In the first week of April, Bruce spoke to the masses and he told them, finally, that things are rough, tough and tight and we’ll have to make do with less. He said he’ll be foregoing his salary increase and that the other government ministers will cut their salaries by 10 per cent (i.e. each minister’s salary will be reduced by 10 per cent). He said this is to show an example that all must make sacrifices. Bruce went a little further by reshuffling his cabinet and cutting back on the number of ministries from 19 to 17.
The reaction from the Opposition was predictable: criticism and ridicule. The problem, or response, such as it is, is that this would have had some degree of validity if it was not for the fact the PNP, in its present iteration, does not have much in the way of validity. They don’t have much in the way of leadership or a clue about what they would like to see for Jamaica. The PNP is like the GOP in the US: out of power, out of meaningful ideas, folks of dubious character and with too many folks who talk before they think.
My main point here is not to dwell too much on the PNP but to speak to what I still consider as a problem with government: its size. Reducing the number of ministries from 19 to 17 is still not doing enough. Think about this for a second: in the space of one week, there is a (small) reduction in the number of government ministries but there will be an increase in the number of electoral districts from 60 to 65. According to an article in The Gleaner on April 6, 2009, the savings to be realized from the pay cut of all MPs (government and opposition) would be approximately J$20 million annually. Assuming that the JLP government were to pick up these five new seats that would mean an extra $11-12 million-plus in salaries so the savings would be drastically reduced*.
If any Jamaican government is really serious about reducing the size of the public sector workforce, it will take more than just nibbling at the edges to get it done. In letters I’ve written to The Gleaner in the past (when the PNP formed the government) to pieces I’ve submitted to Abengnews, there has to be some serious culling of the number of ministries, electoral districts and Parish Council districts. Jamaica can make do with 12 ministries that can perform all the duties of the present number. Making the switch from Parish Councils to County Councils will further help in realizing further savings and reducing the number of constituencies from the proposed 65 to, say, 43 would show that there is a serious effort to address the bloated public sector.
Unfortunately, the steps the Bruce Golding-led government are taking is like that which has been done in the past: baby steps and nothing bold – a continuation of the m.o. of the preceding PNP-led government. For far too long in Jamaica, the political leadership has talked boldly and loudly but has been wimpy when it comes to acting on its ideas and proposals. For once I’d like to proven wrong in my assessment of leadership in Jamaica but I don’t know if I should hold my breath waiting for that to happen.
Here’s my ministerial line-up (in no particular order):
Each ministry would either get its own spokesperson or all information about/on government activities would be available from the JIS with its head being the chief government spokesperson. The Justice minister would be responsible for National Security; Youth and Culture would be part of Education and Mining and Water would fall under Environment. Sports would become part of an overhauled executive agency dealing with all things athletic in nature. Create an office for a Science and Technology advisor to the government but do not give it Cabinet rank. As for Ministers without Portfolios, do we really need them? Do away with those positions. Notice, no defence. That’s because the army would be merged with the JCF to form a better police force.
I’ve written about this in the past but I believe that this must happen to demonstrate to Jamaicans, in no uncertain terms, that government means business in terms of how it handles the nation’s business. Government needs to be efficient in terms of its size and in how it utilizes its resources and right now this Jamaican government is neither.
* I’m basing this info on a salary of approximately J$2.3 million for an MP and this is based on salary after it being cut from approx. J$2.5 million.