A Little Carpentry…
Editor’s Note: I first drafted this post in January 2012. It was after the government last changed hands and a new large Cabinet was announced. Around that time I was also reading A Small Place by Jamaica Kincaid. In that book, she explains why a country should not need a Ministry of Culture. As I read, something clicked in my head. I’d long been bothered by how little Jamaicans who create what we know as Jamaican culture actually reap from their efforts. Around the time I first drafted this post, there was also, what I consider, a crisis in Dancehall. Many artists were intent on doing something called “Island Pop” and seemed content to abandon the basics of Dancehall (chief among them for me is BASSLINE) and paid scant attention to the business side of things. And for all the top-level chatter about Dancehall and Jamaica’s music business, there seemed little top-level help; a badly named ministry in name only. Back in 2012 I wrote in the notes for this post: “You need people who approach Jamaica’s culture & music as a business and not an escape or episodic exercise.” Still applies. And now, as I finally publish this in 2016, we have many more examples of non-Jamaicans successfully exploiting Jamaica’s culture, with little or no monetary benefit to Jamaicans on the ground. Those foreigners who have successfully made millions of Jamaican culture don’t always collaborate with Jamaicans though they sometimes give credit to us as the originators. It’s OK that something”we” put out into the world has so much influence and receives so much respect…but are we making money too? That matters and there’s no shame in wanting to earn money from your creativity. So that was the groundwork, which led me to: How can the GOJ’s cabinet posts be streamlined for efficiency in a way that maximized the functions of a government without overwhelming everything?
Central to my thinking in 2012 when I first drafted this post was also this: Why is the Government of Jamaica treated as or expected to be a patron? Shouldn’t it be encouraging growth, innovation, and commerce? I still hold that sentiment. I think now as I did then that the number of government ministries for the Government of Jamaica should be fixed and permanently named; I’m tired of each party taking power and fiddling with ministry names and alignment, often when not necessary. I’m tired of Cabinet-level positions being assigned based on nepotism and not capability. I’m tired of the Jamaican people being taken for a ride, time and time again, and not realizing the power it has over who it has elected. The Government of Jamaica is broke yet we are rich with natural and human resources and ideas. Why? What’s the disconnect? Part of the problem is, I think, that we expect the government to do everything instead of understanding central (and local) government as a facilitator, watch dog, and enforcer when necessary. Government is not our parent. It should work for us, not do all the work for us. So, over time, with these thoughts in mind, I came up with some goals for the Jamaican Cabinet: (a) that it didn’t need a dedicated or so-named Ministry of Culture and that other ministries could be treated the same; (b) that it was streamlined (read: smaller), ensuring that government is efficient and nimble; (c) that it focused on good governance and accountability. I’m still figuring things out — like whether we need a Ministry of Labour and Social Security or if it can be reasonably absorbed elsewhere, and whether Justice and Security can be housed together or if there needs to be a “firewall” between them — but overall I think my list accomplishes 2 of my 3 goals. Also as “public sector reform” looms, it seems a good time to look at Cabinet posts, with a focus on efficiency and grouping like things together. Necessarily, I am not getting into who should be placed in what ministry. That’s for others to analyze. I’m also not getting into the number of government and quasi-government agencies that do overlapping work, but I think that’s the next thing “we” must study and improve if “we” are really serious about being efficient, transparent, and nimble.
Finally, I anticipate that some parts of this list may hit emotional buttons for people. That’s fine. Please keep in mind my goals and (our collective) recent experience and observations of the performance of the Government of Jamaica. As always, feedback is welcome in the comments below. I am, as is usual, interested in structural changes that are long-lasting and lead to fairness and opportunities for all Jamaicans. Keep it cute…
This is also a blog post that requires me to publicly thank some friends and tweetrens who’ve helped me refine this list, who’ve talked through the list with me, and who’ve helped me sort through some personal issues I’m having about blogging generally. Thank you: KH, TH, AH (they’re not related, lol), DNG, iOddOne, and my Mommy.
