Introduction

It is widely said
that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. With this in mind,
modern democratic nations worldwide continue to put measures in place to stem
corruption. One such method is to hold public officers and offices accountable
for their actions. In many cases nations have reformed their respective
constitutions to deal with such challenges, Jamaica is no exception.

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The exercising of
political power and the desire for accountability within the last 20 years has
propelled constitutional development in Jamaica more so than ever. There is a
presumption that where there is political power in the absence of
accountability corruption is bred. Constitutional reforms are required to stem
such corruption.

Globally, a multitude
of systemic developments have brought to the fore the need for constitutional
reform in democratic states. The Caribbean is no different and given the
questionable level of political inclusiveness, the level of corruption,
authoritarian governance, lack of accountability and general political malaise
in the region.

In many Caribbean
states the general election results have shown a decline in voters’ turnout,
this is a clear signal of public dissatisfaction and the desire for change. A
poll was conducted in Jamaica in 1999 and 49% of respondents said they believe
Jamaica’s corruption is our greatest threat to democracy.

As a result of the
subversion and presumed limitations of Caribbean democracies several reform
commissions have been put in place to advice the political administrations on
the way on which constitutional governance can be realized.  Cabinet has also made to close some of the
gaps identified and thereby strengthening the accountability framework.

 

Historical background

Jamaica as well as
the other Caribbean countries have all adopted the Parliament Westminster
System of government from Britain. After independence most if not all Caribbean
countries adopted parliamentary majoritarian political system with its dual
executive power structure in the head of state and head of government.

Independent
Commonwealth Caribbean constitutions in keeping with Britain recognized
Britain’s Monarch as the head of state and the governor general acting as Her
Majesty’s personal representative. In most Caribbean countries the governor
general exercise his function in accordance with the advice of cabinet, but in
other Caribbean jurisdictions, governors general are empowered to act in their
own deliberate judgment as it regards to certain expressed provisions of the
constitution. Under said constitutional arrangements, power is clearly
centralized in the hands of the Prime Minister. Legally and constitutionally
the power rest with the Prime Minister to select the majority of senators in
the bicameral legislature and are vested with the power to hire and fire
ministers of government. Additionally, the Prime Minister also has the power to
appoint a wide ranging number of individuals to important political,
bureaucratic, and sometimes judicial positions.

Unlike the American
Presidential System, the Westminster arrangements do not provide for proper
checks and balancing on prime minister power. This type of governmental system
breeds partisan politics because it doesn’t facilitate consensual politics as
it relates to the need of the executive (the cabinet) to maintain the
confidence of the legislature. Historically, one of the major challenges of the
Westminster parliamentary system of government, as practised in Jamaica and
other Caribbean countries, is that it doesn’t lends itself to oversight
committees allowing for scrutiny of public officials and ensuring transparency
and accountability.

 

 

Accountability

A study
by the World Bank has found a strong relationship between good governance and
good government performance, this study may have played a role in the fact that
we have seen where, over time, and successive Jamaican Governments have taken
steps to improve accountability and transparency

Accountability is very
critical in any form of governance; it plays a fundamental role in the public
having confidence in the government and it often results in a more productive
government with better results. The Government of Jamaica (GoJ), like most
western governments, is committed to strengthening its capability to manage for
result by improving its accountability. In an attempt to realize the
aforementioned, the GOJ has formulated a 5 year agenda furtherance to achieving
this in the Government at your Service: Public Sector Modernization Vision and
Strategy Medium Term Action Plan (MTAP). The major objective of this agenda is
to improve accountability across all areas of the government, in particularly
strengthening the accountability for government executives.  In keeping with this thrust for
accountability, the government has undertaken a number of initiatives including
a review of accountability in 2008, this resulted in the preparation of the
Strengthening the Accountability Framework for the Public Sector in Jamaica, A
Comparative Analysis of Accountability Mechanisms (Jamaica and Canada) and this
framework document.

There are two main
levels of accountability discussed in the accountability framework. This 1st
level discuss the issue of government wide accountability and addresses the
question of what is to be put in place to provide a basis for assuring that
Government’s policy prescriptions are clear, subject to scrutiny, and translated
into institutional actions. The second level deals with the issue of individual
accountability and presented ways to access the performance of senior public
servants and possible appropriate rewards or sanctions.

 The overall objective of the Accountability
Framework is to clarify responsibilities, expectations and reporting
relationships for government’s senior executive officers. As such, it address
three major areas ;  The Government-wide
Accountability Environment, Government’s Senior Executive Officers
Accountability Arrangements and Supportive and enabling Performance Management
and Evaluation Systems.

