I need someone to explain to me why the PSOJ appears to be mixing itself up publicly with politics. During the past week, its president used a public speaking engagement to give an assessment of how government ministers have been performing. Notably, he outlined how a Cabinet re-shuffle would assist in improving competitiveness and growth, and that the “Prime Minister should contemplate how to better compose the Cabinet given the current economic climate.” Now, Jamaica has a well-deserved reputation as a thriving democracy.

Our government structure is based on the British system of representative politics. So, it’s notable that last week a British cabinet minister told charities (a part of the NGOs sector, like PSOJ) to ‘stick to their knitting’ and stay out of politics, after worries among charities that the new Lobbying Act that will limit their ability to campaign on issues of the day. Now, that minister is feeling the heat of criticism, including being accused of “patronising rubbish” by his parliamentary opposite number. That is in the nature of politics. Jamaica’s PM has not had her tongue drawn yet on the PSOJ suggestion, but it’s early days, yet.

The PSOJ has an important role to play in Jamaica. Reading from its website, ‘The organisation seeks to influence national policy issues of a political, social, or economic nature’, but nowhere in the key objectives listed does it specify how that influence will be exercise other than through pushing in its areas of expertise. Call that, how business works. Now, let me not belabour the point, as I think the PSOJ does a great job of focusing government’s attention on things that affect private industry, but has Mr. Zacca overstepped the mark?

The PM has her prerogative in choosing which of her elected MPs and other supporters will be her cabinet ministers, and while she may find it interesting to know that some of her choices seem to be wanting in the eyes of some sections of wider society, it is hard to see her blinking very hard at suggestions from those quarters that she change its membership.

There’s a little piece of the Zacca idea that is also a little worrying. In seeking to suggest that policy will be made better by changing the political heads of government, it begs questions both about leadership capabilities, and also about competence of public servants in the absence of so-called good leadership. That’s a difficult one to tackle, but I will let it stay out there. The other point, is the suggestion that the best leadership is still within the bunch of those chosen by the PM, rather than suggesting that the pot ought to be stirred more and the whole slate of MPs and senators be mixed up again and look for new leadership from that process–ie, call for an election. It suggests that the current government is the best option, and that may not sound so nice if you’re in the opposition. Maybe, I hear voices in my head that aren’t real, but that’s how it struck me.

It may be that Jamaicans see no problems with this style of interaction. After all, would the same problems arise if the suggestion had come from the Editorial column of one of the newspapers, or would we see that as part of a legitimate function of a free press? The PSOJ had plenty of opportunity to interact regularly with government ministers, so their finding some of them inadequate or others better than sliced bread is normal. But, should that be something voiced in private when opportunity presents itself, rather than the point made on a public platform? Will the church associations, or labour unions, or other pressure groups now feel that their voices need to join in the chorus or sing other tunes? WIth that potential cacophony, what will the PM do?

 

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