Don’t sacrifice due process for expediency

Here are my thoughts on the Jamaican Government’s latest move to bypass the office of the Contractor General in getting specific initiatives underway.  I wrote them in the form of a letter to the Editor and The Sunday Observer published the letter today:

Don’t sacrifice due process for expediency

Sunday, April 29, 2012

 Dear Editor,
Rendering the role of the contractor general redundant by creating a commission to “expedite” well-needed investments and get projects up and running is not only a retrograde step, but it is moreso an extremely dangerous action.
It is dangerous in terms of the precedent that it will set, allowing Parliament to bypass legitimate organs of the State which were born out of the need to ensure that the tax dollar is spent in the best interest of the country and to ensure that all decisions that affect Jamaica can stand up to scrutiny. It is dangerous, too, given the fact that Jamaica has a legacy of corruption at all levels of society.
The fact that we have racked up massive debt over the last few decades with very little to show for it (think of our decaying physical infrastructure, think of the state of our health and education sectors) is testimony, I believe, to pervasive corruption even if we have not fingered specific individuals.
Let me be clear though, I agree with the notion that Jamaica does not have the luxury of time to sit, ponder, twist and turn when it comes to taking advantage of opportunities that can help to remedy our dire economic and social situation.
I insist that the need to act quickly and decisively, anlong with the need to ensure the presence of checks and balances to guarantee transparency and accountability, are objectives that are not at odds with each other. It is entirely possible for the various State bodies and agencies that are beholden to the citizens and taxpayers of this country and are indeed funded by our blood, sweat and tears, to operate in such a way that the twin ideals of action and accountability coexist to our benefit.
Let us consider what happens in the private sector. As entities grow there is a natural tendency for bureaucracy to set in, and process and form quietly replace that entrepreneurial spirit that propelled them forward in the early days. Indeed, there is a role for the evolution and implementation of policies, procedures and internal controls as the organisation grows and there is more at risk.
But those of us who work in the private sector have seen quick decisions and rapid fire execution when the leadership agrees that a particular initiative is critical to the growth and sustainability of the organisation. What happens is not a disregard for policies, procedures and internal controls, but rather a swift redeployment of resources within the organisation.
That results in the critical initiative being bumped to the top of everyone’s list of priorities and the relevant due diligence is done sooner rather than later, allowing for speedy decision-making and implementation. This is what we refer to as “fast-tracking”.
What I am therefore proposing is simple: once specific initiatives that will help grow the economy and satisfy social imperatives are identified, the notion of “fast-tracking” or speeding up things should kick in. Surely, it is not beyond our Parliament to agree on critical initiatives and to then convince the Office of the Contractor General — the organ of the State charged with ensuring that the tax dollar is spent in accordance with structures that have been set up to protect the taxpayer — of the need to expedite the relevant due diligence, allowing for the speedy decision-making and implementation that I spoke of just now.
Expediting here does not mean bypassing or overlooking. Expediting means allocating resources in such a way that agreed on priorities are dealt with sooner rather than later.
We ought not to sacrifice due process for expediency, and we don’t have to.
Kelly McIntosh

“Yes, Minister!”

Yesterday they were part of motorcades and parades and mass fetes…fists pumping, hands waving, gyrating to the tunes selected by the talented DJs presiding over the proceedings at the various political rallies all over the island.  They lauded their leaders.  They lambasted their opponents.  They promised the world.  Oftentimes, their tone and language was geared to the masses.  These rallies where we saw them shine were in the main long on emotion and short on substance. 

Then V Day (voting day) came and went.  A week or so after V Day, the party which won most of the island’s 63 seats had their own party leader “crowned” Prime Minister.  She then looked to those of her membership who had been victorious, contributing therefore to her own ascendancy, and selected her management team.  In this instance, she selected 20 senior managers, if you will.  She “restructured” the government…and I say “restructured” tongue in cheek, because what we’ve seen so far is to my mind, a re-naming of portfolios.  I have to wait and see the functions and outworkings of the governments are actually aligned to these new names before I hug up this “restructuring”.  Even in my own professional experience I’ve seen critical functions undergo grand renaming exercises under the guise of “restructuring” and the key performance indicators show little improvement.  What’s the point!

Some people had issue with the size of her management team.  To be truthful, that did not bother me. I am more interested in the output than the size. 

I remain wary, however, of the role of the Minister and what qualifies him/her to be there!  The Minister, I believe, is supposed to be responsible for crafting policy, articulating a vision for the function and managing the resources of the state such that sustainable development is the end product of their efforts.  Can these people actually do that?  Do they even know where to begin?  Where did they learn their craft?  Yesterday they were pandering to the lowest common denominator and today they are senior visionaries and administrators?  I suppose that’s why God created Permanent Secretaries.  They’re supposed to be the technically sound experienced administrators…But in every relationship it makes sense to identify the power balance early on.  So let’s see: Permanent Secretary and Minister…hmmm…where does the power actually lie?  So who will therefore influence outcome?