Accountability
is also accessed on how long it takes the government to respond or to
disseminate information on issues of public concern. Successive governments
erred considerable as it relates to the Christopher ‘Dudus’ Coke’s extradition
and the Manatt affair as well as the National Housing Trust/Outameni imbroglio.
There was presumable an attempt by both governments to create walls of secrecy
to prevent a government scandal which could have had political implications on
both governments.

 

Constitutional development

Cabinet has made
several adjustments in an attempt to close some of the gaps identified and
therefore strengthening accountability of senior public servants and the entire
public sector.  It has been argued that
Jamaica’s constitution and by extension the rest of the Caribbean’s
constitution was handed down to the Anglophone Caribbean by our colonial
masters, and may not best represent or address our social issues. As such,
separate apart from the need for constitutional development as it relates to
the challenges of accountability, most Commonwealth Caribbean countries are
currently engaged in the process of reviewing their constitutions whether
formally or informally.

Having adopted a
constitution from our colonial masters, it was trite that we also embraced said
political structure. However, over the years there have been several
adjustments to our political structure, hence the need to also adjust and
develop a more fitting constitution.  The
regional constitutional reform process therefore sets out to correct or remedy
the historical oversight by way of public debate.

Former Prime Minister
of Jamaica, P. J. Patterson stated that, ” the Jamaican constitution was an
order in council of Britain and therefore not a creature of the Jamaican
Parliament, the time had come for the supreme law of the land to be established
as an act of the sovereign Jamaican Parliament”

 

Accountability propelling constitutional development

Within the last two
decades, successive Jamaican Governments have taken
several steps to improve accountability and transparency. Different
administrators have opened up the activities of the House of Parliament and the
deliberations of Parliament Committee to the media. The enactment of the Access
to Information Act (2002) establishment of the offices of Contractor General,
Director of Public Prosecutions, Utilities Regulation, Auditor General, the
Independent Commission of Investigation, the Integrity Commission, Accountant
General, and the Public Defender, are few more examples of the government
pushing to achieve maximum accountability.

Some additional
measures taken by cabinet to improve accountability and therefore strengthening
the accountability framework as stated by the Policy Development Unit, Public Sector Modernization Division are;

a)    Ministries
shall table their annual reports before Parliament as an incentive to enhance
performance

b)    Mechanisms
similar to the Management Resources and Results Structure (MRRS) and Program Activity
Architecture (PAA) shall be adopted to provide stronger linkages between
planning and performance reporting and strengthen overall accountability

c)    The
Management and Accountability Framework, Results-based Management and
Accountability Framework and the Integrated Risk Management Framework shall be
examined to determine their appropriateness and adaptability to the Jamaican
model as a means to improve management and accountability at the organizational
level

d)    All
tools and guidance documents developed shall be placed online for
accessibility. Performance reports shall also be made available online

e)    Permanent
Secretaries shall be accorded the flexibility to manage their human and
financial responsibilities to achieve results, and be held accountable for
performance

f)     The
Permanent Secretary as accounting officer shall receive Board minutes, and
corporate plans for Public Bodies shall be submitted for approval to the
portfolio Minister through the responsible Permanent Secretary. This is to
complement the powers conferred to the responsible Minister under the PBMA Act,
to allow for more effective policy oversight

g)    The
practice whereby Permanent Secretaries sit on Advisory Boards and/or Management
Boards under their portfolio shall be disallowed and legislation to ensure
consistency with this direction shall be amended as relevant.

Further steps have
also been taken to maintain and further create a greater demarcation as it
relates to the separation of the three branches of government – judiciary, executive and legislative. Preventing an
overlap of these functions is a forward step to reduce corruption and improve
accountability.

 

Conclusion

The
governments of the Anglophone Caribbean, despite their relative stability, have
been subjected to increased pressure to curb some of the dysfunctional activities
that came with the adaptation of the Westminster style of governance. Some of
the dysfunctional behaviour was also as a direct result of the abuses of power
and the increasingly high level of political corruption within the region.
Additionally, international political and economic developments have placed
increasing pressure on all Caribbean nations put measure in place improve
accountability. It was found that the current distribution of power between the
executive and legislative branches and the office of the Prime Minister did not
provide adequate legislative checks on the executive. 

Power
corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely, it is of great importance that Jamaica
and other Caribbean countries make the necessary constitutional reform to curb
corruption because of its far reaching implications. An ideal place to start is
to hold public bodies and individuals accountable for their actions by putting
both proactive and reactive measures in place to address same.

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