In no particular order, a working list of 12-14 (or so) Cabinet Ministries for Jamaica:
1. Finance & Planning
One of the basic ministries, meant to manage the country’s finances and access to finance. I would at least put Social Security here (naming a State Minister to specifically handle this responsibility). I’m unsure about whether Labour belongs here too. For now I’m OK with Labour being a dedicated ministry (see below). An important thing for this ministry to focus on, I think, is reforming our banking system so that there’s increased access to capital. We like to tout entrepreneurship but there’s a structural problem not many talk about: it’s very hard for burgeoning entrepreneurs to access traditional capital from banks. I’m thinking reforms to allow something similar to the U.S.’s Article 9…allowing secured transactions to facilitate businesses financing. Another important thing: tax reform and ensuring compliance and tax requirements. Jamaican cannot continue to tax the living daylights out of such a small segment of people; that’s not sustainable or fair.
2. Health (or rather Public Health)
I feel strongly that this ministry should be renamed “Ministry of the Public Health.” What’s in a name? Maybe not much but I think a renaming here could help re-energize the sector and emphasis the core functions of the ministry. After watching the country (mis)handle several health crises over the last 2 or so years, I realize that this sector has too long been neglected and that that neglect is dangerous and not properly appreciated by the public or the government. I think the minister in charge and his or her top technocrats need a reminder that this ministry is first and last about the public’s health. I suggest special emphasis be placed on communication and public health education. There is a deep distrust of our health sector these days and it’s well-earned. I think that consistent and open communication and public health education can do much to lessen that distrust. The other thing needed? A strong leader of the ministry and for the Prime Minister to require and exact accountability from the ministry’s leadership. Also important to recognize is the demographics of the country: Jamaica has an aging population and that presents and will continue to present very specific challenges and issues. We can’t continue as usual with this sector, not with our recent history and what’s expected with climate change bearing down on the island. I’d have a special liaison to the Environment and Water Ministry (see below).
3. Education & Youth
I’ve never understood why these two are separated. To quote the young people these days: They go together. (Constantly) Improving Jamaica’s education system — pedagogy, real-world sensitive curricula, teacher training, student-teacher relationships — is important for any nation’s development. Youth is the main demographic served by the education system, therefore placing these issues together is critical. In fact, it should not be necessary to have “Youth” in the title; it should be understood. I suggest a special liaison to the Ministries of Justice and National Security (see below).
I could be persuaded to add “Land Use” to the title of this ministry, though I think that issue affects several other industries (namely: Environment, Industry & Commerce, and Agriculture). Though Jamaica has several government and quasi-government agencies already mandated to focus on housing issues, I think the country still needs a dedicated ministry. One of the main issues to handle is informal and illegal settlements, commonly known as squatting or squatter settlements. Also important: encouraging and facilitating home ownership for those who can afford it (if we accept that owning land and home ownership are cornerstones of creating wealth, ensuring development, and building a middle class…which I do). With time, though, and based on progress made on the aforementioned issues, I think this ministry can be collapsed into the Office of the Prime Minister who can coordinate macro housing policy and oversee the aforementioned agencies.
5. Environment & Water
Jamaica is an island in a region already being impacted by severe drought and other effects of climate change. Kingston will soon be one of the hottest cities on earth. The country needs a robust and empowered dedicated ministry to ensure that environment, water, and related issues are handled carefully, strategically, and over the long term. I would also have special liaisons from this ministry to the Health, Agriculture, Industry & Commerce, and National Security ministries. (Yes, these issues are a national security issue)
6. Foreign Affairs
A no-brainer: we have relations with other nation states. We need a dedicated ministry to handle that.
Can this be bundled with Justice? Perhaps. I believe it’s been done before. Undoubtedly, Jamaica’s national security needs focused and dedicated attention, so I’m OK with it being a dedicated ministry. Because so many young people are choosing crime as a profession, I suggest a special liaison to the Ministry of Education (& Youth). Note: scamming is not reparations and deprogramming that thought process requires careful and innovative attention before it takes too strong a hold. Yes this has political implications; we still must deal with it.
