Good governance training for ministers a welcome suggestion


Tuesday, August 14, 2018

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It is not uncommon for ministers, newly minted and those with previous ministerial experience, to undergo training in certain areas to aid their governance capabilities. In fact, there are many institutions worldwide that offer good governance training to officials in government.

The UK Institute for Government notes quite rightly that the skills required to win elections are very different from those required to be an effective minister. It is therefore imperative that government ministers are exposed to the appropriate training to ensure the effective management of their portfolio and the efficient deployment of deliverables.

In the Jamaican context we understand that politicians can, almost overnight, move from a Member of Parliament to a government minister with full and complex portfolio responsibilities. It is not a requirement that ministers have previous qualifications or experience before assuming a ministerial role. Indeed, their function is supported by technocrats, permanent secretaries, and other experts. This, however, does not negate the fact that good governance training would prove crucial in improving the performance of ministers.

The prime minister of Jamaica recently announced that all Cabinet ministers are to undergo good governance training, and it can be said that this isn't a moment too soon. It is a step in the right direction, and now that this has been announced it begs the question of why this was never thought of before.

Prime Minister Andrew Holness is revered by many as a new type of leader — the likes of who Jamaica has never before seen. Through many of his policies he has proven to be revolutionary, having new and bold ideas and encouraging Jamaicans to have the courage to dream again and to be hopeful. For a long time many Jamaicans were merely walking a path with very little hope for better. Holness has, to a large extent, changed that.

The Holness Administration has done extremely well in the areas of housing, fiscal policies, infrastructure development, education, local government, tourism, information technology, and employment, among others. However the Administration has fallen victim to quite a tongue-lashing based on the areas in which it has not yet realised significant success, in particular crime, and more recently the unfolding Petrojam concerns.

People are rightly concerned. After all, accountability is an important obligation of governments the world over. But it is to be noted that, in his usual, forward-thinking manner, the prime minister is suggesting an approach that should not only dramatically improve the performance of his ministers, but set an excellent precedent that should guide governments going forward.

To this extent, and in light of the shortcomings of some ministries, it is a welcome suggestion that ministers should undergo good governance training. In the same way that ordinary people undertake to pursue continual professional development, ministers also need to benefit from training specific to their areas and for overall management.

It is to be noted that running a ministry requires more than just the ability to speak on a platform. It involves certain skills such as management (of resources and people), strategic, long-term thinking and decision making, an understanding of the systems and required outcomes and, most importantly, good administration and governance techniques.

The UK Institute of Government, in recommending training for ministers, notes that the realities of office are quite challenging, especially with media scrutiny and competing demands. The institute therefore recommends proper induction and professional development of ministers to help them achieve their mandate.

In a 2015 The Guardian publication, two former UK Members of Parliament admit that ministers need training and mentoring in order to raise the performance of government.

Prime Minister Holness's suggestion that ministers should undergo training is therefore not unusual and certainly is not gimmickry, as one letter writer puts it. His suggestion that it is mere gimmicks is the old, myopic, cynical view that accounts for many of the things that are wrong in this country.

The prime minister should be applauded for this suggestion, which is considered standard management practice. The public should see to it that ministers truly undergo the relevant training to make them more agile, responsive and responsible in the execution of their role as ministers. And it is advisable that, going forward, ministers are exposed to the necessary training that would guide their performance as ministers.

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