I think I will call my brethren Lee Kwan Yew later this morning.  He seems to have gotten it right somehow.  Yes, yes, yes…he made us a tad bit uncomfortable in the way he seemed to embrace a sort of bureaucratic elitism and kind of played roughshod with our ingrained notions of the (grand) “rights of the individual” (we sometimes ignore the (grander?) rights of the society!).  Ideologies and philosophical debates aside, Singapore has a pretty good track record and I think just maybe, we can learn a little something about public policy, public administration and working effectively from my pal Lee.  We should be so lucky.

Let us track performance against what they promised (refer to the Manifesto and the Progressive Agenda).  If it’s too onerous to track all 20, choose 3 key ones and follow up. Write, speak out and question when their own KPIs are off track.

People Power indeed.

Mama P tun it up! I feel like a vegan at a jerk festival.

As I read the Daily Gleaner of Jan 18 (just this morning), an article caught my eye…”Mama P Tun it Up”. Supporters of the HPM Portia Simpson-Miller heralded her entry into Parliament as our newest Prime Minister with chants of “Mama P, wi love yuh!” over and over again.  I couldn’t help but remember a letter that I wrote to the Gleaner back in 2007 which they published.  Here’s what I said then:
‘Mama’ vote not the way
published: Thursday | July 19, 2007


The Editor, Sir:
I am deeply offended by the Prime Minister presenting herself to the citizens of Jamaica as ‘Mama’. To suggest to us that we should vote for her, that we should vote for any one of the 60 candidates of her party, because “a vote for them, is a vote for Portia”, is an insult to our intelligence as a people.
Jamaica needs a leader who very clearly understands, and indeed demonstrates, that he or she understands what the role of the state is. The role of the state, simply put, is to create conditions that facilitate economic growth, to create conditions where it is difficult for crime to flourish, and to protect those in society unable to protect themselves. If the Government succeeds in doing these things, then we will not need anyone to hug us, to kiss us, to rub our heads and tell us ‘not to worry because Mama is in control’.
Jamaica needs a leader who will inspire its citizens to get up and determine our own destinies. This culture of patronage, that the styling of our leader as ‘Mama’ exemplifies, will keep us as a people mired in dependency and continue to give relevancy to dons and politicians, who think that giving out cash and kind is enough for us to entrust them with positions of public leadership.
We demand more.
I am, etc.,
KELLY McINTOSH
Fast forward to Jan 17, 2012…so much for my stridency back then!  Who was I to be categorically stating what Jamaica needs.  On Dec 29, 2011, the majority of voters decided definitively.  And yesterday  
they underscored their choice with their very vocal and adoring salutations and congratulations directed at their very own Mama P.
I feel like a vegan at a jerk festival.

Winners and Losers from the JLP Dec. 2011 Election Campaign

The Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) lost to the People’s National Party (PNP) in the recent National polls here in Jamaica.  The following are who I consider to be the winners and losers in the campaign leading up to the elections.

LOSERS

G2K: Generation 2000, or G2K, the youth affiliate arm of the JLP, lost much of the shock and awe factor they displayed in the 2007 elections.  This time around, their predominant message was about how wrong the leader of the the then opposition was for the role of Prime Minister.  The adverts were cleverly put together, complete with sound effects and made for more than a few laughs, I have to confess (watch one of said adverts here).  Mrs. Simpson-Miller was portrayed as loud, war-like and lacking any ability to speak convincingly in public.  But were they able to garner votes for the JLP?  I don’t think so. Perhaps, the adverts were even seen as insults coming from a group of youngsters who could be her children! Mrs. Simpson-Miller, Mama P to her supporters, has been a public servant and a former Prime Minister in what can be described as a matriarchal society, one where the postion of mother is revered.  It is not inconceivable to me that the JLP probably lost votes in their relentless attack on the lady and the absence of a clear message of what the JLP has accomplished and would accomplish given the chance.

I sincerely hope that the G2K honestly assesses their role in the last election, with the input of objective outsiders. If the present leadership of the organisation has to be changed, so let it be.  It is certainly worth considering.

Daryl Vaz: Mr. Vaz, mere days before the elections, stood on a platform and declared words to the effect that there were a number of civil servants who were holding back the progress of the government and that they would be rooted out once the JLP was returned to power.  I don’t think threats to a huge voting group who were already in fear of losing their jobs under a JLP administration was the best way of garnering support.  It probably also turned off voters who were not even civil servants.

