Gordon Robinson | Abolish the absurd “minister without portfolio” | On point

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THE RECENT reshuffling of an old deck of political cards ended with yet another “new” ministry.

The Cabinet now consists of the Prime Minister, 15 ministers with appointed portfolio titles and seven “non-portfolio” ministers. How many ministers to direct a country of three million inhabitants! Jamaica now has a Cabinet of 23! In addition, there are seven Ministers of State. Clearly, Jamaica is a very wealthy nation that can afford 23 ministerial salaries and benefits plus seven other junior minister emoluments, but in the event of a pandemic, it cannot pay overtime or gratuities for health care workers. for months or years. The United Kingdom, with a population of over 53 million, has a Cabinet of 22, but this includes three Secretaries of State for Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, and because that the UK has no written constitution, the leader of the House of Lords and an Attorney General. Reduced to sauce, this means a Cabinet of only 17 specialized ministers.

The US cabinet includes nine “secretaries” (ministers) appointed by the president and approved by the Senate, 15 department heads and the vice president. Although the president can attend Cabinet meetings, he is not officially a member of the Cabinet. So, depending on how you count, the United States Cabinet consists of nine, 24, 25, or 26 members to run a 50-state federation containing over 330,000,000 people. I know readers, brainwashed to revere politics above all else, expect me to criticize ministerial appointments. The bad news is that I don’t care. Certainly, this Ministry of “Legal Affairs” (will it settle any disputes I may have with my lawyer girlfriend?) is a better option than the Ministry of Justice (which I have long advocated for the elimination). But I am not interested in political figures, but in the fact that Jamaica has long needed a Ministry of Legislative Matters (to include constitutional reform) while transferring the administration of the courts to the office of the Chief Justice who could absorb many civil servants currently working in a useless Ministry of Justice.

Had the Prime Minister done it this way, he would be showing Jamaica’s need for fiscal responsibility by example. Whoever he would then choose as Minister for Legislative Affairs would be under his responsibility. Argument finished!

NEEDS A CONSTITUTIONAL LIMIT

But to me, this latest fuss, ostensibly for political obfuscation, has highlighted the need for a constitutional limit on the number of ministers and an abolition of the absurd “minister without portfolio.”

On August 15, 2021, (Rebuilding the House to Represent the People), proposing a real separation of legislative and executive powers rather than the current illusion, I wrote:

“Cabinet members can be appointed from any source outside Parliament, but must be reviewed and confirmed by the House. The Cabinet should be constitutionally limited to 12 and appointed ministries. All portfolio responsibilities must be assigned by the PM to a designated department. Abolish the oxymoronic “minister without portfolio”.

What is unfolding before us is another example of the dangerous governance fallout that is inevitable in a small tribal nation with a winner-takes-all electoral system that allows a single person to create and fill all Cabinet positions. It is particularly perilous when that person is not elected except by a handful of “party delegates”. It is undemocratic. It’s dangerous. This is unacceptable.

These fragilities of monarchical systems are no more shamelessly exposed than by the current Barbadian farce. Despite the hype surrounding the alleged abolition of the monarchy and the alleged conversion of Barbados to a republic, one person is still entitled to call a snap election amid the most communicable wave of the pandemic 18 months before the constitutional election date. No one knows why Mia Mottley (formerly My Leadership Hero) suddenly decided to erase her notebook with this reckless decision, but her reasons are irrelevant. The problem is that she has the power to do so. What is annoying about this new cabinet, but not much different, is that it will result in more cost to taxpayers and almost certainly less efficiency. At the time the Department of Justice; The Ministry of Legal and Constitutional Affairs (sigh) and the Attorney General’s staff are fighting over territory, it is unlikely that anything real can be achieved.

