Mon | Oct 22, 2018

Mark Ricketts | Close down energy, science and tech ministry

Published:Sunday | August 12, 2018 | 12:00 AM

The leader of the Opposition is bombarding the prime minister to appoint a minister quickly to oversee the now-beleaguered and essentially headless Ministry of Energy, Science and Technology. The prime minister has promised an appointment within two weeks.

With the 57th year of our Independence under way, I would like Government to institute a proper ordering of priorities, introduce creative vision to transform the economy, and transmit a sense of authority that those in charge know how to mind the store.

To this end, the Ministry of Energy, Science and Technology must be dismantled. It makes far more sense to assign the energy portfolio, together with post and telecommunications, to the Ministry of Transport and Mining; to shift the Scientific Council to an enlarged Innovation, Research and Development Centre coexisting with our universities; and for the science and technology portfolio, along with an Academy of Science, to go to a newly branded Ministry of Education, Training, and Technology.

Whether the current ministers in charge of the two enlarged ministries that I am proposing have the leadership capabilities to effect the requisite changes, the prime minister has to decide. These two ministries are critically important to national development, if the ministers can't measure up, then the most competent, result-driven, individuals in the marketplace must be appointed.

The energy portfolio, with its rural electrification feature, its emphasis on alternate energy sources, its flow-through impact on the domestic market, and its international linkage, is a natural fit for a ministry already making global decisions on transport and mining.

As for the science and technology portfolio, it is a given for our young minds. Look at our country: Almost every area of critical need is not supplied or badly undersupplied by our education system. There is so much waste of our young people's potential and talent because technology and training and market-driven education are not adequately and appropriately incorporated in our schools and universities.

 

A VICIOUS CYCLE

 

We are caught in a vicious cycle of a few brilliant graduates and a large number of dropouts, as well as unprepared, inadequately prepared, and irrelevantly prepared, school and university leavers. Many of our university graduates and school leavers can't position themselves in the higher-valued, skilled, professional, and entrepreneurial market.

The brilliant few do very well, as they are an extremely scarce commodity, both here and overseas. Many others get by without an ability to elevate earnings based on productivity advances. Without innovation, technological breakthroughs, productivity gains fuelling demand-pull wage increases and profits, growth stagnates.

Our huge visible trade deficit screams at us, telling us we are not doing right by education. Even the hospitality sector, in which we are recording record visitor arrivals, is missing out on capturing much higher levels of ancillary expenditures. This tells us we are off base with education, training, and technology.

The first thing the Ministry of Education has to do is to rebrand itself by changing its name to the Ministry of Education, Training and Technology, a recommendation I have made in speeches and in my April 22 Gleaner column this year. Name change can shift the culture of an organisation or corporation, and private sector companies worldwide can attest to this.

Mr Prime Minister, use the Dr Andrew Wheatley fiasco as the perfect opportunity to do the right thing as far as education and the nation. A Ministry of Energy, Science and Technology is not really a high-priority undertaking in a country like ours where we have so many shortfalls. There will be bright persons from that Ministry who will play a more invaluable role in a new Ministry of Mining, Energy, Transport and Telecommunications. The same goes for the new Ministry of Education, Training and Technology, especially if we develop a New Technology Hub, which would be a broad-spectrum, virtual-education nerve centre driven by disruptive technologies.

There will be a lot of administrative, professional, clerical and field staff, as well as advisers and consultants in that old Ministry who will be relevant only if they are re-evaluated and retrained.

Closing the ministry will allow Government to better optimise its resources while coming closer to the IMF-directed nine per cent wage guidelines.

 

WASTE AND EFFICIENCY

 

More important, the prime minister could use the fiasco and the ultimate dismantling of the ministry as a way to finally draw a line in the sand between waste and efficiency, between a country adrift with scandals and corruption and one finally demonstrating that someone is in charge and prepared to take the tough decisions to move the country forward.

PM, it is not more Government that is needed but better Government; it is not nearly 200 statutory bodies that Government can't manage, but a more optimum number that is far fewer than currently on your plate; it is not your oversize Cabinet, which includes a few underperforming ministers and some well past their prime that should be the principal organ of government policy, but a somewhat smaller group of efficiency-driven, dynamic leaders.

It is not the same number of ministries that we need, but fewer ministries that are better aligned, as I am now proposing. People want to feel you and your team are competent, courageous, and ready.

 

RIVERTON FIASCO

 

It was instructive when the Riverton dump fire was scorching more than a week ago, TVJ, in seeking public opinion about the fire for its nightly newscast, asked a truck driver engulfed in smoke on the Mandela Highway what he thought.

I don't use Patois when I write, but I must on this occasion to capture the brilliance of the driver's assessment of what is taking place in the country.

"No ar-tority no dey yah. Them tink them are ar-tority, but them is not. Because, if something happen so often and you have ar-tority, that mean no ar-tority deh yah. None no dey yah."

Translating for non-Patois readers: No authority is here. They believe they are authority, but they are not. Because, if something happens so often and you have authority, that means no authority is here. None is here."

That insightful commentary applies to the 12 fires in two months at garbage dumps across Jamaica, at the ever-changing stories over an extended period regarding Cornwall Regional Hospital, and at the pleading of the chairman of the Savanna-la-Mar hospital for $5 million to build a room to house 12 patients, so 12 fewer patients sleep in wheelchairs, as there is insufficient bed space, made worse by the closing of Cornwall Regional. But $5 million can't be found in this year's budget. Prime Minister, demonstrate unequivocally that authority is here.

- Mark Ricketts is an economist, author, and lecturer.

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columns@gleanerjm.com and

rckttsmrk@yahoo.com.