The discussion about whether the Cabinet should be cut has focused – wrongly – on whether such a move would save the government money. This has allowed government spokespersons to wriggle out of the real discussion, which is one about good governance and leadership.
The 2011 Public Sector Master Rationalisation Plan states that:
“The Public Sector Transformation Unit (PSTU) was established in November 2009 with the mandate to “lead, monitor, evaluate and facilitate the implementation of the restructuring of the Public Sector for efficient, effective and economical government” to realise the vision of ‘a transformed cohesive Public Sector that is performance-based, efficient, cost effective and service oriented.’”
How can we have a transformed cohesive Public Sector without a close examination of the Ministers who lead the process?
Back to the Plan:
“This exercise focused on the entire Public Sector to include the sixteen (16) Ministries and over two hundred (200) Entities including Departments, Statutory Bodies, Executive Agencies and Limited Liability Companies. The reasons for rationalisation are obvious, chief among them are the following:
1. Overlapping and duplication of mandates and functions
2. Organizations and structures that are no longer relevant
3. Shifts in mandate and core functions
4. Archaic systems and structures
5. Outdated Statutes
6. High wage bill relative to GDP
7. Lack of appropriate technology
8. Lack of inter and intra-Ministry collaboration
9. Limited financial and material resources.”
How can it be “just optics” as Transport Minister Dr. Omar Davies colourfully insisted in Parliament, to ask whether the employment of 20 Cabinet Ministers is justified?
Let us be clear. The Plan did say that:
“…after extensive consideration, the decision was taken to retain all Ministries at this time, with modification in some instances to their respective core functions. It is anticipated, that with the efficiency gains over time, specific consideration will be given to the reduction of Ministries.”
However, one of the problems we have is that each Prime Minister has the flexibility to re-structure the Cabinet as she/he sees fit once the constitutional requirement of at least eleven Cabinet Ministers is observed. So although Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller had criticized former Prime Minister Bruce Golding for the size of his 18-member Cabinet, on winning the December 2012 election, she promptly named two additional Cabinet Ministers, for a total of 20.
How can it then be “symbolism” to call for an examination of whether we are getting value for money from our Cabinet Ministers?
Let me be clear. I am not calling either for a cut in the Cabinet, or for a retention of the status quo.
What I AM calling for, unequivocally, is an understanding that we cannot call for prudent expenditure of taxpayers’
money at one level and not at the other.
We cannot declare that we want to eliminate “overlapping and duplication of functions” at the civil servant level but not determine whether we have the same problem in the Cabinet.
We cannot, as the Plan does, state that we will see “mergers (that) will result in economies of scale and overall cost savings in areas to include staffing,” and not expect the Cabinet to be an integral part of that discussion.
Most of all, what I am calling for is a respectful response from the administration to the calls from civil society and a considered and thoughtful approach to the discussion.