But there is more. The example set by what appears to be extra spending to appease political interests contrasts starkly and disappointingly with the government’s avaricious approach to handling the pandemic. Healthcare workers are still awaiting promised “overtime” pay for staffing vaccination sites. Doctors have been waiting years for late gratuity payments. But the most confusing aspect of the government’s mishandling of the pandemic is its stubborn refusal to impose reasonable vaccination mandates. The government repeatedly asserts (correctly in my opinion) that vaccination is the only currently available escape from the crisis. This same government has failed miserably in begging the entire island to approach its own announced vaccination targets. This failure is due to a deadly combination of incompetent deployment logistics; extremely poor communication; and vaccine hesitancy (exacerbated by the psychological warfare of anti-vaccineers posing as truth seekers). So why is the government so reluctant to take the obvious next step of imposing and enforcing sensible vaccine mandates? Bob Marley’s opinion:

“There’s a natural mystique blowing in the air

If you listen carefully now, you will hear

This could be the first trumpet

Might as well be the last

Many more will have to suffer

Many more will have to die

Don’t ask me why”

In trying to decode this natural mystic, we must never forget Goodman’s Law. What is it, new readers ask? Goodman’s Law: Don’t ask if it’s about money. It’s always a question of money! My suspicion, based on the assumption that the government is not malicious and therefore must act on facts and issues not known to the public, is that the government, after two years of COVID, is blind! Recently, without much fanfare or public debate, Parliament passed the second Supplementary Estimates. They approved additional “spending” of $25.8 billion for the current fiscal year. According to Nigel Clarke, the increase in the stipend was for recurrent expenses, including

• Provide for payment to 31 public sector bargaining groups that settled wage negotiations after the first estimate where their payments were entered under “contingencies” but now need specific authorization for payment by ministries/heads of departments department.

• Previous allocations of an additional $5 billion to CARE (i.e. vote-buying support for those affected by COVID) also required retroactive payment authorization;

• The premium for a catastrophe bond issued earlier was not fully budgeted (WHAT?) and was therefore being dealt with (this issue is covered by the UK/US/ of Germany) ;

• Regularize spending already committed to the December 2021 Christmas Crash program to help MPs’ party hacks (oops, sorry, “some of the most vulnerable to the economic impact of the pandemic”);

• To meet increased debt service requirements due to currency devaluations and increases in interest rates;

• Assist the NWC and the Central Wastewater Treatment Company to facilitate the repayment of maturing debt guaranteed by the government;

The “additional” spending of $25.8 billion included $8.2 billion in non-debt recurrent spending and $17.6 billion in debt servicing. Clarke assured Parliament that the spending would be funded by additional revenue streams ($11.2 billion); additional loan receipts ($5.3 billion); and the use of cash from the previous year ($9.2 billion). From March to June 2021, the government reported tax revenue over budget by $17.2 billion. Since then, we have experienced economically debilitating third and fourth pandemic waves.

SELF-ADVERSE POLICY

So we’ll see. What is important to note in the second Supplementary Estimates is that the supplementary expenditures are already spent. It was therefore an exercise in “cover-up”, with the government sticking to the basics, such as funding MPs for vote buying in constituencies and handing out voter subsidies disguised as aid to the pandemic. So why not give voters their best hope against the impact of the pandemic, namely vaccination mandates? Why create additional cabinet spending instead? Is it simply baptizing the pastor “im pickney firs”? Or is it fear of the ripple effect of restricting the spending options of 80% of the unvaccinated population? Is the government giving in to a desperate, pocket-mandated policy of trying to achieve “herd immunity” by deliberately putting the unvaccinated at risk of serious long-term illness or death? It would be a naïve policy that would certainly not invite more variants to exacerbate the pandemic. THAT would be a self-defeating policy designed to create the fear from which it was born and to make that fear a reality. As the unvaccinated among healthcare workers prove daily, “finished arguments” can cripple public services and devastate an economy dependent on tourism.

Healthy, happy and productive people can revive any damaged economy. No economy can revive the dead. My personal responsibility is to myself and my family to get vaccinated and boosted. The government’s public responsibility is to ALL Jamaicans to impose vaccination mandates in order to achieve herd immunity from serious illness or death NOT from the common cold. Shuffling used cards and spending more on a new cabinet isn’t enough.

Peace and love!

– Gordon Robinson is a lawyer. Email your comments to [email protected]

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