Role of the permanent secretaries
The Permanent Secretaries Board (PSB) of the Government of Jamaica, notes with heightened concern the article published in The Sunday Gleaner dated February 17, 2019, titled ‘On shuffling the deck’ by one Orville Taylor.
The concern arises mainly in relation to two issues: that of the writer’s seeming ignorance of the governance arrangements in the public sector, and the factually inconsistent manner in which he has sought to present his arguments, which appear to be significantly deficient in terms of analysis.
It is to be noted, as a matter of fact, that the reassignment of Mrs Sancia Bennett Templer to the Office of the Prime Minister coincided with the report from the Auditor General’s Department regarding the findings from the review of Petrojam, which was laid in Parliament on December 4, 2018.
Accordingly, Mrs Bennett Templer had no involvement with, or oversight responsibility for, Petrojam during the period covered by the audit and therefore, the article’s statement in this regard is not only erroneous in fact, but could also have been easily determined with a basic information search.
The wanton disregard for facts, and for the reputation of an officer of the Government is unwarranted and regrettable. Persons who have assumed the responsibility to provide the public with intellectual stimuli on issues of national importance should ensure accuracy and objectivity in their assertions.
Beyond the aforementioned inconsistency, and the seeming persistent lack of comprehension in some quarters regarding the public-sector governance architecture, the PSB takes this opportunity to again seek to clarify the role and function of accounting officers in ministries vis-à-vis their oversight of public bodies.
Under the Public Bodies Management and Accountability Act, which is the legislation that provides the governance and management framework for organisations like Petrojam, all public bodies are managed by their boards. The management board, under Sections six and seven of the legislation, has direct responsibility for the fiduciary management of the public body. As such, they are autonomous to the ministry.
CHIEF POLICY ADVISER
The permanent secretary’s role rests in the fact that he or she is the chief policy advisor to the relevant portfolio minister, a role defined in the Constitution of Jamaica - Sections 93(1), 93(2), and 126. The permanent secretary provides policy advice based on reports that are provided by the entity and gives recommendations to the minister on achieving, inter alia, the good governance paradigm within the organisation.
It is to be understood that, in law, neither the chief executives of these entities nor their boards have any direct reporting relationship to the permanent secretary. Thus, the intimations of the writer, which suggest the direct involvement of permanent secretaries in the day-to-day management decisions of public bodies, are misleading and specious.
Finally, such incidents bring focus to the issue of the editorial responsibility of news organisations to pay attention to the factual accuracy and fairness of content in their offerings to the public. It is deleterious to the cause of citizen engagement and our collective efforts for a transformed public service if we do not engender, in our discourse, civility and respect for the human person.
The PSB hereby states, without reservation, its commitment to the principles of good governance, and reassures all concerned that the board takes the concerns on this matter with due regard.