Is the economic growth super ministry doing an effective job?


Wednesday, February 21, 2018

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One of the novel and far-reaching decisions of the Andrew Holness-led Administration when it assumed office was the appointment of the super ministry of Economic Growth and Job Creation. This was in fulfilment of campaign promises to place the issue of economic growth at the centre of the Government's concern. It was to be the driver of the prosperity agenda and ostensibly the fulcrum of the Government's desire to achieve five per cent growth in four years.

After more than two years in office the Government and the people of Jamaica have had ample opportunity to determine the effectiveness and workability of this ministry and whether the objectives that gave it being are being achieved, especially in the area of economic growth.

This is important for, despite the much ballyhooed growth sentiments trumpeted by the Government before it took office, and since, economic growth remains elusive and anaemic.

It is true that there has been growth in jobs in certain sectors of the economy. But it has to be frustrating to the Government that, despite the sacrifices that have been undertaken by the people to get the macroeconomic and fiscal space in order, the anticipated growth targets remain disappointing. This should be even more disheartening against the background of its persistent criticism of the former Administration in balancing the books, but not achieving growth.

The Holness Administration has placed a great deal of hope in this super ministry, but it is clear that the time has come for the Government to revisit the raison d'être of the structure and imperatives of this labyrinthine ministry to ascertain whether they are serving the best interests of the country. Are its mandates and objectives being met?

As noted before, jobs are being created to the extent that there is some concern as to whether we have the trained personnel to fill them. But there is something that seems to be lacking in how this ministry is structured. After more than two years in operation, the public is not clear as to what the ministry is all about, how it operates, what are the mechanisms of accountability that drive it, and where it really fits into the drive for economic prosperity. It is not abundantly clear as to who does what or who speaks for what.

There are three principal politicians who are at the helm of the ministry; namely, Horace Chang, Daryl Vaz and Karl Samuda. One gets the impression of three silos manned by three giants who are ministers without portfolio who seem to be answerable to the prime minister.

It is in the area of agriculture that we get a glaring sense of what can hobble the workings of this super ministry. Samuda presides over the portion of the ministry that deals with industry, commerce, agriculture, and fisheries, with J C Hutchinson his deputy minister. It is this specific area of the growth ministry that raises concern as to whether the country is best served by having agriculture attached to it. There is no clear demarcation as to who speaks for agriculture. Decision-making resides with the de facto minister, Samuda, but it has to be disconcerting for Hutchinson that, after having been the spokesman for agriculture during the long stint of the Jamaica Labour Party in the political wilderness, he seems to have been relegated to a Cinderella role in the ministry. It is clear that things are not working out too well in that part of the super ministry and there is the suggestion that there is some tension between the super minister and his deputy. And one can understand Hutchinson's chafing to make decisions and yet having to be answerable to another minister in matters of decision-making. Being an agriculturalist himself, Hutchinson, in many instances, is clearly the man on the ground with whom the farmers seem to have greater interaction, yet he appears fettered as he is not the effective minister of agriculture. Samuda is clearly too busy with the other areas of his portfolio to give agriculture the attention it deserves.

We have seen a decline in agricultural growth and bad weather has been fingered for this. But while one can understand how the rains can hamper agricultural growth, one does not believe that this is the full story. One is not willing to accept that this is the main problem that assails agricultural production in this country. In review, Holness needs to de-couple this ministry from its behemoth and appoint a full minister for this portfolio — who does not necessarily have to be Hutchinson.

In other areas of the super ministry some progress has been made in making it easier for local and foreign investors in Jamaica to do business. This is evident from our increasing commendable position on the ease of doing business index. But there is a great deal more to be done. There is still too much overlapping between ministries in the matter of communication, approval, and speedy implementation of projects. A lethargic and often nonchalant public bureaucracy is a major problem. Without robust public sector reform, the work of the Ministry of Economic Growth and Job Creation will be stymied and will not achieve the synergies that are desired to spur growth. The lack of reform has been a critical impediment to the economic growth agenda.

This is not necessarily the fault of the honchos in the super ministry. Often it is a matter of a supervisor in a department not doing his or her job effectively. Often it is a matter of a file lying dormant on someone's desk with documents awaiting a signature. Often it is a nonchalant attitude that refuses to acknowledge that you should work earnestly for what you earn. I do not know what a Daryl Vaz or a Horace Chang can do to ensure that these managers — middle managers, supervisors and others in the chain of command — do their work to speed up critical processes that are essential to investors and others who want to see their businesses succeed.

In attending to the long-awaited reshuffle of his Cabinet, Holness must decide whether this ministry is giving the best to Jamaica that it ought. He owes it to the nation to explain how this concept of a super ministry has functioned for the best interest of the Jamaican economy and, further, how the Economic Growth Council headed by Michael Lee-Chin and his surrogate, Aubyn Hill, fit into the larger context of the work that this ministry has to perform.

One gets the impression of different silos that have been erected and which operate without any great cohesion, efficiency and transparency. I would be happy to be proven wrong here, but at the very least there is clearly need for a reset. One sees, however, that he may be helped in this task by Dr Nigel Clarke should he be elected as Member of Parliament for St Andrew North Western in the upcoming by-election. Nothwithstanding, there is a clear need for a reassessment and rationalisation of the objectives of this ministry. The sooner, the better.


Dr Raulston Nembhard is a priest and social commentator. Send comments to the Observer or

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