Leadership has many dimensions and components, but if I were to boil down the roles and functions of leadership to their most fundamental, I would suggest that there are two duties at the core, namely:
(a) To discern, interpret, and articulate, the challenges and opportunities facing the organization or country at any given time, and
(b) To mobilize and lead in the mobilization of the response to those challenges and opportunities to advance the best interest of the organization or country.
I submit that all other tasks and duties of leadership are captured herein.
In Part 1 of this three-part series, I committed to examining nine major issues which face the Jamaican society, and for which a degree of discernment and insight are needed so that the necessary mobilization of effort may take place to protect and promote the interests of Jamaica.
In Part 1, a full examination of the first three issues was undertaken. These were:
- The April 2022 decision of the Government of Jamaica to put up a candidate (in the person of Minister of Foreign Affairs, Kamina Johnson-Smith) to compete for the non-vacant post of Commonwealth Secretary General,
- The October 2022 and October 2023 disclosure that the Prime Minister had not received certification for his 2021 statutory declarations,
- The Integrity Commission report of February 2023, which revealed that the Prime Minister had been referred for criminal / corruption prosecution.
I now wish to examine issues 4, 5, and 6, which are:
4. The May 2023 200 – 300% increase government granted to the political class which contrasted with the 20% granted to public servants,
5. The July 2023 Integrity Commission Report which showed that six (6) lawmakers (apparently all from the Government side) were under investigation for illicit enrichment,
6. The declaration by the Minister of Legal and Constitutional Affairs, September 2023, that the Government is considering extending the period for which it may delay the holding of General Elections (due to national emergencies) from six months to two years.
Massive vs mini salary increase
In May 2023, the Government of Jamaica gave members of parliament and other politically appointed persons, salary increases ranging from 214% to 300%. This range of increase, essentially to self, contrasted with a 20% increase to public servants.
There was no doubt that members of the political directorate deserved an increase, as equally there was no doubt that public servants deserved an increase, but the issue which required DISCERNMENT, was what would be an appropriate level of increase to both categories of stakeholders, having regard to considerations and practicalities of affordability, equity, the exercise and maintenance of moral authority, and sustainability.
Prime Minister acknowledges the strain of the issue
The Prime Minister, speaking at his party’s 80th annual conference on Sunday, November 26, 2023, indicated that he is aware that the level of increase continues to cause concern. One of the contextual backdrops against which this level of increase must be assessed is the fact that Jamaica has one of the lowest levels of average income per person which is about USD $6,000.00 per annum which is at position 12 on the ranking of average income across Caribbean countries. Yet the average incomes for members of Cabinet and Parliament are higher than any other country in the Caribbean. Using other crude measures such as national output / production (Gross Domestic Product) and population size, Jamaica’s politicians are now among the best paid in the world.
The level of increase has been defended as a necessary step to attract talent to the political arena, but the contrasting reality is that teachers and other public servants are leaving Jamaica in search of better salaries and quality of life, including living in cleaner and safer communities.
Lack of forthrightness in negotiations
The other issue to note is that during the negotiations, public sector workers, especially teachers were unwilling to accept the packages offered but were cajoled and pressured. During this period, the government proclaimed its inability to offer more than 20% and appealed to public sector workers to accept this level of increase in the nation’s interest. However, at no point did the government put on the table that notwithstanding the level of increase being offered, it would be taking an increase of over 200%.
The decision by the government has rendered it morally compromised in appealing to citizens to make sacrifices in the nation’s interest. While loyal supporters of the governing party will no doubt try to understate the reality, there is growing evidence that most public sector groups remain unhappy about their remuneration, and trust in the government has declined.
Lawmakers under investigation for illicit enrichment
The July 2023 report by the Integrity Commission which stated that six (6) lawmakers are under investigation for illicit enrichment is deeply troubling. At the same time, the Prime Minister has been unable to secure certification of his statutory declarations for two consecutive years. The two issues may or may not be related, which is to say that the former fact does not establish that the Prime Minister and his wife – who is also a member of Parliament and who serves as Speaker and who by virtue of being spouses would file their declarations together.
Notwithstanding, six lawmakers (among who could be the Prime Minister and the Speaker) are under investigation. This is a stunning reality which raises questions about the integrity and honour of the ‘community’ of lawmakers.
Those being investigated know themselves
The information that six lawmakers are under investigation has been in the public domain for almost six months. The law requires that the Integrity Commission notifies an individual that he or she is the subject of an investigation. All members of the Opposition have publicly declared that they have not received any notification from the Integrity Commission to that effect. At the same time the Prime Minister imposed a gag order on his Cabinet Ministers prohibiting disclosure of whether any of them has received information from the Integrity Commission.
An investigation for illicit enrichment means that the target of the investigation is unable to satisfactorily explain his or her declared assets and liabilities. Jamaica is known for its high level of lawbreaking as well as corruption. In 2020, Jamaica ranked as the 5th worst corrupt country in the Caribbean and was in the 69th place on the Global index. In 2021 it slipped one place to 70th while remaining the 5th most corrupt in the Caribbean. Its position in 2022 remained at 70th.
It is to be emphasized that the global Corruption Perception Index (CPI) is a composite indicator of perceptions of corruption in areas such as bribery of public officials, kickbacks in public procurement, embezzlement of state funds, and the effectiveness of governments’ anti-corruption efforts. With six lawmakers under investigation for illicit enrichment, it is highly likely that in January 2024, when the 2023 results are released, Jamaica will record a decline in its position and will be lower than position number 70 – which is, itself, a very low position.
The fact that six lawmakers are under investigation for illicit enrichment in a highly corrupt country renders lawmakers (particularly the government lawmakers) as having little or no moral authority.
Delaying the holding of elections
Governments that are confident in their records are eager to face the electorate to obtain validation and authorisation to remain in office. The announcement by the Government that it is considering extending the period for which it may delay the holding of General Elections (due to national emergencies) from six months to two years, suggests that it is uncertain of its chances. General Elections are due by December 2025. The idea floated by the government in 2023 that it would extend the ‘delay’ period, when an election is due in 2025, is inexplicable at best, and indicative of deep-seated doubts at worst and both poles of possibility only serve to deepen mistrust and suspicion.
Finding ways forward
The solution to the foregoing challenges which face the Jamaican society include actual remedies to undo the injustice in the massive salary increases, specifically rolling back the level of increases. Secondly, there is need for transparency and accountability. The lawmakers under investigation must name themselves and step away from all official duties.
Thirdly, the Integrity Commission Act which prohibits disclosure of the names of persons under investigation should be amended.
These measures are essential to building trust and restoring some measure of confidence in public officials.
Canute Thompson is Professor of Educational Policy, Planning and Leadership at The University of the West Indies, Mona Campus, a social activist, and author of eight books and eighteen journal articles.
His academic achievements include:
- Two Principal’s Awards in 2023 for research activity generating the most funds, and research activity with the most development impacts, serving as Project Director for a project executed by the Caribbean Centre for Educational Planning.
- A 2022 Bronze place winner in the Independent Publisher Book Awards for his book, Education and Development: Policy Imperatives for Jamaica and the Caribbean.
- A 2021 finalist in The Vice-Chancellor’s Award for Excellence for all-round excellent performance in Outstanding Teaching, Outstanding Research Accomplishments, Outstanding Service to the University Community, Outstanding Public Service.
- A 2021 Principal’s Award for Most Outstanding Researcher.
- Two Principal’s Awards in 2020 for Most Outstanding Researcher and Best Publication for his book, Reimagining Educational Leadership in the Caribbean.