Saturday 26 September, 2020

Jamaicans will soon be able to apply to serve on Government boards

Dr Nigel Clarke (file photo)

Dr Nigel Clarke (file photo)

Jamaicans who feel that they possess the requisite skills to serve will soon be able to apply in writing for inclusion on Government boards.

Additionally, at least a third, or a minimum of three members of an outgoing board, are to be retained across political administrations to ensure continuity.

These are among a raft of changes contained in the Public Bodies Management and Accountability, Nomination, Selection and Appointment to Boards Regulations 2019 that were debated and approved in the House of Representatives on Tuesday.

The regulations relate specifically to Section 24 of the Public Bodies Management and Accountability Act. Finance and Public Service Minister, Dr Nigel Clarke, who brought the regulations, noted that there are 149 active public bodies operating in Jamaica. He said the changes are to take effect on February 1 and November 30, 2020.

Clarke said the operations of public bodies impact the lives of ordinary citizens on a daily basis, and that the boards and managers have control over, and management of, a vast amount of state resources.

The finance minister stated that “public bodies in their entirety spend approximately $400 billion each year, which compares to central government spending that is only about 20 per cent higher.”

According to regulation nine, any member of the public who feels that they have the requisite skills to serve on a public board may write to the financial secretary in the Ministry of Finance for consideration.

As it relates to continuity, Clarke told the House that the Appointing Authority may select at least a third, or three members, whichever is less, of an outgoing board at the end of the board’s term, or where there is a change of government or change of minister, or where the minister makes a decision to appoint a new board.

“No longer should there be a break in the important activities and the institutional knowledge of the public body simply because there’s a change of administration or a change of minister, which hitherto this regulation, would lead to the complete overhauling of the previous board, to be replaced by a new one,” Clarke stated.

He noted that the current practice would require its (the board’s) own learning curve, and would often result in a loss of strategic insight of the previous board members.

“This Government is committed to the impartial administration of the people’s business, and thus to the continuity of public body boards,” Clarke said. 

The regulations also provide for the establishment of a database of prospective directors, and the finance minister noted that the “Information contained in the database, such as the names, knowledge and skills of prospective directors, will be subject to a due diligence check to determine the veracity of this information.”

The database will be established within the Ministry of Finance and the information contained therein may be accessed by any member of the public who submits a request to the financial secretary.

Persons in the database may be nominated by certain interest groups, including professional bodies, business associations, trade unions, public sector agencies representing special interest groups such as gender affairs, children and youth, consumer affairs and the disabled community.

Individuals may also be nominated by registered political parties, members of the academic community, civil society groups, including human rights and environmental groups, as well as child and youth advocates.

Current board chairmen and permanent secretaries may also recommend persons for consideration.

Clarke disclosed that a due diligence check is to be done on all persons included in the database, to ensure they meet the fit and proper requirement of board membership.

And the regulations also state which persons are ineligible for appointment to public boards. Among them are Members of Parliament (MPs) and Councillors, those who are disqualified under the Companies Act, a person who is declared bankrupt, and persons with mental health disorders.

Persons appointed to serve on five public bodies will be subjected to ‘fit and proper tests’. They are Petrojam, the Heart Trust/NTA, Port Authority of Jamaica, the National Housing Trust and the National Water Commission.

These are public bodies “which carry out functions for providing financial services, those that regulate the financial and gaming sectors, and those that are of strategic importance.”

As it relates to strategic importance, Clarke explained that these are public bodies with a sizable asset base, and which are considered to have a significant economic impact, and can pose a significant fiscal risk.

Opposition Spokesman on Finance, Mark Golding, suggested that the list should be bigger, and should include entities such as the Urban Development Corporation and the Factories Corporation of Jamaica.

Clarke conceded that the list could be bigger, but said with this being a new undertaking, the Government decided to start with the five named entities. He said it is subject to periodic review based on changing circumstances.

According to Clarke, “The Government has answered the call for greater transparency in board appointments, and the changes demonstrate the Government’s commitment to inclusiveness and diversity.”

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