Minister’s assertion on Friday that salaries can’t be rolled back having already been implemented. How convenient.

(10) Then PM hurriedly calls a Monday Press Conference. At the presser, PM speaks for an hour; accuses the Opposition of flip-flopping on the salaries issue; then, looking ultra-stressed (internal JLP strife?) but, allegedly, “listening” to us, announces his own epic flip-flop by rolling back ONLY his salary.

(11) At that same presser, he announces details of “accountability tools” to come

This nonsense about “listening to you” is beyond grating. If PM was listening to us he’d never have allowed these salary increases in the first place without FIRST radically reforming Jamaica’s governance system to demand accountability. And don’t get me started on this rubbish about mimicking the private sector in order to attract the best and brightest.

Private sector is all about PERFORMANCE not bribery.

I apologize for telling another personal story other than for humour (I promise my band doesn’t have a woodwind section) but I recall being appointed to Chair a Statutory Authority in 1990. My first move was to meet with each department head; then each department; then every member of staff to listen to their concerns. To a person, poor remuneration was the number one complaint. I told them the agency’s performance was abysmal. First, their operation had to improve based on published performance indicators. Then I’d promise them better pay. In a year, the improvement in work ethic and results were phenomenal. I fought with Government and obtained a huge pay rise for every employee. My pay (zero) didn’t change.

Accountability FIRST; increased salary AFTER.

These were PM’s “accountability tools”:

1. Written job descriptions to be tabled in Parliament

Yawn. Who wrote them? The job holders? Why NOW? More political illusion? MPs’/Ministers’ job descriptions/appointment processes belong in Jamaica’s reformed constitution crafted after public consultation.

2. “Enhanced” Code of Ethics to be reviewed by Cabinet…

Then WHAT? Again, who wrote this code? How’ll it be enforced? Some MPs have refused to sign Integrity Commission’s (IC) code based on intolerably idiotic excuses.

3. Financial penalties for “unexplained” absences from Parliament.

DWL. So just “explain” and all’s well? Who imposes these “penalties”? This MUST be the Guy Lombardo show! MPs sole constitutional job is lawmaker. Gadding about constituencies pretending to be NWA/NWC etc is NO EXCUSE for parliamentary absence.

4. MPs’ Accountability Reports to Parliament

Really? Seriously? Reporting to self is accountability? What about IC? How many agencies’ reports already gathering dust in Parliament? political leaders must think we’re dumber than rocks!

5. Special training courses for MPs.

Good idea. But taught by whom? Standing Orders expert Warmonger? ROFL!

6. Targets to be published by Ministers

We already have those. They’re called grand announcements. Remember Cornwall Regional targets?

Jamaicans are sick and tired of political spin masquerading as listening to citizens’ concerns. This time THAT gig won’t spin. Only a rollback of ALL these political salaries followed by comprehensive constitutional reform to separate any future review process from politics will suffice.

Peace and Love.

Gordon Robinson is an attorney-at-law. Send feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com