Another no-brainer and a sector that requires so much attention. I believe that Jamaica has an access to justice issue and many aspects of the criminal justice system need updating and constant oversight. The civil justice system too needs work. Folks need to have confidence that they can access the justice system as needed and be assured that when they do access, the process will be efficient and fair. My observations of recent happenings tells me that neither of these is the case. In the back of my mind for keeping this separate from National Security is the long-standing police brutality issue in Jamaica and how desperately that must be addressed. That’s at the root of the needed firewall I mentioned above.
9. Transport & Works
Jamaica’s transport infrastructure has gotten better over time but still needs, I think, dedicated focus and innovation. A dedicated ministry is appropriate.
A country like Jamaica should be able to grow the basics to feed its population; central to the country’s development. This industry needs modernizing and coordination with ministries like Environment (& Water). Because I think the nation’s agriculture is, at present, more internally focused, and because Jamaica is an island being impacted by climate change (which presents special concerns for agriculture), I favor keeping this as a dedicated ministry.
11. Industry & Commerce
Aha. The ministry that I think is another one central to the country’s development, at least in terms of economic and job growth. In this ministry I would have dedicated state ministers for: Sport, Tourism, Creative Industries (to include, at least, food, music, dance, publishing, film, entertainment), Energy, and ICT. Beginning with my discomfort and the light flipped on by Jamaica Kincaid, yes I think it’s time to get rid of a Ministry of Culture. If nothing else, the government has never created “Jamaican culture”…that has always been done by the Jamaican people, often in spite of the government. What creators do need is a workable structure or framework within which they can exploit their output and to benefit from that exploitation. Creatives, hoteliers, etc. need coordination and facilitation from their government. As I thought about this, I realized that the same applied to sport and, yes, even tourism. Now, this is not to suggest that these ministries are not important or that collapsing them into the Ministry of Industry & Commerce is a a demotion. Far from it. To my mind, I think we have too long not “treated” these sectors as actual industries, partly because we have been lucky (talent, sand+sea+sun, location, much-loved and influential individual global stars). We can’t rest on luck alone and must change our thinking; developing a framework to maximize the potential of each of these areas requires forethought, planning, organization, coordination and hard work. I think that each sector named above will benefit from these things by being in a ministry focused on facilitating the development of profitable industries
This is one I wonder if it wouldn’t be better subsumed in the Ministry of Finance and Planning. Generally when I think of labour issues I think of worker rights and working conditions. I understand that the country’s very political foundations rest on labour power and unions, but I think the time is coming soon (in fact it may already be here) when we’ll have to let these issues play out via capable union representation and the justice system. Maybe specific ministries can have mechanisms or boards according to particular sector or type of work to hear disputes, but I’m no longer convinced of the need for a dedicated ministry.
(13. Local Government)
Another area I don’t think that requires dedicated focus. For years we’ve muttered about “local government reform” and I think once that is done, and if it is done well, then this area (coordination of Parish Councils, organizing elections, etc…), can reasonable be run out of the Office of the Prime Minister. I also think it’s important for the central government to coordinate and not stand over the shoulder of local government infrastructure…again, too much power at the center, not enough at the local level where things happen and happen quickly.
Usually held by the Prime Minister and it should remain that way.
Odds & Ends
No Minister of Information? Nope. Why does Jamaica need one? Isn’t this person “just” a press secretary? Further, why does that need to be a Cabinet-level position? I think this press secretary is appropriately housed in the Office of the Prime Minister and should head a communications team that manages relationships with the media. Recent experience teaches us that this relationship is important and should not be taken lightly or neglected. Also, I often see folks request and/or push for a minister of Gender Affairs, and I get it, but I don’t think that needs to be Cabinet-level either. This too is something that is high level but can be run out of the Office of the Prime Minister.