Performers who lost their seats: Christopher Tufton and Bobby Montague come to mind. They demonstrated a can-do approach to their work at the national level.  This obviously was not seen in their constituencies and they lost their seats in Parliament. I hope they remain in politics. It is in Jamaica’s best interest to have a vibrant and functional Opposition, and I believe these two men have more to offer.

Andrew Holness: Mr. Holness, I honestly believe, has a good grasp on the challenges facing Jamaica.  I also am convinced of his sincerity in wanting to address them and see Jamaica prosper. Having said that, the results of the recent election clearly show that Mr. Holness failed to fire up and inspire his own base, and indeed the wider electorate. A great leader is able to articulate a vision and sell that vision to his people and get buy in and participation. He failed to do so. To the extent that his intentions were misaligned with the results (his party was soundly whipped), I have to declare him a loser. In the shadow of his defeat, I really hope that Mr. Holness, regardless of the forces that pushed him to the top of the ladder in the JLP, will now dig deep and find a way to reshape and reposition the party. It will take determination, a vision, focus, wisdom and strength of character to do this. I would like to see more of Mr. Holness in the future. If not as team leader, certainly, a team member.

WINNERS

Kamina Johnson-Smith: This young lady, a former senator, came out of the woodwork and impressed tremendously.  She was part of the JLP manifesto team and therefore secured for herself and her party quite a bit of air-time. As she did the talk-show rounds, she proved that she had a real grasp on the issues. She was an excellent communicator.  She demonstrated a perfect blend of agression and passion without being offensive. I remember seeing her go head to head with bright, young, Julian Robinson of the PNP.  She made him look positively ordinary in that particular interaction! I hope to see way more of Mrs. Johnson-Smith in the future.

The JLP Manifesto: This beautifully produced document clearly outlined successes and plans as per the JLP.  It failed to sell the JLP to the electorate, but the facts therein are indisputable.

These are my opinions. God Bless Jamaica.

Being right isn’t enough

Happy 2012!

Here in Jamaica, the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) just lost their bid to remain government for the next 4-5 years.  By all accounts (polls and general sentiment amongst my peerage) the results were going to be close.  But methinks no one saw it coming…the People’s National Party (PNP) won the December 2011 election in fine form, winning 41 seats out of a possible 63; the JLP winning 22. The process itself worked…no one has cried foul with respect to the proceedings on Dec 29. I cast my own vote in under 5 min. So how could so many people have gotten in wrong? Here are my own thoughts on the issue. And as they say, hindsight is always 20/20.

Your decision making platform is directly related to your circumstance.  So someone with adequate resources at their disposal will process options differently from someone scrambling to have their basic needs met.  I believe that the JLP was doing well given the context of the Jamaican and indeed, world economy.  Of course, that was from my personal vantage point. I was able to eat well, pay my bills, take modest vacations on the island, live debt free, school my kids, I was gainfully employed and I was even able to save a little.  So when faced with missteps that the JLP had made during their term like the mishandling of an extradition request for a known JLP strong man and the resultant chaos and loss of life that this mishandling caused…the mishandling of significant funds that were to be used to fix and build out our roads…the innuendo around the integrity of key players of their administration, I was prepared to overlook the deficiencies in the administration for what I termed “the greater good of managing the economy”.
I suppose the JLP was banking on the majority of persons processing in the same way that I was.

Here’s the thing: the number of people living below the poverty line in the island had increased. 

The JLP displayed no empathy for the growing number of people that were finding it increasingly difficult to have their daily needs met.  They set out their equations and the numbers looked right.  But those equations ignored one critical variable: human emotions.  Jamaicans have very clear notions of what disrespect looks like and they reject disrespect very quickly and very definitively. In addition to what the masses perceived as disrespect from the JLP, their ability and willingness to do what I did in overlooking the “missteps” was severely impacted by the awful reality of their lives. They simply did not possess the space to appreciate macro-economic variables being aligned correctly when mounting bills, lack of food, absence of jobs and a rapidly declining standard of living were what they looked at each and every day.

So along came the PNP with declarations of love and promises of jobs in the form of JEEP and clearly articulated understanding of the plight of the people. Love and understanding mean nothing to those of us who are relatively comfortable. But to a drowning man, it appeared a better proposition to the alternative: a regime of suffering and the absence of empathy. Hence, the majority made their decision based on their context and not based on the equations handed out by the JLP or the track record of the PNP for the 18 years they were in power prior to the outgoing JLP administration. The space to make decisions after thorough analysis simply does not exist in Jamaica’s context of poverty, and the JLP ignored, to their downfall, the Jamaican psyche. Thus, they did not frame their communications appropriately. They did not work the communities effectively. Instead of being focused only on what was “right” in terms of managing the economy, they should have placed equal focus on getting buy-in from the Jamaicans who put them there to serve.

Subsequent posts will explore the benefits of a strong Opposition, the JLP’s next steps and hope for Jamaica.